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Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in New Jersey?

When a person in New Jersey dies because of another's negligence or reckless actions, the event usually leaves loved ones behind who suffer as a result. It is natural for them to want to seek justice for the wrongful death. However, the suffering often goes beyond the emotional and psychological pain of the loss. People may also suffer financially.

New Jersey law allows certain people to file a wrongful death lawsuit as compensation for both financial and emotional damages.

The personal representative

If a person leaves behind a will, then that document includes the name of someone chosen to fulfill the duties of the executor of the estate. This person has the legal right to file an action on behalf of the estate and the decedent's dependents or beneficiaries.

The personal representative does not benefit from the lawsuit unless he or she is also a dependent. Only the decedent's survivors or beneficiaries may receive an award for damages. 

A dependent of the decedent

Spouses and dependent children are usually those most likely to receive compensation in a wrongful death action, and spouses are often the ones filing these lawsuits. In fact, as long as there is a surviving spouse and/or children, other relatives typically do not receive damages.

However, anyone who depended on the deceased for financial support may sue the person or entity responsible for the death. For example, perhaps the person who died was the caregiver for an aging parent. In that case, the parent is a dependent and is, therefore, eligible to file an action. Even siblings, nieces or nephews may file if they were dependents. 

A judge may divide the award among dependents in a way he or she deems fair and equitable. Factors that affect this include the age, physical and mental health, financial circumstances and other relevant needs.

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