When someone dies prematurely due to another person’s deliberate actions or negligence, that death is said to be “wrongful.” In some cases, criminal authorities may get involved — but when the death was an accident, the victim’s survivors usually have to seek a measure of justice in civil court.

That’s what a wrongful death claim is all about.

Who can file a wrongful death claim?

In New Mexico, wrongful death claims have to be filed on behalf of the victim’s survivors by the victim’s personal representative. If the deceased had a will, his or her chosen representative may be named in the document. If the deceased died intestate, the court will likely designate a close family member to act as the personal representative for the claim.

What kind of damages can be claimed?

Wrongful death claims are designed to compensate the survivors for whatever they have lost as a result of their loved one’s death. That may include things like:

  • Reasonable funeral and burial or cremation expenses
  • Medical bills related to the injury that caused the victim’s death
  • The loss of the deceased’s companionship, love, and guidance, especially by a spouse, child or parent
  • The loss of the deceased’s income and health insurance benefits
  • The emotional pain and suffering caused by the deceased’s death
  • The loss of one’s inheritance or other financial support

How are the proceeds of a wrongful death claim divided?

If successful, the proceeds from a wrongful death claim are divided between the survivors according to state law. In New Mexico, that means:

  • If the deceased was married and has no children, the surviving spouse receives everything.
  • If there are children (or grandchildren), the surviving spouse takes half and the remainder is divided among the children.
  • If there are children or grandchildren but no surviving spouse, the entire settlement goes to the children or grandchildren to divide.
  • If the victim was a child, the mother and father split the settlement equally.
  • If there is no surviving spouse, no children and no parents, the siblings of the deceased can collect.

Death doesn’t end the responsible party’s liability. Because of the complexities involved in any wrongful death claim, however, it’s wise to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Waiting too long could permanently impair your ability to file.