Nearly 170,000 people died as a result of unintentional injuries in 2018. Unintentional injuries like motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and workplace injuries are the third leading cause of death in the US.
If your loved one has died as a result of someone else’s negligence or actions, you may want to consider a wrongful death suit, particularly if you received financial support from them. These cases can be difficult, however, as there are certain things you should (and shouldn’t do) to help ensure your success.
Read on for 6 mistakes to avoid when filing a wrongful death suit.
1. Giving a Public Statement
Cases involving wrongful deaths may receive media attention, especially if it is particularly tragic. While it might be tempting to speak to the media, especially if they are hounding you for a statement, resist this urge.
While your intentions may be good, especially if you want to speak to the character of your deceased loved one and the pain your family is suffering, doing so may hurt your chances at a successful wrongful death suit. Anything that you say to the media or in a public statement can be used against you later during negotiations or at a wrongful death trial.
If there is any possibility that you may seek a wrongful death claim later on, avoid making any statements to the media even in passing. These words can be twisted, taken out of context, and misused. Later, if you hire an attorney to represent you and your family, you can speak with them about making a statement.
2. Accepting a Settlement
Keep in mind that insurance companies are looking out for their bottom line. They want you to settle for the lowest amount possible, so they will likely make you a lowball settlement.
Once you accept a settlement, you can’t file a lawsuit or go back and ask for more later. Keep in mind that a wrongful death suit is meant to compensate for things (tangible and intangible) that are lost due to the death of your loved one, including:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of future financial support
- Loss of household services (for example, if your spouse handled childcare or household tasks, you may have to pay someone to perform those tasks)
- Loss of gifts or other benefits from your loved one
- Loss of care and companionship
- The pain and suffering the deceased person suffered in their final moments
- Emotional distress
While some of these expenses are easy to calculate, such as the cost of the funeral and burial, others are not as clear, such as future income and loss of household support. An attorney who has experience with wrongful death suits will be able to work with you to place a value on these things so you know what your wrongful death suit is worth and what you are willing to accept as a settlement amount.
3. Waiting Too Long to File a Suit
Most states have a statute of limitations to file a wrongful death suit. If you don’t file within the required amount of time, you may lose all rights you have to file a suit and be compensated for the death of your loved one.
The statute of limitations varies by state, though, so it’s wise to investigate what is required sooner rather than later. In California and Colorado, you have to file within two years, but in Washington State, you have three years. In the days and weeks following your loved one’s death, it may be overwhelming to do much more than deal with planning a funeral and other immediate needs, but it’s important to also consider if a wrongful death suit may be appropriate.
Not only are you required by law to file within a certain time, but waiting too long also makes it difficult to collect evidence, depose witnesses, and gather other relevant information to support your case.
4. Fighting Within Your Family
Wrongful death suits can typically be filed by anyone who is financially supported by the deceased, including spouses, children, and other dependents. While it is possible for each member of the family to hire their own attorney to stake their claim on any settlement, it’s more effective for families to present a united front in filing the suit.
Once the suit is filed, it is wise for everyone to work together as future lawsuits will not be allowed. While some family members may want to settle, others may want to take the case to trial and refuse to settle. If possible, try to get all interested parties on board with the same process and get everyone to agree on how to proceed.
5. Speaking to the Insurance Company
Just as you don’t want to speak to the media or make a public statement after the death of your loved one, you should also avoid speaking to the insurance company as well. While it might seem like the insurance company is being helpful, remember that they are working for the other side. Any conversation you have with them could be used against you in the future.
They do not have your best interests in mind, so do not speak to them. Let your attorney handle any communication or negotiations with the insurance company.
6. Not Hiring an Experienced Attorney
Wrongful death suits are complicated and if you are not a legal expert, it’s unwise to try to file it on your own. An experienced attorney will be able to negotiate with the insurance company, place a value on your case, and advise you on whether they think you should settle or take the case to trial.
Most wrongful death attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t get paid unless you win. Thus, they have your best interests in mind as they are negotiating.
Avoid These Mistakes in Your Wrongful Death Suit
Losing a loved one is an emotional and overwhelming time and it is often made worse when the death is tragic or due to negligence. Losing your family member takes not only a psychological toll on you but also a financial one as well. A wrongful death suit won’t bring back your loved one, but it can help replace some of your financial losses.
If you suspect that your loved one was killed as the result of negligence, contact our lawyers today for a free case consultation. We have experience with wrongful death suits and can advise whether we believe you have a strong case.