Last updated on September 28th, 2023
Wrongful death is a civil court case that can follow fatal accidents or crimes like manslaughter and murder. If your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence (lack of care or caution), you could pursue a civil claim resulting in a financial settlement. Someone found not guilty in a criminal trial over your loved one’s death can still be found guilty in a civil trial—the OJ Simpson case is an example of this. The criminal jury found OJ not guilty of murder, but the civil jury found him guilty of wrongful death.
State laws allow the victim’s children and spouse to file for wrongful death. Some states even allow the victim’s parents and siblings the right to seek wrongful death damages.
Ohio Revised Code section 2125.02 says that the only person who can bring a wrongful death claim in Ohio is the victim’s executor (i.e., the person handling the execution of their will). In this case, the victim’s estate is suing, and the executor is simply the spokesperson for the estate, i.e., those who stand to inherit things in the victim’s will.
To clarify, in Ohio, if the victim listed their accountant, old college room-mate, or still had their ex-spouse named as the executor, then that person is the only one who can file the wrongful death suit—the old college room-mate would take precedence over the victim’s mother, son, or wife.
If the victim died without a will, the Ohio probate court system can appoint a “personal representative” who has the authority to bring the wrongful death claim. This means that, yes, it is possible for a fiance in Ohio to bring a wrongful death claim. If you were not the executor of your fiance’s estate, a judge could grant you that right. Whether the victim had adult children, parents, or other closer blood relatives may play a role in who a court selects to be the personal representative. There are a lot of factors at play.
The real question is not about who files the wrongful death case but rather who can receive the benefits. Where does the victim’s fiance stand in receiving a portion of the wrongful death payout? Typically, the court will specify how a wrongful death award is to be split up among the victim’s survivors. Ohio limits grandparents, siblings, and others, like fiances, from being named as recipients of a wrongful death claim. So, it is possible that the victim’s fiance could be the one to file the wrongful death case but not actually receive any of the settlement money.
In Ohio, a fiance (or grandparent, sibling, best friend, business partner, etc.) can petition the court to get some of a wrongful death award, but they must be able to prove that they suffered losses with legal grounds for compensation. For example, if the surviving fiance had paid a non-refundable $15,000 to their wedding caterer for a wedding that won’t be happening now, the fiance could try to seek part of the wrongful death claim for restitution. If the fiance was financially dependent on the victim, that could also be a reason to petition the court to receive some of the wrongful death award.
Remember that the amount the survivors demand for the wrongful death case will first take into account reimbursing their funeral expenses and any other costs, such as a lost wedding deposit. You can read Chapter 2105 of the Ohio Revised Code for more information.
In the context of the law, the time limit you have to file a case, civil or criminal, is called a “statute of limitations.” For wrongful death cases in Ohio, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the victim’s untimely death. If you did not learn that the victim’s death was wrongful until after he or she died, you would have two years from the time you discovered this information. If this is your situation, you’ll need to prove to the court why you didn’t file within the standard two-year timeframe, so be ready to prove your case.
This gets even stickier than the aforementioned “fiance gray area.” Most courts will grant a spouse the right to wrongful death benefits if they remarry. Certain circumstances can negate this, and that is up to the court’s discretion. If the fiance is clearly listed in the victim’s will as someone who will be inheriting assets and/or if there is no other next of kin, these might be circumstances in which a remarried fiance could receive wrongful death benefits.
Like a fiance, a putative spouse is someone in the gray area when it comes to wrongful death benefits. The term “putative spouse” refers to someone who thought they were legally married, entering the marriage in good faith, but it turned out their marriage was invalid. An example might be if a couple got married, and the husband was legally married to someone else in another country and never told his new wife. In this case, she is considered a “putative spouse.” Ohio does not have any guidelines for putative spouses (or common law spouses) in wrongful death cases.
As you can see, there is no black-and-white answer as to whether a fiance is entitled to wrongful death benefits in Ohio. If you find yourself in this situation, speaking to an experienced Ohio wrongful death attorney, like the ones at Dyer, Garofalo, Mann, & Schultz, is wise. You may very well be entitled to your fiance’s wrongful death benefits, but it can require a lot of coordination and petitioning the court. We will fight for the maximum wrongful death benefits possible for you. Call us at 937-222-2222 and set up your free consultation with one of our dedicated and talented lawyers today. If you prefer, use our contact form as well.
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