A wrongful death claim is a suit that arises from the death of an individual that was caused by the conduct of another. A wrongful death suit is different from other types of personal injury claims because the actual victim (the "decedent") is not bringing suit. Rather, it is the family members or the decedent's estate. As such, a wrongful death claim is brought to recover damages for the injuries that the surviving family and/or estate have suffered due to the death of the victim. The damages recovered do not include damages that are personal to the decedent, since the decedent is not allowed to recover for pain and suffering, mental distress, or any other form of compensatory damages unique to him or her. The purpose of a wrongful death suit is to provide relief to family members who have been injured emotionally and financially as a result of the family member's death.
To file a wrongful death suit in Michigan, you must show that:
- The death of a person or injuries resulting in a person's death were caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default; and
- The act, neglect, or default would have entitled the injured party to maintain an action and recover damages had death not ensued.
Hawkins v. Regional Med. Labs., P.C., 415 Mich. 420, 431, 329 N.W.2d 729, 733 (1982). Under Michigan law, only certain individuals can file wrongful death claims, and those that are allowed to sue do so on behalf of others. In Michigan, only a personal representative may file a suit on behalf of the surviving spouse, children, or parents. M.C.L. § 600.2922. A personal representative is a person, appointed by the decedent to represent his estate, or if no will is left, by the state of Michigan to represent the beneficiaries. Siblings and cousins of the decedent do not have the right to bring the lawsuit unless they have been named as personal representative of the decedent, in which case they still have no right of recovery so long as there is a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the decedent.