How Long Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Take?

According to the CDC, in 2017 there were 169,936 unintentional injury deaths, 40,231 motor vehicle accident deaths, 54,795 unintentional poisoning deaths, and 36,338 unintentional fall deaths. The common factor that many of these deaths have is the potential of becoming wrongful death lawsuits.

Wrongful death is a death that happens because of an act of negligence or intentional wrongful act by a person or organization against another. In order to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove the four elements of the tort, which include 1) duty of care, 2) a breach of the duty of care, 3) negligence, and 4) causation.

California law sets forth the people who may file wrongful death, including the spouse, domestic partner, or child of the deceased. Following a consultation with a wrongful death attorney, the first question many clients ask is how long it will take for the case to be complete.

Time Factors in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When you have a wrongful death lawsuit there are numerous factors that play into the length of time it may take for your case to resolve. This includes the response of the defendant and their desire to reach a settlement or fight the claims. Some cases take months, some take years.


The sooner you file a lawsuit the faster it will reach a resolution. You need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to make sure your case is filed within the statute of limitations. 

California’s Code of Civil Procedure 335.1 establishes a two-year limitation. In the State of Washington, you must file most wrongful death claims within three years of the date of death pursuant to RCW 4.20.010.

When filing a wrongful death lawsuit you may be able to recover both economic and non-economic damages. Colorado’s statute of limitations is two years from the decedent’s death and is governed by the Colorado Wrongful Death Act.§§13-21-201 through 13-21-204. 

Once your lawsuit is filed with the court, the defendant will need to receive service. The state rules establish how long the defendant has to respond to the complaint after receiving service. This varies from state-to-state and can be anywhere from 14 to 28 days.  Once the defendant received service the time clock begins clicking on how long the case will take.

Lawsuit Time

Wrongful death lawsuits typically run between a few months and four years. Each case has its own criteria that factor into the time frame. Some of those include:


When an insurance company is involved in the case they will likely contact you prior to you obtaining an attorney and try to reach a settlement. The problem is they are likely offering you a low-ball amount to resolve the matter as cheaply and quickly as possible. Do not agree to any offers prior to speaking with an attorney.

Your Relationship to the Deceased

Your relationship with the deceased person determines what you can sue for, which may also determine the length of time it takes to resolve the lawsuit. A spouse may file for the loss of wages and benefits, loss of consortium, and other economic losses. You may also sue for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other emotional stress conditions.

Children, parents, and beneficiaries may also file wrongful death lawsuits. Their ability to recover damages may vary depending on their overall relationship with the deceased.


Discovery is one of the lengthiest parts of a lawsuit. This is where evidence is exchanged between the parties. This includes accident reports, medical reports, medical bills, witness testimony, police reports, and photographs. There may also be depositions taken of both lay and expert witnesses.

Upon completion of discovery, you may need to participate in a case evaluation and/or mediation. These are two separate procedures that allow the parties to accept or not accept the results.

Mediation is a process in which a third party acts as a mediator and assists the parties in discussing the issues of the case with the goal of reaching a settlement. The mediator is not a decision-maker in the case but guides the parties toward reaching an agreement.  If the parties reach an agreement it will be put into writing.

Case evaluation is a process in which each party presents their position and facts on to a case evaluator or panel of evaluators. The case evaluator(s) then assess the likelihood of what a jury would determine if the matter were to proceed to trial. Each party will then decide whether to accept or deny the evaluator’s findings.

If the evaluator’s findings are accepted by both parties, the agreement is put into writing. If one or both of the parties disagrees with the case evaluation, then the matter will proceed to trial.

Jury Trial

If there is no resolution the matter will proceed to trial, usually before a jury. The trial is scheduled and the attorneys begin jury preparation. This includes subpoenaing witnesses, preparing exhibits, and filing witness and exhibit lists with the court and opposing counsel.

In addition to the paperwork, there will be meetings set up to prepare witnesses and the plaintiff for trial. This includes how to answer questions, what the defense is likely to ask, and more.

A trial on wrongful death will likely take between 2-5 days but it may take more or less time. If you win your case, there will be the preparation and entry of an order that establishes everything you won. If you lose your case you may discuss your options for appeal with your attorney.

Are Winnings Taxable?

In the majority of wrongful death settlements, the money you receive is not taxable if the money is for your pain and suffering. If you are also awarded punitive damages, which are more to punish the defendant for their actions, that award may be taxed by the IRS.

Schedule a Consolation for a Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When you believe you have a wrongful death lawsuits case, the first step you need to take is to schedule a cownsultation with an experienced attorney.

Sweet Law provides you with a 100% free consultation, you pay no fees unless we win your case. The attorney you meet with will review your documentation and provide you with legal advice on the best course of action.

Working on a contingency fee, the Sweet Law Group collects no fees from you until the case is won. With over 40 years of experience and a 98% success rate, you can’t go wrong in meeting with them to learn your legal standing.

Call (800) 674-7854 today to schedule your 100% free confidential consultation.

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