On February 9, 2023, Gloria Allred, on behalf of the parents and sister of Halyna Hutchins, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. This is the second lawsuit to arise from the deadly shooting that took place on the set of Rust. Last year, Halyna Hutchins’ widower filed suit against Alec Baldwin and others involved with production. That suit was settled later that year.
This prompts the question: How many times, and by how many family members of Halyna Hutchins can Alec Baldwin be sued for the same incident?
This depends on a couple of factors, listed below:
Consideration #1: Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction deals with where a lawsuit can be filed. In the first lawsuit, Halyna Hutchins’ widower filed suit in the jurisdiction where the shooting took place: in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The second lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County, California. This is where the Rust production company is based. Jurisdiction is important because it sets the default for any “choice of law” decisions.
What is a choice of law decision?
Choice of law is a set of rules used to select which jurisdiction’s laws to apply in a lawsuit. Choice of law questions most frequently arise in federal court lawsuits that are based on “diversity jurisdiction,” such as the plaintiff and defendant being from different states. A choice of law decision exists if California law is different than New Mexico law regarding awarding damages to beneficiaries in a wrongful death case.
Consideration #2: Wrongful death beneficiaries
In wrongful death cases, the beneficiaries are the people identified, often by statute, that will receive proceeds from any settlement or verdict.
Under New Mexico law, the order of distribution for the beneficiaries is as follows:
- All to the surviving spouse if there are no children
- If there is a surviving spouse and one or more surviving children or grandchildren, damages are divided one-half to the surviving spouse and one-half to the surviving children and grandchildren.
- If there is no surviving spouse but there are surviving children or grandchildren, the damages award is divided among the surviving children and grandchildren according to right of representation as authorized by New Mexico law.
This means only Halyna Hutchins’s spouse and children would be able to collect damages. This would also explain why her parents and sister were not a part of the lawsuit filed in 2022.
Under California law, the order of distribution for the beneficiaries is as follows:
- The surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and any issue of deceased children
- If there are no surviving children, then the surviving spouse or domestic partner as set by California laws of succession
- If they were dependent on the decedent, then stepchildren or parents
- A minor who at the time of the decedent’s death resided for at least 180 days in the same household, and was dependent on the decedent for ½ or more for support
This is likely why the second lawsuit was filed in California. Under New Mexico law, Halyna Hutchins’s parents and sister would not be considered beneficiaries of her wrongful death lawsuit. Under California law, if they meet certain conditions, they can be considered beneficiaries.
Wrongful death and Virginia law
Under Virginia law, Halyna Hutchins’s spouse and child could recover. Her parents could also recover, provided that in the last 12 months preceding her death, they regularly received support or services from the decedent. This would be for necessities and living expenses, such as food, shelter, health care, etc. Using Virginia rules, her sister would not be considered a beneficiary.
Regardless of what state a wrongful death claim is filed in, there are many rules that govern who can bring the suit, and who can receive a recovery. It’s always good to seek the professional assistance of an attorney to help you navigate the legal struggles of a wrongful death lawsuit. The emotional hardships that loved ones go through can make it difficult to deal with the paperwork and legal issues.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the compassionate attorneys at Allen & Allen for a free consultation today, at 866-388-1307.