It is difficult to lose a loved one under any circumstances, but accidental deaths due to another’s carelessness or willful negligence are especially challenging.
After the wrongful death of a loved one, you may sue for damages. Wrongful death claims provide financial relief to the partners, children, and certain other family members of the deceased.
Although it can never make up for the death of a loved one, a wrongful death suit can help you cover medical and funeral expenses and other losses, so that you can focus on recovery rather than worrying about financial matters.
What Is a Wrongful Death Settlement?
A settlement pays the survivors of the deceased in a wrongful death case. Sometimes, authorities may file criminal charges against the defendant. The criminal trial ascertains the defendant's guilt and metes out punishment determined by the law and the court.
The primary goal of a wrongful death settlement is to obtain relief in the form of monetary compensation for the loss of a loved one due to another party's negligence or misconduct. In many cases, both sides settle before the civil case goes to trial, especially if there has already been a lengthy criminal trial.
Some of the most common causes of wrongful death occur when the at-fault party:
- Drives under the influence
- Drives recklessly
- Disobeys traffic laws or signals
- Violates OSHA and other workplace safety regulations
- Performs dangerous or unsafe actions that place others at risk
- Fails to maintain their property
- Produces or sells defective products or equipment
- Employs insufficient safety measures in hazardous areas or conditions
At-fault parties in wrongful death suits may include individuals, employers, businesses, government entities, equipment manufacturers, and property owners, among others. To prove fault, the survivors of the deceased must prove they were materially affected by the death, and that the death directly resulted from the defendant's actions.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Every wrongful death suit is different, and the success of your claim depends on a determination of fault and your relationship to the deceased. The laws that govern wrongful death claims also differ by state. Most states allow the immediate family, spouse, children, or executor of the estate to file suit in case of wrongful death; however, different conditions may apply.
To follow the correct procedure in a wrongful death case, consult a knowledgeable attorney in your area. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can determine whether you can file a claim and clarify the damages you can seek.
Damages You Can Seek in a Wrongful Death Claim
Most wrongful death suits seek financial damages for:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of income
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of support or services
If the at-fault party has gone to trial on criminal charges, you may be able to use a guilty verdict to prove guilt and obtain damages. Since civil trials do not have the same burden of proof as criminal trials, you can still sue for damages even if they were found innocent.
Who Is Liable in a Wrongful Death Case?
To prove your wrongful death case, you must establish:
- That a human being died.
- That the willful or negligent actions of another person or entity caused the death.
- That you are eligible to sue for wrongful death damages, as a family member, heir, or other legally permitted individual or entity.
- That you experienced direct financial injuries due to the death.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer will help you gather the appropriate documentation and evidence to prove your case and ensure the settlement you deserve for your loss.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid?
A wrongful death settlement is essentially an agreement between the at-fault party and the family or estate of the deceased. The agreement is drawn up with specific payment terms, which may be a lump sum or a series of installments. Lump-sum settlements allow the defendant to pay the sum in full all at once, while a structured installment plan will disburse the funds to you in the form of regular payments over a specific time.
Both parties must agree to the settlement amount and payment terms for the settlement to be valid. If both parties cannot agree on a settlement or payment arrangement, the case may go to trial.
Be sure to discuss payment options with your attorney before signing the agreement. A settlement agreement is binding, and you usually cannot seek any additional damages for the same claim once you sign.
Seek the Advice of an Experienced Injury Attorney
If you have lost a loved one as a direct result of reckless or careless acts on the part of an individual, company, or other entity, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. Time is of the essence, so contact a seasoned personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to ensure the best possible chance of recovery.
Choosing the right wrongful death attorney for your case can mean all the difference when it comes to your settlement. Since litigation and trials can be very expensive, most attorneys realize the value of settling the case before it goes to trial. While you may be able to negotiate terms on your own, an experienced attorney will help you navigate the process so that you receive the best possible settlement terms.