Often, these deaths will leave grieving family members who suffer emotionally and financially. These family members have legal rights to receive compensation for their losses
Who can make a claim for death of another?
The Oregon legislature enacted laws that specifically indicate who can make a claim for the death of another. In some instances, the application of this law is just plain unfair. But, it is the law, and it has been upheld by Oregon Courts. Oregon law indicates that there are a class of persons that are allowed to make a claim for damages. This class of persons includes the following surviving relatives of the deceased: the legal spouse, parents, children, and adopted children. No other people are included in this class.
There have been cases where the spouse of the deceased had been separated from the deceased for years, and the relationship was almost non-existent and when the relationship did exist, it was adversarial. Under the law, this spouse still has a right to make a claim.
There have also been cases of the non-married significant other of the deceased who had a lengthy and loving relationship and was completely emotionally overcome by the loss of their significant other, being financially ruined by the loss, yet the law does not allow this person to make a claim, (unless under other rules of law, they can be deemed a legal spouse). Likewise, brothers and sisters of the deceased, no matter how close their relationship is, are not allowed to make a claim for damages, (even if they were being supported financially by the deceased) if any other person in the class exists.
The amount of the claim for damages is based on the significance of the loss. The long separated, adversarial spouse of the deceased will not be able to establish any significant claim for emotional loss, or loss of companionship. Or, in some cases, one child of the deceased may be able to make a bigger claim for damages than another child because of a closer relationship; or a relationship that provided more financial support. Typically, minor children will have a larger claim than an adult child who receives little to no financial support from their now deceased parent.
Being able to produce evidence of the strength of the relationship, the loss of the companionship, and of course, the loss of financial benefits as a result of the lost loved one is critical to determining the proper amounts.
The law does not allow each person in the class to make an individual claim against the wrong-doer. This would lead to multiple different lawsuits arising from the single event. Instead, the court requires an individual to represent the group of people in the class. This representative has the power to choose the attorney and to negotiate settlements. This individual will be designated the Personal Representative. Once compensation is received, a distribution of the proceeds is proposed to the class of people. If there is a disagreement as to how the proceeds are divided, then there will be a hearing before a judge. The judge would hear testimony and review evidence as to each person’s individual loses. The judge would then determine the division of the proceeds.
What if there is no surviving spouse, parent, child or adoptive child?
In that case, the law indicates additional people can make a claim. These people are determined by the laws of intestate succession. When someone dies and they leave assets, these assets are usually passed on to surviving people through a will. However, many times people die without a will. In that case, the law steps in and dictates who has priority to make a claim on someone’s estate. That is referred to as the law of intestate (no will) succession. So, in a wrongful death case where there is no person in the first designated class, then the law of intestate succession will determine the next class of individuals who can make a claim.
This usually would then allow brothers, sisters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and other close relatives to make a claim. Of course the value of their claims are also dependent upon the ability to prove a close relationship and/or a financial loss. This second class of individuals still does not include a claim for a non-legal significant others, no matter the significance of the relationship or financial loss. It is very difficult in Oregon to have a non-legal marriage relationship be legally deemed common-law marriage.
For wrongful death claims, the statute of limitations is three years from the day of death. Wrongful death claims pose various legal and delicate challenges. Shlesinger & deVilleneuve attorneys have been successfully resolving wrongful death claims for many years. We have the resources, the experience, and the expertise to handle these cases.