Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A row of lit candles in memorial for a wrongful death accident.

Losing someone in a car accident is a painful and devastating experience. And if the loss was due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, it can make it even worse.

After events like these, grieving families are often left with the burden of emotional stress and financial challenges. It’s usually necessary to seek justice and compensation after these accidents, but the load can be too much for families to bear.

At Bachus & Schanker, we understand the impact of wrongful death cases on families and do everything we can to provide compassionate and knowledgeable legal guidance. As a leading law firm specializing in personal injury and wrongful death claims, we strive to make this process as seamless as possible for these victims.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit?

Only certain family members have the right to file wrongful death lawsuits. This may vary from one jurisdiction to another, but typically they include:

  • Immediate family members: This includes spouses or children of the deceased. They are usually given priority to file a wrongful death lawsuit. They’re considered the primary beneficiaries.
  • Parents and siblings: In cases where the deceased has no surviving spouse or children, the right to sue may extend to parents or siblings, depending on the state. 
  • Representatives of the estate: In some situations, the personal representative or executor of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the surviving family members or beneficiaries.

Survival actions

In addition to wrongful death claims, many jurisdictions also allow for survival actions. These are legal claims that the deceased’s estate can seek for the pain and suffering the deceased may have endured before passing away

These may include medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and other losses they might have been entitled to if they had lived.


When a wrongful death lawsuit is won, the compensation awarded is distributed among the eligible beneficiaries. Spouses are usually first, then children and other dependents, if eligible. 

How are wrongful death settlements paid out?

When a settlement is reached in a wrongful death lawsuit, the disbursement process may vary based on several factors. These include settlement terms, specific state laws, and individual circumstances. Typically, though, the payments are either made in one lump sum or a structured settlement. 

Getting your payout in a lump sum is fairly standard. It’s usually an immediate payment that’s distributed among the eligible beneficiaries. 

In some cases, the settlements are paid out through structured settlements. This means they’ll be divided up into periodic payments over time. This option has some advantages, such as not paying taxes on the interest and dividends you might earn from it.

How much is a wrongful death lawsuit worth?

Various factors are involved when determining the worth of a wrongful death suit. The goal is to provide financial support to those left behind and to hold the responsible parties accountable. Some of the key factors that can influence the worth are:

  • Economic damages: These are tangible financial losses incurred as a direct result of the wrongful death. They may include medical expenses, funeral or burial costs, and lost income or contributions made by others. 
  • Non-economic damages: These are a little more subjective and focus on things like emotional damages. They might include pain and suffering, loss of companionship, reduced quality of life, or emotional distress. 
  • Punitive damages: These aren’t awarded in all cases but can be used as a means of punishment for the negligent party. The amount for this can vary greatly from case to case. 
  • Liability and negligence: The degree of liability and negligence of the responsible party plays a huge role in determining the worth of a wrongful death case. If it can be proven that their actions were especially malicious and directly caused the death, the compensation could be higher.
  • State laws and caps: Each state has its own laws regarding the limits on damages that can be awarded. Colorado has a cap of $250,000 for non-economic damages, but it is adjusted for inflation periodically. For economic damages in Colorado, the cap of $250,000 only applies when the decedent has no living immediate family.

Taxes on wrongful death settlements

In many cases, wrongful death lawsuit funds are not taxable. However, there are some exceptions. For example, emotional damages can be taxable if they are not the direct result of physical injuries or if you took itemized deductions from them. 

How long do wrongful death lawsuits take?

The length of these cases varies significantly depending on the circumstances. Some might resolve in a few months, while others can take a few years. Some delaying factors might include a lack of cooperation from the parties involved, the complexity of the case, or a large current caseload at the court where it’s filed.

While it’s understandable for grieving families to want quick closure, it’s important to understand that diligence and thoroughness will pay off. 

How can a wrongful death attorney help me?

A wrongful death attorney can be crucial to helping families get the justice they deserve and create a more secure future for them. They can provide expert legal guidance to help you navigate the process in your state and deal with complexities most people aren’t familiar with.

Proving a wrongful death claim

When it comes to proving a wrongful death claim, you will have to establish that the negligence or misconduct of another party caused the death. This is something in which personal injury attorneys are highly skilled.

You’ll also have to deal with insurance companies whose sole priority is to minimize their payout amount. Having a lawyer on your side will ensure your rights are protected. They will negotiate with insurance adjusters on your behalf to make sure you get a fair settlement.

If a fair settlement can’t be reached, your attorney will be prepared to take the case to court. They’ll represent you in a trial, present the evidence, and make a persuasive argument to seek the most favorable outcome. 

Having a compassionate and experienced wrongful death attorney from a reputable firm like Bachus & Schanker by your side can make a significant difference in your case.

Statute of limitations to file a wrongful death lawsuit

Each state has its own laws governing the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits. It’s important to note that these deadlines are strictly enforced with few exceptions. They can range from one to several years. 

Colorado’s statute of limitations is three years from the date of the accident. This limit may be extended in certain situations. One of those would be if a minor was involved and hadn’t yet met the age requirement. Another is when a hit-and-run accident is to blame for the death. 

Do I need an attorney to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death attorney at their desk speaking with their client. In front of them is paperwork, a gavel, and the scales of justice in the background.

While you’re not legally required to hire an attorney, navigating a wrongful death lawsuit on your own is risky. The opposing parties and insurance companies could try to take advantage of your situation and offer insufficient settlements. By having a skilled attorney on your side, you’ll level the playing field, ensuring your rights are protected.

Getting the support of a compassionate and experienced wrongful death attorney, such as those at Bachus & Schanker, can give you the best chance for a fair resolution.


Bieber, Christy, J.D. (2023). Wrongful Death Lawsuit Guide 2023.

Should You Accept a Structured Settlement?

Survival Action.

Similar Posts