If you have lost a loved one to a preventable accident, you and your family may be wondering what your legal rights are. Victims of wrongful death cannot hold the individuals, businesses or government entities that allowed their deaths to happen. But their families may be able to through a wrongful death claim.
It’s natural for you to have a lot of questions about wrongful death litigation. Here are answers to three of the most frequently asked questions about this sensitive area of personal injury law.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Under Michigan law, only the personal representative of the deceased’s estate (also known as the executor) has legal standing to sue for wrongful death. Thus, the person responsible for guiding the deceased’s estate through probate and distributing their assets to their heirs is also the person who must decide whether to proceed with a lawsuit.
How long do they have to decide?
State law imposes a time limit on virtually every type of personal injury lawsuit. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” The clock starts ticking from the date the fatal injury is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered. The personal representative has three years from that day to file suit. Otherwise, the judge will have to dismiss the suit regardless of the evidence.
Will a judgment affect probate?
The probate court’s role in a wrongful death case starts with naming the personal representative. If the deceased left behind a will, the judge will name the person stated in that document. If the deceased died intestate (without a valid will), one or more family members can ask to be the personal representative. Then it is up to the judge to decide who it will be.
If the case ends in a settlement or judgment, the court then must approve the plan for distributing the funds to the potential recipients. The overlap between wrongful death and probate law means you may want to consider hiring an attorney who can assist you with both.