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Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky?

June 30, 2022

After losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, it is understandable to want justice. But once a wrongful death lawsuit is settled, what happens next? The process for distributing the funds to beneficiaries can sometimes bring out the worst in people and often leads to a difficult and stressful process.

Whether you or a loved one have faced a wrongful death lawsuit and won, it is important to understand the rules that apply to any compensation. By hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney, you can avoid any unnecessary debate or stress over your loved one’s settlement.

At Karl Truman Law, we approach your wrongful death claim with empathy and experience to ensure the process is as painless as possible for you and your loved ones. Our law firm is ready to help you through every step and get you the justice you deserve.

In this article, we will cover the basics of wrongful death lawsuits, what damages apply to such cases, why filing a claim early is important, and how each settlement’s money is distributed after winning.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death cases are centered around death caused by someone else’s careless or legal faults, such as:

  • Death due to negligence (car accident, slip-and-fall, work accidents)
  • Medical malpractice
  • Intentional acts, including crimes

In a wrongful death case, the personal representative of the dead person’s estate makes a claim against the negligent party in order to compensate surviving family members for the financial and emotional damages they have suffered as a result of the death.

What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Personal Injury?

Wrongful death cases are similar to personal injury cases in many respects, but there are a few important differences.

The most obvious difference, of course, is that in a personal injury case the victim of the negligence is still alive, whereas in a wrongful death case they are not. But these civil actions also differ in terms of the types of damages you can claim, and why:

  • In a personal injury case, the financial recovery is intended to compensate the victim for the expenses and suffering that they personally experienced (hospital bills, lost income, pain and suffering, etc.)
  • In a wrongful death case, the financial recovery is intended to compensate the survivors for their expenses and suffering. This can include things like funeral expenses, future income financial support (including benefits) that family members would have expected to receive, loss of companionship, etc.

two friends comforting each other after a wrongful death
offering support when a wrongful death has occurred

What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Criminal Homicide?

A major difference between a wrongful death case and a criminal homicide case is the way punishment is given. In a criminal case, the threat of jail time is present, but a civil case uses monetary compensation to deliver punishment and hold accountability.

Criminal cases also have stricter requirements for conviction, whereas a civil case leaves much more for interpretation. Instead of proving “beyond a reasonable doubt,” you only need to show that your version of events is more likely than not. (This is called “preponderance of the evidence.”)

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Kentucky, the person who can file a lawsuit on behalf of the decedent is called a personal representative (sometimes called an executor), someone assigned to represent the deceased.

According to Kentucky statutes 411.130, 411.135, and 411.150, the only exceptions to Kentucky’s personal representative law are as follows:

  • If the death was caused by a deadly weapon, the victim’s surviving spouse and/or children may file the claim.
  • If the victim was a minor, the child’s parents may join the lawsuit filed by the personal representative.

Although all death feels wrongful in one way or another, it is important to carefully consider the conditions of your claim before filing. The legal concept of negligence is key to the claim’s success and may be harder to prove than you think. By hiring a wrongful death attorney, you can remove this burden from yourself and your loved ones so you can focus on your own emotional recovery.

Related: What Qualifies as Wrongful Death in Kentucky?

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considering who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit
grieving after a wrongful death

Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

According to Kentucky law statute 411.130, when a death occurs due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, loved ones have the right to collect damages from the person or organization responsible. What this means is that when you lose a loved one because of someone else’s carelessness or ill-intent, you are entitled to compensation. However, the way this compensation, also known as damages, is calculated can vary based on the burden caused by the loss of an individual.

For example, if the victim was a high-paying executive, there is a higher chance of significant compensation. They were responsible for a higher level of financial support and the damages associated with their wrongful death settlement will reflect this.

Damages tend to be separated into two categories: those incurred before death, and those caused by the death itself. There are several factors that go into calculating the value of a wrongful injury settlement, all of which can be determined by an experienced wrongful death lawyer.

These determining factors include:

  • Loss of income of the deceased
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Pain and suffering before death
  • Unpaid medical bills and medical expenses before death

If a spouse is looking to collect damages for “loss of consortium,” damages caused by the loss of companionship, security, and assistance provided by a spouse, they will need to file a separate lawsuit.

These damages are not typically covered by a standard wrongful death lawsuit and will require extra care and evidence. These claims also do not include “loss of enjoyment of life,” as these damages are not allowed under Kentucky law.

Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Claims

In some cases, depending on the exact circumstances, Kentucky law will permit punitive damages to be awarded for wrongful death cases. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate victim’s loved ones for any specific losses but are instead used to make an example out of the accused.

According to Kentucky statute 411.130, these damages are given out specifically for cases of extreme gross negligence or intentional harm. An example of this would be a car crash caused by a drunk driver, resulting in the death of the other driver.

Punitive damages, although understandable to want, are not always available. When meeting with a lawyer, carefully review the details of your wrongful death claim to find out if your case qualifies for these damages.

Related: What are the 3 Types of Damages?

a man working on paperwork after a wrongful death
holding the hand of a person in the hospital

How Money is Distributed From a Wrongful Death Settlement

When it comes time to receive money from a wrongful death settlement, things can get complicated. Like most states

Kentucky law has a somewhat confusing structure in place for how funds are distributed to family members after a person’s death. It is important to keep in mind that any funds distributed will also have been reduced due to attorney fees, funeral costs, and any other associated administrative costs.

After a lawsuit is settled, the state of Kentucky divides up wrongful death settlements according to the following guidelines:

  • If there is a surviving spouse, but no descendants or children, then the whole settlement goes to the spouse.
  • If there is surviving spouse and children, then half goes to the spouse and the other half goes to the children.
  • If there are surviving child or children, but no surviving spouse, then the whole amount goes to their child or children
  • If the deceased has no living children or spouses, then the money will be passed onto the parents. The amount will be distributed equally among all surviving parents. If only one parent is alive, then the whole amount will go them. In this case, adopted parents are also considered parents for any monetary distribution.
  • If there are no living parents, spouses, children, or descendants, then the whole amount will become a part of the deceased person’s estate. The settlement will be used to pay off all remaining debt, if any, and will then be passed on to more remote surviving family members, following Kentucky’s laws on descent and distribution.

As you can see, these regulations can be stressful and complicated, and family members who do not understand the rules beforehand can set themselves up for stress, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings.

That’s why getting a wrongful death attorney involved early can help save you and your loved ones any headache or heartbreak. When filing, be sure to get the help you need so you can protect your loved one’s legacy.

who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit
an elderly couple mourning a wrongful death loss

Don’t Wait to File Your Wrongful Death Case

Although it is important to take the appropriate time necessary to grieve the loss of a loved one, be sure to not delay too long before filing your wrongful death claim. Under Kentucky law, a wrongful death suit must be filed withing one year of the death or appointment of the estate’s personal representative. This gives victims very little time to wait before filing and makes getting a wrongful death attorney involved early on even more important.

In very few cases, there is a chance that you may have more time to file. However, these exceptions are usually in the case of a deadly injury that is not immediately noticed after an accident but is still linked to the incident. The other is if a personal representative is not appointed until more than a year after the victim’s death, in which case the filing limit increases to two years from the date of death.

If either of these is the case in your claim, be sure to mention these details when meeting with an attorney, as any additional time to plan your case will increase your chances of success.

Related: Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in Kentucky?

looking for a wrongful death attorney
meeting with a wrongful death lawyer

Karl Truman Law: Defending Wrongful Death Victims in Kentucky and Southern Indiana

At Karl Truman Law, we know the toll that a death can have on you and your loved ones. That’s why we approach wrongful death lawsuits with compassion and care to ensure that you don’t have to worry about protecting the legacy of those you’ve lost. As an experienced wrongful death lawyer, Karl Truman fights to get wrongful death settlements paid to the right people, as well as to ensure justice is served to those who have caused your family pain.

If you or a loved one has experienced a loss due to someone else’s negligence, call our team at (502) 222-2222 or contact us directly to schedule your free consultation with an experienced wrongful death attorney.


Action by surviving spouse or child of person killed with deadly weapon. 411 K.R.S §  Section 150 (1974)

Action for wrongful death — Personal representative to prosecute — Distribution of amount recovered. 411 K.R.S §  Section 130 (1974)

Damages in action for wrongful death of minor. 411 K.R.S §  Section 135 (1968)

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.