Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky?

Wrongful Death | January 30, 2023

Losing a loved one is devastating. Receiving this news can stop your life in its tracks. When you learn more about the circumstances of the death, you may have questions or suspicions about the fault of another person or party. If you believe that someone else’s negligent or reckless behaviors caused your loved one’s death, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. Under Kentucky law, only the personal representative of the estate can file this type of lawsuit.

Who Has the Right to File?

You may assume that you have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Kentucky as someone who was closely related to the deceased person (otherwise known as the decedent), such as his or her wife, husband, adult child or parent. In Kentucky, however, this is not the case. State law gives this right only to the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, with some exceptions.

Section 411.130 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes states that an action for wrongful death may only be prosecuted by the personal representative of the deceased. This individual is also known as the executor or administrator of the estate. If the decedent left a will, he or she may have named a personal representative. If so, this individual will have the right to initiate a wrongful death claim.

In many wrongful death cases, the decedent’s life was suddenly cut short. This means the decedent may not have created a will or named a representative prior to his or her death. In this scenario, the courts in Kentucky will appoint someone to act as the personal representative for the purpose of bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, this is a close relative of the decedent or a lawyer.

Exceptions to the Rule

Kentucky law has two main exceptions to the personal representative rule. The first is if the death was caused by a deadly weapon. If the decedent was a victim of homicide or assault using a deadly weapon, his or her surviving spouse and/or children may bring the claim. The second exception is if the decedent was a minor (under the age of 18). In this case, the child’s parents may join the lawsuit filed by the administrator of the estate.

Who Receives Compensation From a Successful Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky?

Although the personal representative of the estate is the only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, he or she is not necessarily who receives a financial award. Any amount recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit will be distributed to the following people in this order, according to state law:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse will receive the whole of the award if there are no children or descendants.
  • If there are children or descendants, one-half of the award will go to the surviving spouse and the other half will go to the children of the decedent.
  • The decedent’s children or descendants will receive the whole of the award if there is no surviving spouse.
  • The award will go to the parents of the deceased if there is no surviving spouse or children. They will receive one-half each, or else the whole of the award will go to one parent if the other is deceased.
  • If the decedent has no surviving spouse, child or parent, the award shall become part of the estate of the deceased to pay off debts and pass the remaining amount to any beneficiaries.

The financial compensation available in a wrongful death claim in Kentucky will pay for reasonable funeral and burial expenses, among other losses. Punitive damages may also be available if the death was caused by an intentional act or gross negligence. A separate claim must be filed to seek loss of consortium damages, or loss of the decedent’s love, care, companionship, society and services. For more information about filing a wrongful death case in Kentucky, contact an attorney.

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