When coping with the untimely and preventable loss of a family member, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be an important part of the recovery process. Not only can legal action provide closure, but it can also provide much-needed relief from the financial strain resulting from your loved one’s death.
While filing a wrongful death lawsuit is important, it is not easy. In addition to proving the at-fault party’s liability, there are also strict rules that family members need to follow. One of the most important rules a Connecticut wrongful death lawyer can help you understand is the eligibility of family members to file a claim and recover damages.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Connecticut?
Different states have different rules regarding eligibility to file a claim for wrongful death. While some states allow certain family members to file wrongful death claims directly, Connecticut does not.
In Connecticut, only the decedent’s executor (also referred to as an “administrator” or “personal representative”) is permitted to file a claim for wrongful death. Section 52-555 of the Connecticut General Statutes states:
“In any action . . . by an executor or administrator for injuries resulting in death . . . such executor or administrator may recover from the party legally at fault for such injuries just damages together with the cost of reasonably necessary medical, hospital and nursing services, and including funeral expenses . . . .”
Under Section 52-555, the damages an executor can recover are those suffered by the victim, not the victim’s family members. This means that the losses that can be recovered in a wrongful death action in Connecticut include:
- The decedent’s pain and suffering prior to death
- Loss of future earnings
- Loss of enjoyment of life and other forms of non-economic losses
Importantly, however, the Connecticut General Statutes include a special provision that allows surviving spouses to seek compensation for loss of consortium. Section 52-555a provides that, “Any claim or cause of action for loss of consortium by one spouse with respect to the death of the other spouse shall be . . . independent of all claims or causes of action for the determination of damages with respect to such death.”
How Do You Determine Who Is a Wrongful Death Victim’s Executor?
When seeking to identify a wrongful death victim’s executor, the first place to look is the victim’s will. If the victim prepared an estate plan, his or her will should designate someone for this role.
If the victim did not prepare an estate plan, or if the victim’s will is silent or outdated with regard to naming an executor, then an executor will need to be appointed through the probate process. When this is necessary, in most cases the probate court will appoint the victim’s spouse, adult child, or another close family member – unless there is good cause to name someone else.
How Do Family Members in Connecticut Recover Compensation for a Loved One’s Wrongful Death?
Since Connecticut law only permits a wrongful death claim to be filed by the victim’s executor (with the exception of a surviving spouse’s claim for loss of consortium), how do family members pursue compensation when they lose a loved one to someone else’s carelessness or neglect?
If the executor’s wrongful death claim is successful, the compensation awarded becomes part of the victim’s estate. Broadly speaking, an estate represents the totality of the assets a person leaves behind when he or she dies. Once the wrongful death award is deposited with the estate, it is then distributed to the victim’s family members in accordance with the terms of the victim’s estate plan.
While this can sound straightforward in concept, distributing wrongful death compensation to eligible family members can present a number of challenges. For example, in many cases estate plans will not address the distribution of unanticipated damages awards. If an estate plan is silent on how to distribute a particular asset, then that asset may fall to the general provisions of the victim’s will, or it may need to be distributed according to Connecticut’s intestate succession laws.
Additionally, many wrongful death victims do not have a chance to prepare an estate plan before their passing. Preparing an estate plan is something that many people put off until later in life. When a person dies without an estate plan (or with an estate plan that does not address certain assets), then Connecticut’s intestate succession laws apply. These laws specify which family members are eligible to receive assets from a person’s estate in the absence of a will, trust, or other estate planning documents. Distribution of an intestate estate is complicated, and determining which family members are eligible to receive a portion of the estate requires a careful legal analysis.
With all of that said, in many cases victims do have estate plans that provide adequate guidance. When this is the case, once the estate receives a wrongful death award, the award will be distributed to the victim’s designated family members during the estate administration process.
Contact a Connecticut Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Few events in life are more tragic than the sudden, unexpected passing of someone you love. The grief of such a loss can be overwhelming, making it difficult to deal with the legal issues that arise when someone passes. When a loved one dies as a result of another party’s negligence, the legal ramifications can be even more complicated.
For more than 60 years, Ventura Law has been helping individuals and families navigate their rights. We have extensive experience handling wrongful death claims, pursuing fair compensation on behalf of our clients while providing emotional support and individualized attention.
If you have lost a loved one in an accident, please call Ventura Law at (203) 800-8000 today for a free case review. Our wrongful death lawyers serve clients throughout Connecticut, including Danbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Norwalk, as well as New York.