Are There Restrictions on Who Can Seek Damages after an Accidental Death?
There’s no question that the wrongful or accidental death of anyone can have far-reaching consequences, affecting the lives of many people. While legal action cannot undo the harm done, it’s important that those responsible be held accountable. But can anyone who suffers loss because of a wrongful death seek financial compensation for that loss? Are there limits in New Jersey, and, if so, what are they?
Standing to Sue for Wrongful Death
Within our legal system, there’s a requirement that anyone bringing a lawsuit have “legal standing.” Essentially, that means that the person seeking a remedy can show a personal interest that has been negatively impacted by the at-fault party. In New Jersey, to qualify as a bona fide plaintiff (injured party) in a wrongful death lawsuit, you must be a “real party in interest,” as set forth in the wrongful death statute. A wrongful death action may be initiated by anyone who meets the test to be a real party in interest, but, as a practical matter, is typically filed by the executor or administrator of the estate, on behalf of all survivors.
Pursuant to New Jersey statute, the following individuals qualify as real parties in interest:
- A surviving spouse
- A child or grandchild of the decedent
- A surviving parent of the deceased
- Surviving siblings, nephews or nieces
- Anyone who can prove actual dependence on the decedent
The above-listed parties do not have equal rights to take legal action. Instead, New Jersey law establishes a hierarchy of claims. A surviving spouse, children and grandchildren may always bring legal action. Parents of the deceased may only file a wrongful death action if there is no surviving spouse or children. Siblings, nieces and nephews are only entitled to standing if there is no surviving spouse, child, grandchild or parent.
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