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Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in Massachusetts?

If you have lost a loved one due to negligence, you may be feeling a great deal of anger and frustration. When you believe someone should be held accountable for carelessness that led to your loved one’s death, it can be difficult to understand why the criminal justice system should pass on your case. However, as awful and tragic as such carelessness is, it does not rise to the level of criminal intent. To hold a negligent wrongdoer accountable, we have a civil court system, when monetary compensation rather than imprisonment is the remedy. A wrongful death lawsuit can help give you closure by holding a wrongdoer financially accountable for your loved one’s death. In some cases, wrongful death lawsuits even force changes in policies to prevent fatal mishaps in the future, so that society as a whole benefits.

However, there are laws in Massachusetts about who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit and who can share in any damage award. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 229, § 2 requires “the executor or administrator of the deceased” to file the claim in state court. The executor or administrator is the person who settles the decedent’s estate, either according to the terms of an estate plan or in keeping with the state’s laws of intestacy. The suit recovers compensation for losses to the estate and to those who are entitled under law to receive compensation. According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 229, § 1, these persons and proportions are as follows:

  • To a surviving spouse, when there are no children, 100 percent
  • To a surviving spouse when there is one child, 50 percent to each
  • To a surviving spouse when there are two or more children, one-third to the spouse and two-thirds divided evenly among the children
  • When there are none of the above, to the next of kin

In this way, one lawsuit is brought for all possible beneficiaries. A jury may award damages as follows:

  • Compensation for the fair monetary value of the decedent’s net income, services, protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice of the decedent to the persons entitled to the damages recovered
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
  • Punitive damages if malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct or gross negligence caused the decedent’s death

The plaintiff’s executor or administrator must file the action for wrongful death within three years of the date of death. 

If your loved one suffered prior to his/her death, then that estate can also bring a negligence action for that pain and suffering.  Any money awarded would go to the loved one’s estate.

If you have lost a loved one due to negligence, an attorney at Swartz & Lynch LLP can evaluate your case for free. To schedule a consultation, call 857-250-0664 or contact our Boston office online.

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