How Do You Divide a Wrongful Death Settlement in Massachusetts?

When families pursue wrongful death claims, a major concern is how damages will be divided. In Massachusetts, the law has explicit rules regarding how damages are to be distributed, and a lawyer can help you make sure you get all the compensation your family deserves.

The first thing to discuss with your lawyer is who may file a wrongful death claim. A deceased person might leave behind numerous friends and loved ones, but only certain people may participate in a wrongful death lawsuit. A personal representative of the deceased person’s estate must actually file the case, while certain family members may be included as beneficiaries. Damages are typically divided among a deceased person’s immediate family, including spouses and children. If no spouse or children exist, damages may be distributed to the next of kin. You and your family should discuss how damages may be distributed with a lawyer, as significant compensation for economic and non-economic injuries and losses might be at stake.

Get a free case evaluation from our Boston wrongful death attorneys when you call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Case in Massachusetts?

According to Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 229 § 2, a wrongful death claim must be filed by an executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate. This person might also be referred to as the deceased person’s personal representative. Determining the identity of this person is the first step in filing a wrongful death case.

The personal representative might be named in the deceased person’s will. The administrator or personal representative often is the deceased person’s spouse or another close family member. However, this is not always the case. Some people name siblings, parents, or even close friends as administrators. People sometimes even name their attorneys as administrators of their estate.

If you want to file a wrongful death case but are unsure of who your loved one’s estate administrator is, contact an attorney.

People often run into problems when multiple family members want to file claims. Remember, only one wrongful death case may be filed for a deceased loved one. Multiple people cannot file separate cases. Instead, the estate administrator or personal representative can file a single case that includes all eligible family members as beneficiaries.

When cases involve numerous family members claiming damages, how damages are ultimately divided can be confusing. Our Massachusetts wrongful death lawyers can review your loved one’s will and determine who is the personal representative or have the courts appoint one if nobody is named.

How Damages Are Divided in Massachusetts Wrongful Death Settlements

Dividing damages among a deceased person’s surviving family members is often a complicated endeavor. Various family members might have claims, and a lot of financial compensation might be on the line.

According to § 2, damages may be distributed according to the rules laid out in § 1 of the same chapter. Courts tend to focus on the deceased person’s immediate family and household. As such, surviving spouses and children take priority. Only if there are no surviving spouses or children or issue of children (i.e., grandchildren) may other family members be used as next of kin.

Under the law, if the deceased person is survived by a spouse but never had children, everything goes to the spouse.

If a spouse and one child survive the deceased individual, half the damages may be awarded to the spouse and half to the child. Suppose the child passes away before the wrongful death case begins but has their own children (i.e., the deceased’s grandkids). In that case, those children may be awarded half the damages to be divided equally among themselves.

Put another way, if $100,000 in damages is awarded, $50,000 would go to the surviving spouse, and $50,000 would go to the surviving child. If the child has already passed away but they had two kids of their own, then each grandchild would get $25,000.

If the deceased person had more than one child, damages are divided a little differently. In such a scenario, the surviving spouse would get one-third of the damages, and the surviving children—however many there may be—would split two-thirds of the damages. Again, if any children pass away before the case begins or before damages are awarded, their children may take their share of the damages.

Finally, if there is no surviving spouse, the next of kin may receive the damages awarded in a wrongful death case. This might include parents, siblings, and other family members.

What Kind of Damages Are Available in Massachusetts Wrongful Death Cases?

Available damages are described under a different part of § 2. Wrongful death cases may involve damages related to economic losses, non-economic injuries, and possibly punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages include the money your family has spent or lost because of your loved one’s passing. It might also include economic costs your loved one incurred because of their accident before they passed away.

First, talk to your lawyer about claiming the reasonably expected net income your loved one would have earned had they survived. Many people are financially dependent on their loved ones. For example, one spouse might go to work while the other stays home to take care of the kids. Even if both spouses work, their lifestyle may be dependent on having both incomes.

You should also claim funeral and burial costs. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one can attest to how expensive funerals and burials can be.

If your loved one provided any valuable services, you should have them evaluated so you can claim their value. For example, your loved one might have been your primary caregiver if you are ill or disabled. Caregiving services are very expensive, and these damages might be significant.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are often related to painful yet subjective experiences surrounding your grievous loss. For example, a surviving spouse might claim the loss of protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice. While these damages are highly subjective, they are often met with significant damages awards.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants if their behavior is especially egregious. To claim punitive damages, your loved one’s passing must be caused by the defendant’s malicious, wanton, reckless, or willful actions. Alternatively, the defendant must have acted with gross negligence, which is a greater degree of negligence where the defendant’s behavior would shock the conscience or cause outrage. If punitive damages are available, you may be awarded no less than $5,000, although these damages may reach much higher levels.

Contact Our Massachusetts Wrongful Death Attorneys About How to Begin Your Case

Get a free case evaluation from our Arlington, MA wrongful death attorneys when you call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407.