Find out who takes priority for filing a wrongful death claim in MT — spouse, children or family members
The death of a family member or other loved one is always a painful experience. When it happens suddenly and unexpectedly, their death can also be financially devastating, as medical bills and funeral expenses accrue. You may also be beginning to feel the loss of your loved one’s income.
We understand that nothing could ever truly make up for your loss, but Murphy Law Office is here to help you move forward. If your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence of another person or company, there are actions that you can take to make sure they are held accountable.
What is wrongful death?
According to Montana law (27-1-513. Action for wrongful death):
“When injuries to and the death of one person are caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death or, if the person is employed by another person who is responsible for the causing person’s conduct, then also against the other responsible person.”
In such cases, whoever is in charge of the decedent’s estate—usually a spouse, child or parent—can file a claim against the person who is responsible for the negligence. If the individual who caused the negligence was acting under orders from a superior, you may also be able to file a claim against the employer.
A wrongful death claim must generally be brought within 3 years of the date of death, except in cases of homicide (within 10 years).
A wrongful death claim is a civil claim, not a criminal claim. This means that the lawsuit is initiated by an individual rather than a governmental body. This differs from a criminal case in which the state or federal government brings the case.
Usually, a civil lawsuit is brought against another individual, but a claim can also be made against an organization, a company or a state. Civil suits are generally monetary, which means that if the judge finds that the party sued was negligent, they will have to pay damages to the party who was injured; they will not go to jail as they might in a criminal case.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Montana?
Wrongful death claims can only be made by whoever is in charge of the decedent’s estate—the “legal representative.” This is usually a family member, such as a spouse, child, sibling or parent. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be any of these individuals. With a few exceptions, a person can designate whomever they choose to be responsible for their estate after they die, such as a trusted friend or colleague.
Generally, the decedent’s spouse, their minor child (under age 18) or parent (if the decedent is under the age of 18) is eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
In rare cases, the parents of an adult deceased child are also eligible to receive wrongful death benefits. However, an unusually close and independent relationship, such as one in which the child is the parents’ caretaker, must exist for them to be eligible.
Types of wrongful death damages
The damages awarded in a wrongful death suit can be economic or non-economic, and they are intended to compensate the decedent’s family members or estate for losses incurred.
Economic damages are those which are easily quantifiable, such as medical bills incurred before the person’s passing, funeral expenses and the loss of the deceased person’s income and potential income.
Non-economic damages are paid for intangible losses, such as the pain, suffering and emotional distress suffered by the deceased person’s family, loss of companionship and the loss of care or other services that the deceased person used to provide. These non-economic costs are harder to calculate, but they are an important part of compensating the family and holding those responsible accountable. A wrongful death lawyer can help you to determine a monetary value.
Montana specifies that only 1 wrongful death claim can be filed in relation to a particular decedent, and there are no guidelines specifying how any funds received must be allocated. Damages awarded on wrongful deaths are not subject to the usual rules of intestate succession if the decedent does not have a will.