While each state has its own laws for handling wrongful death cases, the process typically involves filing a wrongful death claim, investigating the case, and settling on an award amount. Laws as to who can pursue legal action in a wrongful death case and how long a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit vary by state, but a lawyer can help you determine how wrongful death claims work where you live and advocate for you.
Plaintiffs can file wrongful death claims for cases in which a loved one lost their life as the result of another person’s negligence or unlawful behavior. While most wrongful death cases occur due to someone’s negligence, an individual may also file a claim or lawsuit if their loved one suffered fatal injuries because of an intentional act, such as a homicide.
Each State Has Its Own Statutes for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
States carry their own statutes of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits, which determine how long an individual has to file their action in civil court. In cases involving two private parties, states allow a minimum of one year to seek compensation, although some have longer limits.
However, when the statute of limitations begins also varies by state. In many cases, the clock starts on the day of the decedent’s death. Some cases, such as those involving terminal illness, may lead to exceptions.
An attorney can determine how long you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in your state, but it is usually recommended that a person file as soon as possible to avoid potential delays.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If the decedent had a spouse, the spouse would likely qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Although states determine who can and cannot file, most allow either family members or the executor of the decedent’s state to do so, and spouses typically qualify as both.
If the decedent did not have a spouse or a will, the applicable state has a process for determining the next person in line.
Some states do not have a system in place for determining who qualifies to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In these cases, those who file might become part of a pool of plaintiffs, and the judge may consolidate their cases into a single lawsuit.
Who Benefits From a Wrongful Death Settlement?
The parties that can benefit from the settlement also depend on how a wrongful death claim or lawsuit works in your state. Potential distribution outcomes may include:
- The court distributing the settlement according to the decedent’s will
- The court deciding who receives compensation and how much they receive
- The family deciding amongst themselves
- Family members each receiving compensation in proportion to their damages
- The court approving settlement decisions
- The court making a decision if survivors cannot agree on one
A lawyer can help you determine how the filing and distribution process works in your case.
The Process Typically Begins with an Investigation
To move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit, a lawyer can help the plaintiff investigate all the circumstances of their case. This will allow the lawyer to determine if the basis for a wrongful death claim exists, evaluate the plaintiff’s damages, and decide on a fair amount of compensation to seek on the plaintiff’s behalf.
Typically, attorneys will first consider the income of the decedent at their time of death and average work-life expectancies. Some states also allow lawyers to consider non-financial damages in wrongful death cases.
Suing an individual for wrongful death first requires proving liability. This essentially involves demonstrating that the potential defendant meets all the legal criteria for negligence, in which:
- The defendant had a responsibility to act with reasonable care.
- The defendant breached that duty by omission or through a willful act.
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused the injury that led to the decedent’s death.
- The decedent’s death left the plaintiff with significant financial losses.
Issue a Demand Letter
In some cases, an attorney may begin the settlement process by issuing a demand letter, which is a formal document one party sends to another to request payment to right a wrong in a dispute.
The recipients of these documents, typically insurance companies, might not agree to the terms of the demand letter, so negotiation will likely begin.
At this point, both parties will work to achieve a fair settlement amount. If they cannot agree after several negotiations, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit and take their case to trial to pursue adequate financial recovery.
Four Important Facts About Pursuing a Wrongful Death Case
While celebrating your loved one’s life, pursuing a wrongful death case may be the last thing on your mind. What’s more, you might have some pressing questions about the financial recovery process itself.
Here are four things we want to share about your legal options:
You Can Pursue the Full Cost of Your Losses
Financial recovery can’t go back in time and prevent your loved one’s accident. It can, however, provide much-needed financial relief during this challenging time.
You can pursue your loved one’s:
- Final healthcare expenses, such as life support, emergency procedures, and stabilization techniques
- Lost income, including tips, bonuses, and expected future income
- Funeral expenses, which include embalming, cremation, burial, and the memorial service
- Your loved one’s pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
Wrongful Death Cases Arise From Many Different Situations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that motor vehicle accidents are among the leading causes of death in the U.S. While car accidents serve as the basis for many wrongful death claims, other foundations for these claims include:
- Instances of medical malpractice and nursing home abuse
- Slips and falls
- Dog bites
- Defective products
- Premises liability incidents
- On-the-job accidents
- Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as asbestos
Regardless of how your loved one passed away, you have legal options.
Your Wrongful Death Settlement Depends on Your Circumstances
Each case is different, and therefore comes with its own set of recoverable damages. Your prospective settlement depends on:
- Your loved one’s final healthcare expenses
- Your loved one’s job
- The services your loved one provided to their children and household
- The circumstances that led to your loved one’s passing
- Your out-of-pocket expenses
If you partner with an attorney, they can evaluate your case and determine what constitutes a fair settlement offer. They can also explain other factors that can affect your damages.
It Costs Nothing Out of Pocket to Partner With a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Losing a loved one causes more than emotional hardship; it can strain your finances, as well. During this time of celebration and remembrance, you shouldn’t have to worry about affording a lawyer.
Many wrongful death attorneys offer help on a contingency-fee basis. For you, this means:
- You don’t pay anything up front for a lawyer’s help.
- Your legal team gets paid from your settlement’s proceeds.
- Your legal team finances each of your case’s obligations, from its initial filing to the trial proceedings.
What Should I Do if I’m Considering a Wrongful Death Case?
Right now, the most important thing is your health and wellbeing. Take this time to celebrate your loved one’s life and achievements. You may find solace in spending time with friends and family members.
Additionally, here are some considerations that could promote your case’s outcome:
- Keep all documentation related to your damages, including receipts, invoices, estimates, and billing statements.
- Refrain from sharing information about your case to social media.
- Consider partnering with a wrongful death lawyer.
- Review how your state’s statute of limitations affects your filing deadline.
You should also think twice before accepting a settlement from the liable insurance company. In our experience, the insurer’s first offer doesn’t account for claimants’ losses. When the insurer offers a settlement, refer it to your legal team.
A Lawyer Can Help You With Your Wrongful Death Case
A wrongful death lawsuit involves a lengthy process that a claimant may find challenging to pursue on their own. At Ben Crump Law, PLLC, our attorneys can help you learn how a wrongful death claim works in your state, navigate the wrongful death claim or lawsuit process on your behalf, and assist you in seeking compensation for your losses.
Call us today at (800) 593-3443 to discuss your case for free with our legal team.