When to File a Wrongful Death Claim
When someone passes away, it is a difficult and emotional experience for the family. It is never easy to cope with the death of a loved one. However, when the loss is both unexpected and the result of someone else’s actions, it can be especially painful for the family members left behind.
Aside from the emotional grief from losing a loved one this way, families must now consider the extra financial expense of providing a proper burial and carrying on daily life without the support of their deceased loved one.
It may seem strange to put a price tag on the life of a loved one, but wrongful death lawsuits provide the family with essential compensation. Wrongful death suits are an option for grieving families to receive justice in addition to the financial support and security necessary to help offset their loss after such a tragic event.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
Wrongful death cases arise when a death occurs because of someone else’s negligence or intentional act. To prove another’s negligence, a plaintiff (the family member initiating the lawsuit on behalf of the decedent’s estate) must show four things:
- The person had a duty to the plaintiff
- The person breached their duty
- The person’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s damages
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages
Negligence can arise in a variety of cases, such as:
- A doctor’s responsibility to a patient to provide adequate care
- A restaurant’s duty to its customers to serve safe food
- A city’s obligation to its citizens and visitors to provide lighted and patrolled public areas
- A driver’s duty to be alert and focused while driving on the road
- An employer’s responsibility to properly train their employees
When someone is killed as a result of such negligence, the family may have a claim for compensation.
Once negligence is proven, the expenses that a family incurs as a result of the death may include:
- Lost wages
- Insurance benefits
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
At Foster Wallace, LLC, we have experience in wrongful death cases and can help you recover the maximum damages to which you are entitled as a result of the loss of your loved one.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case?
When a wrongful death occurs, a family member may act as a representative of the decedent’s estate or they may hire an attorney to represent them in that capacity. The surviving family members who typically are eligible to file a wrongful death claim include the decedent’s:
- Romantic partner who financially depended on the decedent
- Possibly extended family members, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles
Although filing a lawsuit to demand compensation for someone else’s negligent behavior may seem like a straightforward process, family members sometimes make mistakes that can be detrimental to their case. Many of these mistakes can be avoided.
What Are Common Avoidable Mistakes Made in Wrongful Death Cases?
The success of legal proceedings is contingent on the plaintiffs being aware of their rights, limitations, and timing obligations. A seemingly minor error or overlooked detail can damage their case and diminish their recovery.
Some important mistakes to avoid when pursuing a wrongful death case include:
Fighting with family
The tragedy within your family will cause high tension and prompt stressful situations. You will have difficult conversations and make even more challenging decisions. You and the members of your family will be in a compromised state of mind that is unfamiliar. There will be some disagreements, but it is important during these heartbreaking times to trust and listen to one another. Arguing between family members will only make this process more difficult. Additionally, there is more room for error when communication is lacking between interested parties.
Speaking publicly about the event
The death of your loved one may be covered by local newspapers or national news media outlets, depending on the severity and facts of the case. Either way, it likely will be public knowledge that an unexpected and tragic death occurred in the community. It is important to refrain from speaking to others about the death, especially the news media. Any kind of statement made may be used against you in your wrongful death case, even if it seems harmless at the time. A public statement may damage the decedent’s integrity or your family’s credibility and may downplay the fault of the negligent party.
Talking with the insurance company
An insurance company of the responsible party may try to contact you and offer compensation. It is important to remember that the insurance company is not on your side and is trying to pay you as little as possible to make this claim go away. The insurance company will try to reduce or deny the money owed to you based on what you say during a conversation with them. Anything you say to the opposing side can be misrepresented and used against you. It is best to refrain from talking to them completely, even if they try to convince you they are just trying to help.
Accepting a settlement offer too quickly
In addition to refraining from speaking to insurance agents, be careful to avoid agreeing to any other settlement offers without careful consideration. Once you accept a settlement agreement, you are unable to ask for additional compensation in the future. You want to be sure that the money you are given is enough to take care of you and your family’s expenses from the death. This is especially important when the decedent is someone who provided a substantial amount of the income that supported your family.
Failing to consider potentially liable parties
The party who is primarily at fault may be obvious from the beginning. However, families should consider what other parties may have contributed to the cause of death. This could include a parent company, employer, or partnering organization. Including all of the responsible parties in the case can provide for larger compensation to cover all of the expenses that the family incurs as a result of the death of their loved one.
Waiting too long to pursue legal action
Although it may be difficult to think about at the time of your loved one’s death, it is important to consider the time restraint on filing a legal proceeding. This is called a “statute of limitations.” Depending on your state, the of the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim could range from one to three years after the death of your loved one. Because even an effective attorney will need time to gather evidence and documentation before filing your claim, It is critical to know the applicable statute of limitations to be sure you are able to you’re your claim in time.
Going forward without an attorney
Although there are online resources available that claim to provide someone without a law license the knowledge they need to proceed without an attorney, it is not advisable to do so. Wrongful death cases can be extremely complicated, and the court system can be complex with its strict requirements and deadlines. Investing in a reputable wrongful death attorney tih experience in wrongful death cases will increase your chances of success without adding the unnecessary stress of trying to understand the legal process alone.