In most jurisdictions throughout the world, when a person is killed in an accident due to the fault of another person, the surviving family members have a right to file fatal accident claims. The steps required to file fatal accident claims may vary by jurisdiction, as well as by the circumstances of the accident. In the United States, for example, if the accident was a work-related accident, then the claim is often filed under the applicable state workers' compensation laws. If, however, the accident was not work-related, then fatal accident claims are usually filed as wrongful death claims in the appropriate court.
Although work-related fatal accident claims may be filed as a wrongful death lawsuit in some states, in most cases, the appropriate legal course of action is to use the workers' compensation system. Each state administers its own workers' compensation system; however, the steps for filing a claim are similar among the states. In most cases, only a spouse or dependent is entitled to compensation in a workers' compensation fatal accident claim.
The spouse or dependent must prepare and file the appropriate claims forms through the state's workers' compensation board or agency. State workers' compensation systems have a predetermined formula that is used to determine what a claimant is entitled to when a worker is killed in an on-the-job accident. Once the forms have been reviewed and approved, the claimant will receive the compensation due according to the formula.
If the accident was not work-related, then the appropriate legal course of action is to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Individual states also determine under what conditions fatal accident claims may be filed as a wrongful death lawsuit and who is entitled to file. As a rule, if the accident was the result of the defendant's intentional or negligent act, then a claimant may be entitled to compensation. Claimants may be a spouse, parent, sibling, or dependent, among others.
A potential claimant must first determine that he or she is entitled to file as a claimant by consulting state statutes or a wrongful death attorney. As a rule, a claimant will try to reach an out-of-court settlement with the defendant's liability insurer prior to filing an actual lawsuit. If negotiations are unsuccessful, then the claimant will file a wrongful death lawsuit in the appropriate court. At trial, a judge or jury will determine if the defendant was, indeed, liable and, if so, what the amount of compensation award should be for the claimant.