People entertaining the idea of hiring a wrongful death attorney to pursue a claim may have some concerns about whether they can do it. In particular, courts almost always insist that only people who are close relatives of the deceased can pursue claims. There are, however, at least two potential exceptions. Let's look at the requirements for a wrongful death claim and what the two possible exceptions are.
When a wrongful death lawyer discusses a case with a potential client, one issue they want to sort out as soon as possible is legal standing. This is the requirement that a claimant has a legal right to sue. In wrongful death cases, the easiest way for you to achieve legal standing by far is to be a close relative of the deceased.
The concept of a close relative means that the claimant needs to be very close to the deceased. For a case involving a deceased adult, a spouse is an ideal claimant. Dependent minor children come next, and then adult children are after that. In other words, immediate family members are the preferred claimants according to the law.
If there are no surviving close relatives of the deceased, the law starts working its way out to find the closest relative possible. When someone dies unmarried and childless, for example, one of their parents or siblings may be well-positioned to file a claim.
Bear in mind the types of compensable damages for these claimants are fewer. For obvious reasons, a non-spouse can't claim loss of consortium. Similarly, claims for loss of parenting are likely not going to be viable, either.
The vast majority of non-relatives have no standing, even if there are no living relatives to make a claim. One possible exception is when someone stands in loco parentis. This involves situations where a non-parent is functionally a parent to a dependent minor, such as when a child lives with an older sibling.
Courts are split on whether a minor dependent of a decedent in loco parentis can sue in a wrongful death case, and no federal ruling has resolved the contradiction. For example, Mississippi doesn't allow it, but Delaware does.
If you do attempt this sort of claim, you will face a high bar for proving it. You may have to sue and present significant evidence establishing the relationship before a court will even consider the case.