State Wrongful-Death Acts

A wrongful death lawsuit claims that the victim was killed because of negligence or other type of unjust action on the part of the person or entity being sued, and that the victim’s survivors are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the improper conduct.

Wrongful death statutes are often unique.  They all follow the same general principles. A wrongful death claim generally consists of four elements: (1) the death was caused, in whole or part, by the conduct of the defendant; (2) the defendant was negligent or strictly liable for the victim’s death; (3) there is a surviving spouse, children, beneficiaries or dependents; and (4) monetary damages have resulted from the victim’s death.

Over the years, states have passed wrongful death laws that provide compensation for persons who may have been damaged from the death of the victim as well as an incentive to act carefully and safely.  Today, all states have some form of a wrongful death claim action in force.

A state wrongful-death statute may be applied to a claim arising out of a death occurring in the territorial waters of the state itself, where that state’s law does not conflict with federal maritime common law concerning wrongful death.

The Death on the High Seas Act provides that it does not affect any state statute giving or regulating rights of action or remedies for death, and that it does not apply to the Great Lakes, to any waters within the territorial limits of any state, or to navigable waters in the Panama Canal Zone.  However, it was not intended to make state wrongful-death statutes applicable in cases to which the Death on the High Seas Act applies, and the act preempts state wrongful death and survival claims when the incident leading to death occurs on the high seas.

Death on the High Seas Act preempts state wrongful death claims, but does not preempt Jones Act or foreign law claims arising out of deaths of crewmembers of ship that sank during race.


Inside State Wrongful-Death Acts