How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The survivors of victims of wrongful death have the legal right to file a claim. These lawsuits are brought about so those who have been harmed by the loss can move on with their lives. You may be able to recover damages that can cover your bills and help you get counseling to help with your grief.
When a loved one dies as the result of negligence or a deliberate act, the survivors are left to deal with the aftermath. Losing someone close to you is difficult under any circumstances, but when the loss didn’t have to happen, it can be especially distressing. You don’t have to bear the burden alone. A lawyer can help you through this painful time.
If you’re considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you probably have many questions about what the future may hold, such as what the wrongful death lawsuit settlements average is and how long you have to file a case. This guide to wrongful death cases will help you learn more about what you can expect during the legal process.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Death
A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit that is filed against a defendant the plaintiff alleges is responsible for a death. They can be at fault due to negligence or through an intentional action. Some causes include accidents, medical malpractice, and exposure to toxic substances. In a wrongful death case, you may be able to sue for the following damages.
- Medical bills
- Funeral costs
- Loss of income
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of parental guidance
- Lost prospect of inheritance
How a Lawsuit Works
Once you’ve filed your case, you will need to provide evidence that proves the at-fault party owed the victim a duty of care that they failed to provide, and this caused their death. You will also need to prove that the death caused the damages you have claimed.
Who Can File a Claim
If you are a partner or family member who suffered financially as a result of a wrongful death, you may be able to file a claim. If no one steps forward to file a claim within three months of the death, the estate’s executor can file a claim. Family members can also block estates from filing. Some examples of who can file a claim include the following.
- Domestic partners
- Adopted children
Each state’s laws are different. While some states allow siblings and grandparents to file a wrongful death case, others do not
The Statute of Limitations
In most states, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the death. However, there are some exceptions. There may be a discovery rule that allows cases to be filed later than this if it can be demonstrated that the cause of the death was not determined within the statute of limitations time frame. Because time is of the essence, it is essential for you to file a claim as quickly as possible. The longer you wait to file, the less time you will have to negotiate with insurance.
While some states do not have any damage caps in wrongful death cases, others do. For example, Texas places a cap on the amount of money you can recover in a wrongful death case when medical malpractice is involved. You may recover all of your economic damages. However, according to the Medical Malpractice Reform Act of 2003, which is also known as House Bill 4, you may not recover more than $750,000 total in non-economic damages. You also cannot sue doctors or individual health care providers for more than $250,000. Even if you are filing a case against multiple providers, the total combined damages cannot exceed $500,000.
The Average Settlement
The circumstances surrounding each wrongful death case are unique, so therefore there is no average amount of compensation. Awards can range from the hundreds of thousands well into the multi-millions. The potential amount of an award depends on a variety of factors. These include the victim’s age and their earnings potential. Whether or not they survived for a period of time after the injury is also a factor. The limits of the at-fault party’s insurance will also affect the total amount of your settlement.
How an Award Is Paid Out
In many wrongful death cases there are multiple family members who file lawsuits. When this happens, the proceeds will not be distributed equally. If the survivors of the deceased decide to accept an insurance settlement, the attorneys will negotiate for their clients’ portion of the settlement. If an agreement can’t be reached, your case will go to court, where the division of the proceeds will be decided by a jury.
There are some circumstances that will affect how much your award may be. One of these is if there are minor children involved who may be entitled to a larger share. Another factor that will affect your settlement amount is whether or not the other claimants are agreeable. There may be multiple beneficiaries and lawyers involved. The more time you and your attorneys spend contesting issues, the smaller your award will be.
Why You Should Get an Attorney
A personal injury attorney who specializes in wrongful death can save you time and money. Your lawyer understands the complexities of the law, and they are experienced with the process. These are some of the other ways an attorney can help you.
- Negotiating a settlement so you can avoid court
- Helping you understand the true value of your claim
- Explaining your options so you can make informed decisions
- Providing legal and emotional support during a difficult time
- Taking your case to trial when a fair settlement can’t be reached
- Making sure you get the award you deserve
If you have not spoken with an attorney, you should reach out to one soon to learn more about your options. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations. During your initial meeting, they will review the facts of your case and advise you about the steps you should take next to protect your rights.
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