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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and How Long Does it Take to Settle Wrongful Death Claims

What-is-a-Wrongful-Death-Lawsuit-and-How-Long-Does-it-Take-to-Settle-Wrongful-Death-Claims

A wrongful death claim is a right that belongs to surviving family members of the deceased that they would bring in order to be compensated for the losses that they have suffered as a result of the death. Wrongful death claims can encompass virtually any kind of death suffered, whether it is intentional or unintentional. Essentially, the wrongful death claim is filed on behalf of the estate for the benefit of the surviving family members. The lawsuit is not so much for the damage that was caused to the deceased, but for the suffering of the surviving family. While we will typically try to negotiate a settlement in wrongful death cases, we are fully prepared to litigate the case if necessary. 

What Is Covered by a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death lawsuits cover a wide range of situations. They can result from an act of murder if there is a civil suit or from someone’s negligence. For example, if the doctor or hospital’s negligence during medical treatment resulted in a patient’s death, then the cause of action will be a wrongful death suit. 

Once a person is deceased, their legal interests belong to their estate. Those who are a part of the estate have the power to make decisions on behalf of the estate. One of these decisions is whether to file a lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. Since the deceased cannot sue on their own, a family member will need to initiate the lawsuit. 

The Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In order to prove a wrongful death case, all of the elements of the tort must be met. When it comes to wrongful death, there are four primary elements. They are as follows:

  • There must be a death
  • The death must result from either another person’s negligence or an intentional act to harm the deceased. This is going to be the element that receives the most attention during the course of a wrongful death lawsuit. The other three elements are not difficult to prove, but the main question will be whether someone else’s actions or omissions caused the death. This will require witnesses and testimony. This will be the same test that is applied in a personal injury case. Namely, the jury will look at whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, whether that duty was breached in a manner that was the proximate cause of the injury.
  • There must be someone who was dependent on the deceased for either money or some other kind of support.
  • The representative of the estate has made the decision to bring suit on behalf of the estate.

When a wrongful death case is litigated, the cause of death will be at issue. It will be as if the deceased themselves is filing the suit and the inquiry will revolve around what happened to the deceased. This will make it similar to any other personal injury or negligence case that it filed and litigated. In other words, the same elements of the case that would need to be proven if the deceased were still alive would still need to be demonstrated in a wrongful death lawsuit. The plaintiff would still need to show that the defendant committed an act or an omission that was the proximate cause of the injury and death. 

What Damages Can Be Recovered?

There are a variety of different damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death claim. Most of these damages are suffered by the family because of the death. For example, if the family was financially reliant on the deceased, they can recoup what they lost. Similarly, they can also recover for the damages that they suffer from not having the deceased physically present anymore. This includes loss of consortium and loss of guidance that they would have received from the loved one.

In addition, there are some harms that the loved one suffered prior to death that are compensable. For example, if there was pain or suffering involved while the deceased was still alive, the estate can be compensated for that in a wrongful death lawsuit. In addition, costs incurred before the deceased passed away, such as medical bills, can also be included in a wrongful death lawsuit. Even though there has been a death involved, the estate does not lose the right to sue for the damages suffered by the deceased because personal injury claims survive even when the deceased is no longer alive. 

Punitive Damages

One of the major aspects of a wrongful death lawsuit will be an attempt to impose punitive damages on the defendant. This is done by a jury that is shocked by the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct. If the facts of the case indicate severe misconduct by the defendant, there may be an incentive to take the case all the way to trial since defendants’ rarely admit misconduct in a settlement agreement. In these cases, the highest possible award will result from taking the case to trial. 

The Process

When there is a wrongful death lawsuit, there will likely be some form of discovery in the case. This will involve requests for information and documents from the defendant as well as depositions of people with knowledge of the facts. If there is a strong case or if the defendant wants to reduce their legal risk, there will likely be some settlement negotiations towards the close of discovery as some of the facts of the case become clear. If you fail to reach a settlement agreement, it does not end your ability to receive compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one. It just means that the case will go to trial and we will argue our case in front of the jury. We will also litigate the case if the defendant presents an inadequate settlement offer.  

An attorney can advise you on the process and procedure of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If you have had a loved one die, while reliving in court may be traumatic, you owe it to your family to seek the justice that they deserve if someone else caused your loved one to die either intentionally or unintentionally.

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