The Legal Process for Wrongful Death Claims
A claim for a wrongful death is often filed by surviving family members after a loved one has died from a malicious action or negligence of another individual. Pursuing a claim for wrongful death can be a lengthy process with numerous stages. While some lawsuits are straightforward, most are complicated, and challenging to predict the complexity and length of time it will take to resolve the issue to receive compensation.
Investigation and Pre-Litigation Phase
While some wrongful death claims can be settled without court intervention, most require filing a lawsuit. An experienced attorney will investigate the evidence of the case, speak to witnesses, explore relevant case law and obtain expert testimony to begin the process of seeking financial compensation.
Proving the claim requires comprehending and implementing applicable statutes. After developing a strong strategy, the attorney can issue a formal demand on behalf of the surviving family members to obtain compensation for damages from every responsible party legally accountable for the wrongful death. Additional parties are often included in a lawsuit, like a government entity who poorly maintained roads, causing an auto accident, or tire manufacturer that made or distributed the faulty tires that failed, leading to a fatality.
An attorney can prepare a pleading to the court during the litigation phase by submitting a Complaint and Summons served to every responsible party – the defendants. This formal pleading with the court contains factual allegations and provable legal claims to hold each defendant liable for all damages.
After the Complaint and Summons has been served, the defendant must answer all questions and submit them to court, beginning the process of litigation. Next, the plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys will begin the discovery process using numerous tools to collect documents, information and evidence from each other. The most common tools involved in the discovery phase include:
- Interrogatories – Each major player from both sides of the lawsuit are given written questions that will be answered under oath and submitted to opposing counsel.
- Request for Production – During this process, written request is provided to the other side to gather tangible evidence for copying and inspecting.
- Depositions – Usually, every key player will be deposed, requiring them to answer questions while under oath in front of a court reporter. Usually, both sides will depose all witnesses and involved parties.
- Request for Admissions – This effective discovery tool is used to get involved players to deny or admit specific facts.
Often times, one or more parties will fail to respond. However, a skilled attorney can file a motion compelling compliance, or to ask the judge handling the case to impose sanctions against the party for violating a discovery request.
Arbitration and Settlement
Sometimes, both parties will arbitrate their legal dispute or choose to engage in an informal negotiation for an out-of-court settlement. This often happens after the discovery phase when new information can help each side better understand their relative strength in winning the claim or lawsuit. If the case is going to trial, there will be other hearings including a Status Conference along with a lengthy Pre-Trial Conference. These hearings help the court better manage litigation while moving toward trial by narrowing and eliminating many issues involved in the case.
Going to Trial
If the surviving family members and all defendants cannot settle on a financial agreement, the case typically proceeds to trial. At that point, a skilled personal injury lawyer can demonstrate to the court through a compelling strategic claim how the role of every defendant caused the death of the surviving family members’ loved one.
If the jury hearing the case determines that the recklessness, negligence or intentional act caused the wrongful death, the surviving members will be awarded damages (financial compensation) based on the evidence presented.
The entire process of a wrongful death case can be extensive. Because of that, it is always best to hire a skilled personal injury attorney who specializes in cases involving wrongful death caused by negligence.