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How is a wrongful death settlement divided in Ohio?

Wrongful death claims can be filed over a number of situations -- most of them are accidental events, like car accidents or medical malpractice -- although some are through intentional acts of violence.

Usually, there's more than one member of the victim's family that's left emotionally devastated and financially distressed by the death. In Ohio, the victim's spouse, children and surviving parents are all presumed to have suffered a significant loss. That makes each of them entitled to be part of a wrongful death claim. It's also possible for other family members to file a claim, but they will probably have to prove to the court how they suffered a personal loss through the victim's death.

When a settlement is finally reached or a judgment is awarded, the next task the attorneys have to figure out is how to divide the settlement up fairly -- each person's loss may not be equal, so it isn't safe to assume that the proceeds will be divided equally.

For example, the elderly parents of a wrongful death victim may have suffered the loss of their child's services and companionship -- for which they definitely deserve compensation.

However, if the deceased left behind a wife and child, those family members have lost not only services and companionship, but the guidance, education, counsel and financial support they would have received over the years from their now-deceased husband and father. Essentially, their losses are greater, so they deserve a greater share of any settlement or award.

In addition, the court may decide not to give any money directly to any of the plaintiffs that are under the age of twenty-five. Instead, the court may order the money that person is due to receive put into a trust until his or her twenty-fifth birthday. Sometimes the court will order the money to remain untouched, while other times it may allow a trustee to distribute some funds for specific reasons -- like college expenses or medical needs.

Distributing the proceeds of a wrongful death claim can be a complicated process. It helps when everyone involved is in agreement -- because the judge is often then willing to accept the family's preferences. If all the plaintiffs involved can't agree, however, the judge may take the decision out of their hands.

If you have filed a wrongful death claim or are considering one, your attorney can provide more information.

Source: codes.ohio.gov/orc/2125, "2125.03 Distribution to beneficiaries," accessed April 27, 2017

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