When suffering the loss of a loved one due to another person’s negligence, recklessness, or assault, filing a court case is the last thing you want to do. But in some situations, it’s the best way to handle the stresses and emotional tumult that follow a loved one’s death.
When a loved one dies, you may be responsible for funeral arrangements and expenses, work to replace lost wages, pay off debts, and so much more. You may need the settlement money to cover these expenses that shouldn’t have been your responsibility.
It’s also important to consider your moral obligation to prevent future accidents. For example, if your loved one died because of unsafe working conditions, your lawsuit could prevent another accident.
When you’ve hired an experienced attorney and are ready to file your wrongful death lawsuit, arm yourself with knowledge. Use the answers to these 10 frequently asked questions to help:
1. What qualifies as a wrongful death suit?
It’s considered wrongful death if the incident falls under one of the following categories:
- Intentional killing
- Medical malpractice
- Assault resulting in death
- Car accident involving negligence
- Workplace accident due to unsafe conditions
- Product malfunction
- Slip and fall accident resulting in death
These are the most common causes behind wrongful death suits, but there may be others. If your loved one died because of someone else’s intentional act or negligence, ask an attorney if your case qualifies.
2. Who is eligible to file a claim?
The right to file a claim may vary from state to state, but it typically goes to immediate family members. Distant family members, domestic life partners, or, in some cases, very close friends may be allowed to file next.
A personal representative of the estate may also file a lawsuit if no one else comes forward. This is typically reserved for the wealthy, but that’s not a requirement in every case.
3. What damages can I collect?
Survivors may be able to collect damages in the following categories:
- Burial and funeral costs
- Medical costs associated with treating the deceased victim
- Pre-death pain and suffering of the deceased
- Loss of salary or wages
- Pain and suffering for the survivors
Depending on the state and circumstances, there may be more categories you can list. Discuss your options with a trusted attorney in your state.
4. How much can I win?
Unfortunately, there is no calculator for a settlement in a wrongful death case. It’s extremely difficult to place monetary value on the loss of a life, and many factors will influence the outcome.
An attorney probably can’t give you accurate numbers, but they can suggest a settlement number that should cover your expenses and more.
5. Who can I sue?
Some wrongful death cases involve more than one defendant. You might sue the person who caused the accident, the manufacturer of a product, the company where the deceased was employed, or other entities that may have had played a role in the accident.
In some cases, government agencies or employees may be immune from a lawsuit, but that’s always true. You may be able to sue an agency for failing to inadequately warn about roadway hazards, for example.
6. What proof do I need?
You must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care and had reasonable causation in any wrongful death case.
The level of proof needed depends largely on the case in question. Your attorney will direct you in gathering proof. Be as compliant and honest as possible to ensure adequate proof is presented.
7. Is there a statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations indicates the time period you have to file your wrongful death suit. When the time has elapsed, the courts will not accept your filing.
This time period varies from state to state, but it’s typically around two years. Research your state laws for an accurate number.
8. How long do I have to wait for the results?
Most wrongful death cases are settled without going to trial. If that’s the case, it should take just a few months to know your results. A case that goes to court could take a year or more to conclude, and even longer to get your settlement.
9. How much will I have to pay my attorney?
A good attorney will not require upfront payment or a retainer. They will only collect a fee after you’ve won. If you don’t win your case, you shouldn’t be expected to pay.
10. Can I use any attorney?
Just because a person has passed the bar exam does not mean they are a suitable choice. You need an attorney that specializes in wrongful death cases, especially one who has extensive experience in the field.
Additionally, that attorney should practice in your state. Vet potential attorneys carefully to make sure they’ll have your best interests in mind and will fight tooth and nail to win your case.