When someone dies because of another person’s negligence certain individuals can bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party. Normally, those who may recover under a claim for wrongful death and survival are limited to a certain class of persons. In such cases, the plaintiff can be the surviving spouse, a surviving child, the decedent’s parents, the decedent’s siblings, or the decedent’s grandparents. La. C.C. arts. 2315.1 (2016); La. C.C. arts. 2315.2 (2016). But what happens when there are multiple people who are entitled to bring the wrongful death suit? Can a biological father recover in his son’s wrongful death and survival suit when the son is presumed to be the child of another man? Recently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana addressed these issues when it decided a case involving a fatal car crash.
On March 8, 2013, Juan Joseph Hughes (“Mr. Hughes”) hit a parked car which caused his car to burst into flames. As a result of this accident, Mr. Hughes lost his life. Mr. Hughes’s parents, Joseph and Cherryn Burkette, filed a wrongful death claim, naming General Motor, LLC. and Banner Chevrolet as defendants. The Burkettes claimed that their son died as a result of the defendants’ negligence.
In response, the defendants argued that Mr. Burkette could not be part of the wrongful death suit. The defendants noted that the Burkettes and decedent did not share a last name. Ms. Burkette asserted that Mr. Burkette was Mr. Hughes’ biological father and that she was his biological mother. Ms. Burkette explained that she was in a relationship with Mr. Burkette while she was married to Jerome Hughes and that her son’s last name only reflected Ms. Burkette’s marital status at the time of Mr. Hughes’s birth.