Losing a loved one is a harrowing experience, made even more traumatic when their death results from another person or entity's negligence or misconduct. Surviving family members and dependents face the emotional anguish of a tragic loss and significant financial burdens.
A wrongful death suit can secure justice and financial assistance in these challenging times. Who has the right to file such a claim? This article answers that question and examines how an experienced wrongful death lawyer can handle your claim and secure compensation for your loss.
Overview of Wrongful Death Laws
A wrongful death occurs when someone dies due to another person's or entity's negligent, reckless, or intentional actions. The law deems the death wrongful because it would not have happened if the responsible party had acted differently.
Wrongful death suits seek compensation from the party (or parties) at fault for causing harm. They frequently complement a related but separate lawsuit called a survival action, which seeks to recover monetary and other damages the victim suffered before dying due to the at-fault party's actions.
Those lawsuits together can seek damages that include:
- Loss of the deceased victim's income, services, or financial support.
- Loss of the deceased victim's companionship, consortium, society, or guidance.
- Surviving loved ones' emotional anguish.
- The victim's pain and suffering before death.
- The victim's medical and other accident-related expenses before death.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- When appropriate, punitive damages to punish the at-fault party's extreme or malicious misconduct.
Virtually any individual, business, or entity can have liability for wrongful death. If your loved one died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, for example, a wrongful death claim could hold the driver accountable. If they passed away due to a faulty product, you may have the right to file a wrongful death suit against the manufacturer.
The potential compensation through wrongful death and survival lawsuits cannot replace a tragic loss of life. It can offer vital financial support to you as you face the emotional and financial challenges of an unexpected loss and the need to plan for a future without your deceased loved one.
These people are typically:
- A surviving spouse or domestic partner.
- A surviving parent.
- A surviving child (including situations where a guardian ad litem represents a minor child).
- An executor or personal representative of the deceased victim's estate.
Other family members, such as siblings or grandparents, may also have the right to pursue an action for wrongful death, particularly if they were financially dependent on the deceased. You can typically file only one wrongful death case, even if multiple parties have the legal right.
Despite variations in state laws about who can file a wrongful death case, the laws on who can receive compensation from such a lawsuit are relatively uniform. The victim's surviving spouse and close family members can receive compensation in proportion to their respective losses. The party who files a wrongful death case isn't necessarily the only person who can receive money from it.
The victim's estate, in contrast, has the right to the proceeds from the survival action typically filed simultaneously with a wrongful death case. Upon receipt of those funds, the estate distributes them according to the deceased victim's will and state probate laws. The victim's heirs may receive those funds, but there is no guarantee.
The Many Roles of a Wrongful Death Lawyer
A wrongful death lawyer handles all aspects of a case on behalf of the parties authorized to file or receive proceeds from it. They take care of the legal analysis, strategy, paperwork, and communications, giving grieving spouses and family members the time and space they need to heal from their loss.
The services a wrongful death lawyer provides and the steps they take vary depending on the case's circumstances. Lawyers tailor their efforts to fit the particular needs and priorities of the situation. They often fill the following roles:
Wrongful death lawyers oversee independent investigations of the cause of death. They examine the events leading to the death and identify the parties whose unreasonable decisions, actions, or failures to act played a role.
Your lawyer may gather physical, visual, or documentary evidence and interview witnesses. They may coordinate with other official investigations to share information and get input from law enforcement or others evaluating the tragic events.
Your wrongful death lawyer will evaluate the scope of your loss and the victim's estate's loss (the body of assets, liabilities, and legal rights that survive the victim's passing).
This evaluation establishes the maximum damages a combined wrongful death and survival lawsuit could rightfully claim from at-fault parties. It is also a starting point for analyzing the financial resources the at-fault parties may have—typically in the form of liability insurance coverage or liquid assets—with which to pay damages to you or your loved one's estate.
Your lawyer will aim to maximize your compensation while serving your unique interests.
Most preventable deaths trigger coverage under at least one insurance policy. The last thing grieving loved ones need is to spend time battling insurance adjusters over coverage questions.
A wrongful death lawyer spares you the unwanted burden by handling all interactions with insurance companies. Once you or your loved one's estate hires an attorney, they become the insurance companies' sole point of contact. You never have to worry about fielding calls from aggressive adjusters, saying the wrong thing, or missing a deadline.
Your lawyer handles everything, including preparing and submitting claims, following up to ensure proper claim processing, and negotiating claim settlements. A wrongful death lawyer works to hold insurers to their obligations so that you don't have to.
Wrongful deaths frequently attract attention from the media and the public. A wrongful death lawyer is your public representative, shielding you from unwanted attention and intrusion on your life during a difficult time. Families often need privacy to grieve. A skilled wrongful death lawyer ensures you get it.
A negotiated settlement between the parties resolves many wrongful death claims. In a typical settlement, the surviving loved ones and the estate receive an agreed sum in exchange for releasing at-fault parties and insurance companies from further liability.
Favorable settlements don't happen spontaneously. It takes an experienced wrongful death lawyer's work to negotiate a fair payment from insurers and defense lawyers.
Insurance companies will often try to avoid their obligations by offering less than you deserve or blaming your loved one. A lawyer can push back aggressively against those efforts and fight to hold at-fault parties and insurance companies accountable.
Wrongful death lawyers negotiate settlements but cannot agree to them independently. Your lawyer can advise you about whether to accept or reject settlement offers. The final decision belongs to you and your loved one's estate and must often receive a court's sign-off.
Litigator and Trial Lawyer
A wrongful death lawyer also possesses all the necessary tools and training to pursue lawsuits in court to achieve the most favorable outcome possible. Not all wrongful death claims require filing a lawsuit, but many do.
Filing a suit often spurs at-fault parties and insurance companies to negotiate a settlement. If a settlement doesn't happen, the dispute may end up in a courtroom trial, where your lawyer will present it to a judge and jury to decide.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer will prepare every case as if it were to go to trial, although most settle through negotiation. Preparation ensures your lawyer is ready to make a convincing argument to ensure justice and fair compensation.
Your lawyer is a trusted advisor and counselor to you and your loved one's estate.
A wrongful death takes a heavy toll, but a lawyer acts as a sounding board for decisions, a guide through seemingly daunting challenges, and a sympathetic ear for loved ones struggling to come to terms with their loss. Although the lawyer's primary mission is to secure the maximum possible compensation, many families find their advice and guidance equally valuable.
Hiring a Wrongful Death Lawyer Is Affordable
Surviving loved ones sometimes put off calling a wrongful death lawyer out of worry about the cost or uncertainty about whether their loved one died in circumstances that could qualify as a wrongful death or whether they have the right to ask questions.
These are understandable concerns, but they're unnecessary. Talking to a wrongful death lawyer doesn't cost a penny.
All reputable wrongful death attorneys offer a free consultation to you and representatives of your loved one's legal estate. You can learn about your right to pursue a wrongful death claim and the possible compensation. This consultation is free even if you decide not to proceed with a wrongful death suit or if the law does not entitle you to act on your deceased loved one's behalf.
Wrongful death lawyers routinely represent their clients on a contingent fee basis, meaning their fee is a percentage of the money they secure through a settlement, judgment, or jury verdict. You don't pay the lawyer unless they win.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident or other troubling circumstances, you may have the right to pursue a wrongful death suit for compensation. There is no guarantee of fair payment. It can—and usually does—take a skilled wrongful death lawyer's effort to get you and your family the justice and funds you deserve.
Don't delay seeking legal advice after your loved one's death. Contact a trusted personal injury law firm in Las Vegas for a free, confidential, no-risk consultation.