The sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult events that a family faces. Nothing can fill the void created by such a loss. Not only is the family deprived of the decedent’s love, support and guidance, but it also can have a devastating financial impact on a family. At common law, if a person was killed by the negligent conduct of another, the family had no right to recover damages because the negligence claim belonged to the deceased and was considered to have “died” with the victim.
The Minnesota legislature sought to remedy this injustice by giving the next of kin the statutory right to bring a wrongful death claim. “Next of kin” include the decedent’s spouse, grandparents, siblings, and children. However, it is not the individual family members of the decedent who assert a wrongful death claim, but rather a court appointed trustee that acts on behalf of all of the claimants. The trustee can be anyone approved by the Court, and is almost always a family member of the deceased. Once appointed, the trustee has authority to prosecute all aspects of the claim, including hiring an attorney, negotiating a settlement, and commencing litigation, if necessary.
The statute allows for the recovery of “pecuniary” damages only. Pecuniary damages include lost wages and loss of earning capacity of the decedent over the course of the decedent’s lifetime. The next of kin may also recover certain non-economic loss such as loss of companionship, comfort, advice, guidance, counsel, aid, assistance, protection, and society. Unfortunately, damages for the grief and sorrow experienced by the next of kin are not recoverable under Minnesota law.
Once a wrongful death claim has been completed, either by settlement or verdict, the trustee must file a petition with the court setting forth a proposed distribution of the recovery among the individual next of kin. Typically, if all of the next of kin have agreed to the distribution, the court will approve the distribution without question. However, if there is a disagreement about how the recovery should be distributed, the court will hold a hearing to decide how to distribute the money in accordance with the loss suffered by each claimant.
We understand that no amount of money will ever truly compensate you for your loss, but if you or someone you know has experienced the loss of a loved one, the attorneys at Nelson Personal Injury will work hard to ensure that you are fairly compensated for all pecuniary loss.