Insurance companies usually pay wrongful death settlements to survive family members or the deceased’s estate, depending on state law. They generally send a check to the claimant or their wrongful death lawyer. The attorney takes their fees, pays any liens, then forwards the remainder to their client.
Generally, the decedent’s immediate family members receive the payout from a wrongful death settlement. However, there are some circumstances where others could qualify for compensation.
How Do I Recover Money for a Loved One’s Wrongful Death?
There are usually two ways to recover compensation for a loved one’s wrongful death. Most people resolve these cases through insurance claims or civil lawsuits. In both cases, the obligations are the same. You need to collect evidence, build a case against the at-fault party, and demonstrate the damages your family endured.
A wrongful death attorney handles these cases and can determine which option works based on the details of your loved one’s death and other circumstances. Some lawyers use both approaches concurrently.
They manage all aspects of these cases, navigating the claims process or representing grieving families in court. Working with a knowledgeable lawyer could greatly decrease your stress and frustration.
Your Lawyer Could Negotiate an Insurance Settlement
Like most personal injury cases, most successful wrongful death actions end with a negotiated agreement with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Here, the insurer agrees to pay a certain amount in exchange for the claimant usually a family member of the deceased signing a waiver to take no further legal action.
Negotiating a fair and just settlement requires understanding the case’s value, protecting the family’s rights against insurance company tactics, and using negotiation skills to get a fair payout. If you work with an attorney, they can handle this, so you do not have to.
Your Lawyer Could Go to Trial and Secure a Court Award
Filing a lawsuit does not always mean going to trial. Sometimes, a lawsuit prompts the insurer to make a fair settlement offer. If it does not, the lawsuit continues to trial. Some courts could require mediation, arbitration, or other alternative dispute resolution attempts before scheduling a case for trial. This varies by state law and even individual courts.
During a civil trial, each side presents evidence to support their case, and a judge or jury weighs it. At the conclusion of the trial, they issue a verdict. If the victim’s family wins the case, they could receive a court award. This is compensation for the expenses and losses they endured.
What Situations Give Rise to Wrongful Death Claims and Lawsuits?
When someone’s negligent actions cause another party’s passing, their surviving loved ones can seek damages. In general, if your loved one could have filed a personal injury case had they survived, your family has a right to pursue a wrongful death action after their death. To be sure the circumstances that led to their death qualify, you can discuss your options with a law firm in your area.
Generally, incidents that result in avoidable harm support personal injury lawsuits. When the victim dies before suing, a wrongful death action is possible.
Some incidents and accidents that cause wrongful deaths include:
- Car crashes
- Truck collisions
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian and bicyclist accidents
- Boating accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home and long-term care facility abuse
- On-the-job accidents
- Slip and falls
- Trip and falls
- Falls from elevated heights, such as balcony collapses
- Swimming pool drownings and diving accidents
- Other premises liability cases
- Civil cases based on criminal actions, such as assaults
An Attorney Can Prove That Negligence Caused Your Loved One’s Passing
Most wrongful death attorneys provide free case assessments, so you can learn more about your legal options. During your conversation, you could ask about what goes into proving negligence in a wrongful death case.
Demonstrating negligence requires asserting these four elements:
- A duty of care. Everyone has a civil obligation to act with reasonable caution.
- A breach of duty. Someone violated that obligation through carelessness, recklessness, or malicious intent.
- Causation. Another party caused your loved one’s passing.
- Harm. You have damages arising from the incident, such as funeral costs.
Your attorney will know how to document these elements based on your case’s circumstances. For example, in a collision, one driver has a duty of care to obey traffic laws. Violating a traffic law might be a breach of that duty and cause a crash.
When a driver runs a red light, they breach their duty to obey the traffic signal. The T-bone collision in the intersection occurred because of their breach, and they are legally liable for any injuries they caused.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Action?
Each state sets its own laws about how wrongful death actions work. While every state provides an opportunity for loved ones to recover compensation in some way, these laws differ widely in some respects. One of the ways they differ is around who can file wrongful death actions in that state.
Depending on location, this could include:
- The personal representative, generally the executor of the will or an administrator of the estate
- An immediate family member, determined by relationship
- Any immediate family member
There are also laws that determine how to distribute the compensation recovered in the case. This generally goes to the closest family members, although some states distribute it according to the will or estate plan.
For example, in South Carolina, you will only receive compensation in a wrongful death action if you are:
- The surviving spouse and/or children
- The surviving parents, if there is no spouse or children
- Another family member (such as a sibling, grandparent, or grandchild) or another heir according to the will, if there are no spouses, children, or parents
However, just because you are the party who will likely receive the payout does not mean you can file the case. The state limits who can represent the family in a wrongful death action. For instance, in South Carolina, only the personal representative of the deceased files these lawsuits. This is generally the person named in the decedent’s will. Alternatively, the representative is the party named by the courts to handle the estate if there is no will.
Often, this is a spouse, adult child, or parent. However, this is not always true. A good way to understand your options is to work with an attorney familiar with your state’s laws.
How Do I Know How Much My Family’s Wrongful Death Case Is Worth?
There is no way to know how much your family’s wrongful death case might be worth without first investigating the case and gathering documentation. Each wrongful death case is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how much you might recover through an insurance claim or lawsuit. Instead, it depends greatly on your situation.
If you work with an attorney, they can gather documents to show your recoverable damages and use them to calculate a fair settlement range.
This evidence could include injury-related:
- Tax paperwork from previous years
- Other proof of income and benefits
- Economic expert testimony
The recoverable damages in these cases vary somewhat but may include:
- Your loved one’s medical bills and expenses before they passed away
- Funeral and burial arrangements or other related expenses
- Loss of income and benefits they would have earned
- Loss of services they performed at home, such as childcare or lawncare
- Loss of their care, guidance, and companionship
- The emotional pain and suffering endured by your family
Some states also allow families to pursue compensation through a concurrent case called a survival action. This case allows the estate to recover damages your loved one could have won through a personal injury claim had they survived to file one. This includes money for any conscious pain and suffering they endured between the time the injuries occurred and their passing.
Building a Wrongful Death Case Against the Liable Party
To recover fair compensation in a wrongful death action, you need a strong case showing the at-fault party acted negligently and caused your loved one’s passing. This requires having evidence to show fault, liability, and the value of your family’s damages. The type of evidence available depends greatly on the circumstances, including the type of accident and other factors.
Wrongful death attorneys have the resources, knowledge, and experience to investigate these cases and identify the necessary evidence to develop strong support for compensation. Some of the tools and resources they use are out of the reach of most individuals who try to handle these cases on their own. This makes an attorney’s role in building a case even more important.
Some of the evidence used in wrongful death cases include:
- Official reports filed by law enforcement or other responders
- Eyewitness statements
- Physical evidence
- Photographs of the scene, injuries, and other details
- Videos of the incident
- An accident scene survey
- Accident reconstruction, especially in traffic accidents
- Relevant medical records
- Expert assessments and testimony
- Documentation of recoverable damages
Once the attorney identifies and gathers the evidence, they organize it so that it tells the story of what happened, clearly illustrating the role the liable party played. This allows them to confidently approach the liable party’s insurer and demand a fair payout.
When a case goes to trial, a lawyer presents the evidence they collected to the judge and jury. They use this to show that the defendant’s actions caused the victim’s death and to document the family’s related expenses and losses.
Regardless of whether the case settles out of court or goes to trial, the evidence gathered during the investigation is essential to recovering a fair payout.
What Role Does an Attorney Play in a Wrongful Death Case?
When a family hires an attorney to handle a wrongful death case, the law firm takes on all aspects of the claim or lawsuit. From answering their clients’ questions to building a case, the lawyer and their team take over. The family members can focus on spending time together, mourning their loved ones, and taking care of other essential tasks.
Attorneys understand how insurance companies work. They even know the tactics adjusters commonly use to reduce the value of a claim or deny the payout entirely. Your attorney can protect your right to seek fair compensation and get justice for your loved one.
Why Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer?
You do not have to try to navigate the wrongful death claims process on your own. Too many families accept a lowball offer or never try to pursue compensation because they do not understand the laws or how to file a claim.
When you hire an attorney, you can expect:
- Answers to your questions about the applicable laws, your case, and the process
- Guidance about how to proceed with your case
- Representation of your best interests
- An advocate fighting for justice on your behalf
- Someone who knows how to build a case
- A skilled negotiator who will not back down in talks with the insurer
- A trial lawyer ready to take the case to court when necessary
Most wrongful death attorneys work based on contingency. Your family can hire a lawyer to handle your case with no upfront fees.
How Can I Learn More About Filing a Wrongful Death Action?
Trying to navigate the wrongful death claims process on your own could leave your family paying many expenses out of pocket. Working with a knowledgeable attorney who handles these cases regularly is a good way to protect your rights and ensure you have an advocate on your side.
Most personal injury law firms provide free case assessments. Here, you can discuss your loved one’s passing, your family’s losses, and your next steps.