Losing a loved one in a car accident is a painful and overwhelming experience for the surviving family members. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional pain, but you may also face financial hardships resulting from the unexpected loss. When another driver’s negligence contributes to an untimely death, a family can file a wrongful death claim to seek justice and compensation for the damages. Reach out to a wrongful death lawyer.
Wrongful Death Laws Vary from State to State
Wrongful death laws differ from state to state, which means that the specific rules and requirements governing your claim will depend on the state where the accident occurred. For instance, some states may impose caps on the damages awarded in wrongful death cases, while others may require claimants to follow specific procedural requirements.
A wrongful death lawyer can explain the laws that apply in your particular case and how they can affect the outcome of a claim or possible lawsuit.
Discussing the local statutes and regulations applicable in a case with your lawyer can help you know what to expect. Laws that can affect your case include the deadline for filing your claim, the specific elements of negligence you must prove, and the types of damages you may recover.
You need a lawyer who knows these rules because even minor mistakes or oversights can lead to the dismissal of your case or a reduction in the compensation you receive.
Consulting a Local Wrongful Death Lawyer
Given the complexity of wrongful death laws and the variations between jurisdictions, consult a local attorney with prior experience handling wrongful death claims. An attorney can navigate the legal process, ensuring that your claim adheres to the relevant statutes and regulations while also vigorously advocating to maximize your chances of recovering damages for your loved one’s untimely death.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
Each state has its statute of limitations that dictate the time frame within which you must file a wrongful death claim. The time limits typically range from one to three years from the date of the decedent’s death. In some states, the clock begins ticking from the time of the misconduct leading to the death.
Missing the deadline that the statute of limitations sets can have severe consequences for your wrongful death claim. In most cases, the court will dismiss your claim, which means you lose the opportunity to recover any damages for your loved one’s death. Given these profound implications, you must act promptly and consult with an attorney as soon as possible after the death to avoid losing your legal rights.
Act Promptly After a Wrongful Death
Act quickly in a wrongful death case to ensure you abide by the statute of limitations and preserve the evidence and witness testimony needed to prove negligence.
Over time, the risk of lost or destroyed evidence increases, and witnesses may move away or their recollections may fade, making it more challenging to establish a strong case. An experienced attorney can help you gather evidence and initiate the legal process promptly to maximize the chances of a successful outcome.
Establishing Negligence for a Wrongful Death
To succeed in a wrongful death claim, you must prove that the defendant was negligent in causing the death of your loved one. Negligence requires establishing four key elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Your attorney can help guide you through these elements and gather the necessary evidence to support your claim.
Breach of Duty of Care
A breach of duty of care occurs when the defendant fails to uphold the legal obligation to act in a reasonably safe and prudent manner. For example, a driver who speeds, disregards traffic signals, or drives under the influence of alcohol breaches their duty of care to others.
Causation in a Wrongful Death
It’s not enough to simply prove that the defendant breached their duty of care; you must also demonstrate that this breach directly caused your loved one’s death. This means showing that if the defendant had acted responsibly, your family member would not have died. A wrongful death attorney can help you gather proof to establish causation and support even a complex claim.
Gathering Evidence to Prove Negligence
Your attorney can help gather the necessary evidence to prove negligence in a wrongful death case. This can include obtaining police reports, accident scene photographs, witness statements, medical records, and expert opinions. They can also analyze this evidence to identify legal arguments that support your claim, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
In a wrongful death claim, the purpose of the awarded damages is to compensate the surviving family members for their loss. These damages fall into two categories: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages cover quantifiable losses, such as medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and loss of income and support. Non-economic damages compensate for non-tangible losses, including pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.
State-Specific Rules and Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases
Different states have their own rules and limitations governing available damages in wrongful death claims. Some states impose caps on the amount of non-economic damages, while others allow only specific family members to file a claim. Working with a knowledgeable attorney who is familiar with the local laws and regulations that apply to your case is essential to ensure you seek appropriate compensation under the laws in your state.
Parties Involved in Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim can involve multiple parties due to the impact of the unexpected death of your loved one. As you navigate the wrongful death claim process, it can help you to know how each party can affect the process and outcome of your claim.
The personal representative of the deceased’s estate typically files a wrongful death claim. This individual is responsible for ensuring the settlement of the deceased’s debts and taxes and overseeing the distribution of assets to the appropriate beneficiaries.
In many cases, the deceased’s will names the personal representative, but if it does not, then the court will appoint a suitable person.
Eligible Family Members
The ultimate purpose of a wrongful death claim is to provide compensation to the surviving family members of the deceased. Whether a particular family member is eligible to receive compensation varies according to state laws.
Commonly eligible family members include spouses, children, and parents of the deceased. In some cases, siblings, grandparents, and other relatives may also be eligible to claim damages, depending on the specific circumstances and state laws.
The Wrongful Death Lawyer
An experienced wrongful death attorney can guide you through the complex legal process and ensure that you seek fair compensation for your loss. They can help you understand your rights, gather evidence, calculate damages, negotiate with insurance companies, and navigate the court system.
Hiring a lawyer with a background representing clients in wrongful death claims can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome and alleviate some of the stress and burden associated with pursuing legal action after losing a loved one.
Insurance Coverage for Wrongful Death Accidents
Insurance policies often play a significant role in wrongful death claims, as they can be a source of compensation for surviving family members. It is important to review all applicable insurance policies, including those covering the deceased, the at-fault party, and any other relevant parties.
Examples of policies that may cover losses in a wrongful death case include life insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and auto insurance. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you understand the coverage available and how it may impact your claim.
Potential Limitations and Exclusions
Insurance policies often have limitations and exclusions that may affect the compensation available in a wrongful death claim. For example, some policies may not cover certain types of accidents or damages, or they may have a policy limit that caps the compensation they pay out on a claim.
Working with an attorney who can thoroughly review and analyze the insurance policies involved is essential to determine any potential limitations or exclusions that may impact your case. Additionally, a wrongful death lawyer can help you determine if there are other avenues to seeking justice and damages against the parties responsible, such as a civil lawsuit.
Negotiating With Insurance Companies
Dealing with insurance companies can be a complex and challenging process. Insurance adjusters often minimize or deny claims, leaving families without the compensation they deserve.
An experienced wrongful death attorney can negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf to work toward a resolution that protects your rights and reflects fair compensation in light of the enormous loss you have suffered. Your lawyer can handle all communications and documentation while also helping you navigate any disputes that may arise during the process.
Evidence in a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit
In a wrongful death claim, you must obtain and preserve evidence to prove negligence and secure compensation. Types of evidence that may be important in your case include police reports, accident scene photographs, witness statements, medical records, employment records (to establish lost income), and any other documents or materials that can help demonstrate the at-fault party’s negligence and the extent of your losses.
Your attorney can guide you on the specific types of evidence necessary for your case and help you gather and preserve them.
Collecting evidence as soon as possible after the wrongful death accident is critical, as some types of evidence may be at risk. For example, surveillance cameras may overwrite key footage, or witnesses may forget relevant or important details. The sooner you hire an attorney, the better your chances are of preserving essential evidence and building a strong case.
Organization and Preservation of Evidence
You must properly store and organize evidence to ensure its admissibility in court and maximize its effectiveness in supporting your case. Your attorney can securely store and organize your evidence, create a comprehensive inventory, and develop a strategy for presenting the evidence in the most compelling way possible. An experienced attorney will manage your evidence well and put it to the best possible use in your wrongful death claim.
How Can Expert Witnesses Help in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Expert witnesses can help in wrongful death claims, as they provide specialized knowledge and expertise to help establish negligence, causation, and damages. They can offer critical insights and testimony that may affect the outcome of your case.
You may need different types of qualified, credible, and experienced expert witnesses to support your wrongful death claim. Your attorney can identify and retain the appropriate expert witnesses, ensuring relevant and persuasive testimony. Working with a skilled attorney and top-notch experts can maximize your chances of a favorable outcome in your wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Settlement Negotiations and Litigation
When pursuing a wrongful death claim, you may have the option to settle the case out of court or proceed to trial. Each option has pros and cons, which your attorney can discuss with you.
Settlement negotiations can lead to a quicker resolution of your claim, but you may receive less money through settlement than a successful trial.
On the other hand, while going to trial offers the possibility of a higher award, it comes with increased costs, potential delays, and inherent uncertainty around the outcome.
Preparing for Both Possible Scenarios After a Wrongful Death
A skilled attorney will approach your wrongful death claim ready for both settlement negotiations and litigation. By thoroughly investigating the case, gathering and preserving evidence, and building a compelling argument for liability and damages, your attorney can prepare to negotiate from a position of strength.
If settlement negotiations fail or an acceptable offer does not occur, your attorney will be ready to aggressively pursue your case in court, seeking justice for your loved one and fair compensation for you and your family. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.
If you’re considering pursuing a wrongful death claim, you should consult a local attorney with experience in the field.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer can provide invaluable guidance, resources, and support throughout the legal process and advocate tirelessly on your behalf to obtain the justice and compensation you and your family deserve.
Reach out to a qualified wrongful death attorney to discuss your case and learn more about your legal options.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.