All wrongful death lawsuits vary in terms of length. Some take months, but others can take years.
The surviving family members or the decedent’s personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit if the victim would have lived and been able to file a personal injury claim. These lawsuits can take varying lengths of time based on the circumstances and are different from personal injury cases involving car accidents or slip-and-fall accidents, for example.
What Is the Timeline for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits carry a specific timeline. If a person died due to negligence, recklessness or violence perpetrated by someone else, a claim could be brought forth. The court or a jury can determine the amount of damages available to the surviving family members. These are based on the victim’s age, physical condition, earning capacity, length of time they would have lived, how they supported their family and other factors.
First Stage of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
There are different steps involved in a wrongful death lawsuit. In the first stage, the decedent’s family members or personal representative contact a lawyer experienced in these types of cases so they can guide them through each phase. The attorney will ensure that the lawsuit is filed in a timely manner and note who is liable for the victim’s death to help the plaintiff(s) claim the appropriate damages.
Decedent’s Estate Goes Through Probate
Regardless of whether the victim had a will, their estate must go through the probate process. Without a will, it’s long and drawn out, and the court ultimately decides who receives which assets and property from the estate. If the decedent had a will, probate goes faster and the heirs the person intended to leave assets to end up receiving their inheritance once the process ends.
How to Determine What Damages to Seek
The damages available in a wrongful death claim include anything related to the decedent’s suffering and expenses they incurred while still alive such as medical bills. However, most damages are those suffered by the surviving family members. This includes funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and earning capacity of the decedent, loss of support, services, guidance, love and companionship, loss of consortium for the surviving spouse, pain and suffering and mental anguish.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
Sometimes, in a wrongful death claim, the discovery rule is applied. This refers to any actions that could determine whether the victim should have known what caused their injury or illness before their death. Any limitations within the case should have been applied before the individual passed away.
How to Seek a Wrongful Death Settlement
Although there is no set settlement amount for the death of a loved one, different factors determine what type of settlement to request. One of the major ones is the earning capacity of the decedent if they had lived. Medical expenses the person had toward their treatment before their death and funeral and burial expenses are other aspects strongly considered. Sometimes, pain and suffering is another factor; this can be the victim’s or that of the surviving family members as a result of their loss.
Wrongful Death Cases Going to Trial
If the parties in a wrongful death claim are unable to agree to a settlement amount, the case then goes to trial. A jury hears all the evidence in the case to determine a fair and reasonable settlement for the surviving family members. Specific damages are considered, but there is also the determination of whether the victim’s death was caused by a crime or medical malpractice. In that scenario, the jury might decide that in addition to the damages sought by the plaintiffs, punitive damages should also be added. This amount is not included to award the surviving families so much as it is to punish the defendant for reckless or egregious behavior.
When Should You Appeal the Outcome of a Wrongful Death Case?
While many plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits accept the settlement they receive, some may not find them acceptable. In that situation, they have the right to appeal to recover a higher settlement. For example, if the amount of compensation for the victim’s medical expenses is insufficient, they could appeal to try to recover a higher amount.
What Factors May Affect a Wrongful Death Claim’s Timeline?
Although many wrongful death lawsuits are settled in as little as a few months, the timeline of some claims is affected by certain factors. One is the issue of fault; it’s important to establish the liable party in any wrongful death claim, or there may be complications in the case.
A high amount of compensation for the potential settlement can also impact the timeline, especially when going through an insurance company. The insurer disputing fault is another factor that could lengthen a wrongful death claim’s timeline.
If the wrongful death was caused by a criminal act, it can impact the timeline. If ample evidence exists that the decedent was partially liable for the accident that led to their injuries and death, that, too, can affect the case.
Some Wrongful Death Cases are Complex
Often, wrongful death cases are complex. Mostly, this is due to the surviving family members having to deal with their grief while going through a lawsuit to hold the party at fault for their loved one’s death accountable. Another factor in the complexity of these cases is that the evidence isn’t always immediately clear; witnesses may be needed to testify on the plaintiffs’ behalf. In other cases, if the victim’s death was due to criminal violence or if the victim is believed to have played some role in their ultimate demise, things may also be considered complex.
Importance of Witness Availability
Sometimes, it’s necessary to call in witnesses to testify in a wrongful death case. Two different types can be brought in to help strengthen the case: eyewitnesses who saw the accident as it occurred and expert witnesses who can prove how the victim’s death was caused through their professional expertise and identify the at-fault party. In terms of the latter, the plaintiff’s attorney can find an expert witness through a variety of channels. They may already know a few and can find them online or through colleagues.
Understanding the Responsiveness of Parties
If the defendant is immediately responsive, a wrongful death case can be resolved faster. However, if the opposite is true and the party disputes liability or a settlement offer, the case can end up going to trial. This may occur whether the defendant is a person, entity or insurance company.
What Is the Court’s Workload in These Cases?
All wrongful death cases take hours of work and require countless amounts of paperwork. The victim’s surviving family members should never have to worry about all the red tape involved in their case; they have enough on their plate while grieving the loss of their loved one. Their attorney handling the case and the court will take care of all the administrative work involved in the case, providing some measure of relief to the family.
Importance of Having Plenty of Strong Evidence
The more evidence available to back up a wrongful death claim, the better. This strengthens the plaintiffs’ claim and helps determine the costs of medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity had the victim survived and other financial losses. Evidence can be presented in the form of medical records, photos, witness statements and testimony and the death certificate.
What Happens When the Defendant or Insurance Company Is Uncooperative?
When the defendant or insurance company is uncooperative with accepting a settlement demand, it could lead to a wrongful death case taking a longer time to resolve. The case will go to trial in front of a jury that ultimately determines the settlement the surviving family members should receive.
The Issue of Case Complexity
Different facts can make a wrongful death case more complex. Unresponsive or uncooperative defendants or insurance companies, a lack of witnesses and insufficient evidence can all play a part in that. The same is true when there’s a question of whether the decedent had some role in the circumstances leading to their death. For example, a car accident caused their death while they were traveling a few miles per hour over the speed limit while the other driver was under the influence of alcohol.
Understanding Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is the time frame during which a plaintiff is able to file their lawsuit. This amount of time varies depending on the type of legal claim and the state in which it’s being filed.
Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Claims
For most states, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years. However, some circumstances may lengthen or shorten that time period for filing. If the decedent was a minor or mentally disabled, it could be longer; if the victim died due to medical malpractice, the statute of limitations might be shorter.
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Why Settling Wrongful Death Claims Might Take a Long Time
Most wrongful death cases end up settling, but some can take a long time for various reasons; complexities in the case can hinder a fast resolution. If expert witnesses are needed, it might help speed up the process, but because the court is required to finalize the settlement, it could take a longer time. This is especially true if the surviving family members are minor children as the settlement has to be put into a guardianship for their benefit.
Why Should You Avoid Rushing a Settlement?
One of the biggest mistakes you could make in a wrongful death claim is to rush to accept a settlement. Whether or not you’re seeking one from an insurance company, the first settlement offer is typically considerably lower than what your damages are worth. The other side wants to make a lowball offer and have it immediately accepted to avoid any further culpability.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit While a Criminal Case Is Pending
If a criminal case is pending against the person at fault for wrongful death, the victim’s surviving family members or personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit. They do not have to wait for the criminal suit to end before filing.
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What Are Some Examples of Wrongful Death Cases?
There are many ways a wrongful death can occur. Some examples of these cases involve distracted drivers, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, drunk drivers, hit-and-runs and semi-truck and tractor-trailer accidents.
Wrongful Death Caused By Distracted Drivers
If a distracted driver causes a car accident, it could lead to serious injuries. When those injuries result in the victim’s death, their survivors have cause to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death in Pedestrian and Cycling Accidents
Reckless or negligent drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists and cause death to the victims can be held liable for wrongful death.
Wrongful Death in Drunk Driving Accidents
Drunk drivers who cause severe car crashes that claim a person’s life can be sued in a wrongful death lawsuit. These drivers put everyone on the road at risk of serious injuries or even death.
Wrongful Death Caused By Hit-and-Run Drivers
Hit-and-run accidents can result in criminal charges against the offending driver. Those charges can be elevated to a felony if a person is killed as a result. The victim’s family or personal representative can also file a wrongful death lawsuit against the perpetrator.
Wrongful Death Caused By Semi-Trucks and Tractor Trailers
Huge trucks are usually safe on the roads, but when an accident occurs, the consequences can be deadly. If a person is killed due to negligence or recklessness, a truck driver or trucking company – or both – can be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.
How Are Wrongful Death Claims Proven?
To prove a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff needs the right evidence. Often, expert witness testimony can greatly strengthen the case. For example, if the accident scene needs investigating, an expert can attest to how it occurred. Or a medical expert can testify about how the victim’s injuries were caused that ultimately killed them.
Recovery for the Victim’s Survivors
The victim’s surviving family members can recover various damages if the wrongful death case is successful. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, guidance and support, pain and suffering and mental anguish. If the defendant’s conduct is found to be outrageous, punitive damages may also be awarded.
Steps Before Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
Before filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you should consult with an attorney experienced in the area of wrongful death. Discuss your options, including whether the family or personal representative can file, and know the statute of limitations for filing your claim. You will also want to understand how the decedent’s estate is handled and whether they had a will and other estate planning documents. If your loved one’s death was caused by violence, a criminal lawsuit may also be filed.
Why You Should Avoid an Initial Offer from an Insurance Company
Insurance companies don’t like paying settlements. As a result, they make the lowest initial offer possible. Don’t fall for it; this amount will undoubtedly be insufficient to cover all the damages your family has suffered. While there’s no amount of money in the world that can bring back your loved one, you deserve to hold out for the maximum compensation in a wrongful death claim.
Potential Compensation from Wrongful Death Claims
Depending on the circumstance, the amount you might receive in compensation for a wrongful death lawsuit varies. You could receive three digits or even over $1 million. If extenuating factors exist, your compensation may range on the high side. Punitive damages can also make the amount you receive higher.
Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Both economic and noneconomic damages are awarded in wrongful death cases. Economic are those with specific monetary costs while noneconomic cannot be measured by a financial amount. Some common damages in wrongful death lawsuits include medical expenses, lost financial support, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering of the victim, loss of consortium, loss of guidance, care and emotional support and mental anguish suffered by the family.
How Wrongful Death Settlements Are Paid Out
In most cases, wrongful death settlements are paid out in structured settlements. This means that a regular monthly payment is made to the victim’s surviving family members. It’s similar to a steady stream of income.
Are There Taxes on Settlements?
Once you receive your wrongful death settlement, you might worry about having to pay taxes on it. Fortunately, your settlement is not considered income, so it’s not taxable.
What Is the Timeline of a Wrongful Death Case?
The first step in the timeline of a wrongful death case is probate. If any of the decedent’s surviving family members are minor children, a guardian must be appointed and a guardianship created for their benefit.
Establishing the damages is the next step; this normally includes medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost wages and lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, guidance and care, loss of consortium and mental anguish.
Discovery involves gathering as much evidence as possible to support the case. This includes medical records and bills, witness reports and testimony and the death certificate.
You can then seek a settlement. If you’re unable to reach an agreement for a satisfactory amount, your case then goes to trial and a jury will determine your damages award.
In some cases, it might be necessary to appeal the outcome of a wrongful death case.
What Is the Highest Wrongful Death Settlement?
The highest wrongful death settlement in the United States was $160 million. The case was Galdamez, et al. v. U-Haul Co. of Pennsylvania, et. Al.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take in Florida?
Most Florida wrongful death lawsuits take anywhere from 18 months to three years to resolve. However, the specifics of the case can shorten or lengthen that amount of time.
Chances of Winning a Wrongful Death Suit
Your chances of winning a wrongful death lawsuit are high if your case has sufficient proof that your loved one would have had just cause to file a personal injury claim if they had lived. There are a variety of factors that can show that this would have been the case.
Steps in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
After a person is killed due to the negligence, recklessness or intentional act of violence of another person, their personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family. This must be done within two years of the person’s death.
The decedent’s estate goes through probate to determine the beneficiaries. A guardianship is created for minor children if there are any, and a guardian is selected to oversee it.
The discovery process involves determining why the person died. In wrongful death cases, this must be due to some type of misconduct.
The surviving family members seek a settlement amount for all the damages they’ve incurred. This includes those directly tied to the decedent such as medical expenses, pain and suffering and funeral and burial costs, as well as their damages such as loss of companionship, support and guidance, loss of consortium and mental anguish.
Average Wrongful Death Settlement
The average wrongful death settlement can range around the area of $500,000 to $1 million. This is because of a cap on noneconomic damages.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?
Wrongful death lawsuits can take anywhere from several months to several years to be resolved.