The amount of a wrongful death settlement can vary widely depending on numerous factors. Each claim is so unique and fact-dependent that the only way to assess its value is to speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer.
Here is an overview of wrongful death claims and settlements, the many variables that influence their size, and the critical role a skilled Aiken wrongful death lawyer plays in ensuring that a deceased victim's loved ones receive the maximum compensation possible in their circumstances.
What Is a Wrongful Death Action?
A wrongful death action seeks compensation for losses following a loved one's death due to the negligence or wrongful act of another. A victim's surviving spouse, close family members, or personal representative typically files the wrongful death claim and seeks compensation for the harm the death caused, such as loss of the victim's income, services, financial support, companionship, guidance, or consortium.
A wrongful death action in some U.S. states can also obtain compensation for the surviving parties' emotional anguish and funeral and burial costs.
A wrongful death action is similar to, but distinct from, another type of lawsuit—a survival action. The latter is a lawsuit asserting a claim for damages that a victim could have pursued if they had survived.
The victim's estate files the claim for compensation for injuries or losses the victim suffered before their death. A survival action, for example, may seek payment for a victim's medical expenses or the physical pain they suffered from their injuries.
Lawyers often file wrongful death and survival actions as a single lawsuit, and a settlement may resolve both at once. A victim's surviving spouse or family members typically receive the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement directly, whereas the victim's estate receives survival action settlement funds.
The estate executor might then use the funds to pay off the victim's debts or distribute them in accordance with the victim's will or state probate laws.
Factors That Influence the Size of a Wrongful Death Settlement
The amount of a wrongful death settlement is usually the result of numerous contributory factors. Here are some of the most significant considerations.
Elements of the deceased victim's socio-economic profile can have a significant bearing on the amount of a settlement because they relate to the financial influence of the death—a major consideration in any wrongful death claim.
Factors such as the deceased victim's income and future earning prospects, age, and general state of health all contribute to the calculation of the victim's loss of income.
The victim's family role and support of any dependents can also factor in the size of a wrongful death claim, as they can reflect the hardship the death inflicted.
The Circumstances of the Death
The cause of death and the events leading to it also have an effect on the settlement amount. If the deceased underwent prolonged suffering before their death, the potential damages a jury might award—if the case were to go to trial instead of settling—could escalate. Any expenses the victim's family incurred due to the death, such as medical bills or funeral costs, can add significantly to the size of a claim.
When negotiating a settlement, lawyers for the parties consider the potential outcome of a case if it went to court when setting the amounts they're willing to offer or accept.
The Degree of Fault
A victim's degree of fault for the accident that led to their death also influences the size of the settlement. If the victim bore some responsibility for what happened, the amount of damages recoverable for a wrongful death reduces in most states.
The Number of Liable Parties
The more liable parties in a wrongful death claim, the greater the total potential settlement.
Each party might bear responsibility for the entire amount if others cannot pay if multiple parties acted negligently in causing the death or if the death resulted from a harmful product or environmental hazard with traces back to different manufacturers or entities.
The Liable Parties’ Financial Resources
The financial capacity of the defendants will also affect the size of a wrongful death claim settlement. If a liable party has substantial resources, such as liability insurance coverage or liquid assets, the potential settlement amount could rise.
A party's lack of adequate coverage or means, however, could limit the amount recoverable. Businesses liable for a wrongful death tend to have greater resources than individuals, although that is not always the case.
The Strength and Volume of Evidence
The strength and volume of evidence a lawyer can gather to support claims for liability and damages can significantly influence the amount of a wrongful death settlement.
The stronger and more comprehensive the evidence, the more it bolsters a plaintiff's position and increases their bargaining power during settlement negotiations, thus achieving a potentially higher amount.
The Skills and Reputation of the Plaintiff's Lawyer
The capabilities of the lawyer representing the plaintiff in a wrongful death case can make a significant difference in the size of the eventual settlement. Attorneys with considerable experience in wrongful death cases thoroughly understand the particular laws and legal principles relating to proving liability and damages.
They are also familiar with the strategies that opposing attorneys or insurance companies may employ to avoid financial responsibility for a tragic death. By drawing on their skills and knowledge of how similar cases have settled, they can craft powerful, persuasive arguments that substantiate compensation claims.
A lawyer's reputation as a strong trial advocate can also increase the likelihood of a significant settlement. A track record of wins in court can often act as a big incentive for defendants and their insurance companies to settle out of court for fear of a potentially larger settlement amount if the case goes to trial. This can be especially true if the lawyer in question has a reputation for winning high-value compensation for their clients.
The Importance of Settlement for the Parties
The relative need or desire of the parties to settle can also have an influence on the amount of a wrongful death settlement. If, for instance, the defendant is a high-profile individual or large corporation, they may want to avoid the negative publicity that a drawn-out court case could potentially bring.
This desire to protect their reputation can often spur them into agreeing to a larger settlement deal. Financial strain might similarly give a plaintiff reason to settle a wrongful death case as quickly as possible, lowering the settlement amount they might accept.
The Structure of a Settlement
How the parties agree to structure a wrongful death settlement may also have a bearing on its amount. A settlement might take the form of a lump-sum payment, for example, or a payment plan, whereby the defendant pays the agreed sum over a specified period.
Structured settlements sometimes amount to more than lump-sum payments, as they may include accrued interest over the payment period. They may not, however, be as advantageous for plaintiffs who prefer to have all their settlement money at once.
Why You Need a Lawyer to Achieve the Highest Possible Wrongful Death Settlement
There is no guarantee that a wrongful death case will settle, much less that a settlement will be on terms favorable to the plaintiff. To maximize the chances of achieving the best possible settlement in a wrongful death claim, you need a skilled, experienced lawyer in your corner.
Wrongful death cases are notoriously complex, often involving multiple parties, overlapping insurance policies, and extensive evidence. Experienced wrongful death attorneys know how to navigate these challenges. They can accurately quantify the damages, identify the at-fault parties, and construct a strategy most likely to obtain a favorable settlement.
Attorneys can also handle complicated negotiations with insurance companies and defense lawyers, who are often highly adept at minimizing the amount they pay out in wrongful death claims.
Having a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of negotiation can ensure the outcome is as favorable as possible. If negotiations do not succeed, a lawyer can also take a wrongful death case to court to present it to a judge and jury.
Lawyers also provide invaluable advice and guidance in wrongful death cases. Losing a loved one can be a painful, confusing experience. An attorney can guide you through the process of seeking justice and fair compensation for your loss, answer any questions you may have, and relieve you of some legal and insurance burdens so you have the space you need to grieve and heal.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Settlements
Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about wrongful death claim settlements. For answers to questions specific to your rights after losing a loved one, contact an experienced lawyer today.
Do I Need a Lawyer if an At-Fault Party's Insurance Company Has Already Offered Me a Settlement?
Yes. Offers that liability insurance companies make to you directly usually fall short of the amount you deserve for your loss. A wrongful death attorney can respond to the insurer on your behalf, take over negotiations, and pursue a settlement that reflects an appropriate amount of wrongful death damages.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Take?
The timeline for a wrongful death settlement varies significantly based on the specifics of a case. Many factors can contribute to its duration, including the complexity of the case, the number of liable parties, and the willingness of the parties to negotiate. The fastest way to achieve a settlement is to hire an experienced lawyer to handle your claim as soon as possible.
How Much Does It Cost To Hire a Lawyer for a Wrongful Death Case?
Most wrongful death attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. That means you do not pay upfront or by the hour for their services. The attorney, instead, receives a percentage of any settlement or judgment you receive. If the attorney does not win your case, you typically owe them nothing.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney Today
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident that was someone else's fault, you may pursue a wrongful death action. To obtain justice and a fair settlement, you'll need an experienced attorney on your side. Contact an attorney today for a free case consultation.