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Which family members can get damages in a wrongful death action?

There is nothing worse for Maryland residents than losing a loved one. As discussed previously in this blog, when an unexpected incident claims the life of a loved one, surviving family members may have a cause of action they can bring against the person responsible for the incident. If successful, family members can obtain damages in the lawsuit, based, among other things, on the financial impact of losing their loved one.

Of course, the term "family members" is rather broad, as the deceased may be survived by a spouse, children, parents, siblings and others. Accordingly, it may be less clear to these family members who will share in the award of damages after a wrongful death action is concluded.

As a general matter, a wrongful death action exists for the benefit of a surviving wife or husband of the deceased, along with the parents and children of the deceased. These individuals are entitled to recover lost financial support that occurred from the death of their loved one. In terms of dividing the damages between the surviving spouse, parent and children, the damages are typically distributed in proportion to these different individuals' pecuniary loss.

As is usually the case, there are exceptions that apply in different cases. For example, if the deceased person did not have a surviving spouse, parent or child, then it may expand the class of individuals who may obtain damages in the wrongful death action. In these cases, a person related by blood or marriage to the deceased may recover damages if they were substantially dependent upon the deceased. Accordingly, each case may be different depending on the surviving family members of the deceased.

Source: United States Department of Justice, "Summary of state wrongful death and intestacy statutes," accessed on Dec. 26, 2014

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