Hopefully you will never be placed in a position of bringing a claim on behalf of a family member or loved one because that person was wrongfully killed. Nonetheless, if you are ever placed into that position, the claim on behalf of someone killed in an accident - which is called a wrongful death claim - is typically brought by the person appointed as the fiduciary of that individual's estate. The appointment is made in the County Clerk's office in West Virginia and in the Probate Court in Ohio. An attorney is usually necessary for the appointment. If the individual had a Will, then an Executor (male) or Executrix (female) will be appointed and he or she has the right to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the decedent for the alleged wrongful conduct which caused and/or contributed to the decedent's death. If there is no Will, certain individuals may be appointed to represent the interests of the decedent's estate (these individuals are defined by the laws of the respective State) which are typically called an Administrator or an Administratrix. The person appointed then has the ability to hire an attorney to investigate the claim and to prosecute it if it appears viable.
Any money recovered in a wrongful death settlement or a jury verdict is distributed to certain individuals in accordance with the laws of the state in which the claim was filed. In West Virginia, there is a specific distribution statute that defines the class of potential beneficiaries which includes: spouses, children, parents, siblings, and others who may have been financially dependent upon the decedent at the time of his or her death. The judge or jury decides to whom the money is distributed and the amount.
If a family member or loved one dies as a result of wrongful conduct, you should check to determine who has the right to be appointed to handle the decedent's estate. You should also check whether that individual has the right to hire an attorney to investigate and prosecute the wrongful death claim. Hopefully, you will never be faced with this situation; however, this is helpful information to know in the unfortunate event that you are.