What is wrongful death? A wrongful death occurs when a person passes away due to someone else’s negligent, intentional, or reckless act or omission. When a person succumbs to their injuries and passes away, their surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim—or a lawsuit in court—seeking various damages. Although money can never compensate for the loss of a loved one, it can help to bring about a sense of justice and closure for the decedent’s surviving family members.
If your loved one passed away in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you must have an experienced and compassionate wrongful death lawyer in your area advocating for you.
Legal representation in these cases is important since insurance companies treat self-represented claimants skeptically. They may assume you do not have the necessary skills to effectively negotiate a wrongful death settlement or litigate your case in the court system if it must go to trial.
A knowledgeable Edmonton wrongful death lawyer can review the circumstances of your loved one’s accident and determine if you are eligible to file a claim. If you are, your lawyer can gather the necessary documents and assist you throughout the claims-filing process.
If the insurance company does not offer you or your loved ones fair monetary compensation, your lawyer can file a lawsuit and litigate your case to a conclusion in the court system. Throughout the process, you can rest assured that your lawyer will answer all of your questions and help you make the best possible decisions for your wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
When Can a Surviving Family Member File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In most instances, when a loved one passes away in an accident resulting from negligence, surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim seeking various damages. Under the Fatal Accidents Act (FAA), eligible family members include a child, parent, spouse, or adult interdependent partner.
If the surviving family member opens an estate, the court will appoint a personal representative (PR) to administer the estate. Usually, the PR files the claim or lawsuit seeking monetary compensation.
Wrongful/negligent acts that may lead to fatal injuries include traffic accidents, pedestrian impacts, slip and fall accidents, swimming pool accidents, boating accidents, defective products, and medical negligence.
If your loved one suffered a fatal injury in one of these occurrences, a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer in your area can explain your options and help you begin your claim or lawsuit.
What Types of Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
A deceased accident victim’s surviving family members often face severe hardships. Not only do they have to face life without their parent, spouse, or another close relative, they are often left carrying a financial burden. Fortunately, wrongful death claimants may be eligible to recover various damages to compensate them for their heavy losses and ease their burden going forward.
Accidents that can lead to a person’s untimely death vary, both in type and complexity. Since every situation is different, the damages that one wrongful death claimant recovers may differ from those another claimant recovers in their case. The FAA provides fixed amounts for eligible family members.
The types and amounts of wrongful death damages typically depend upon whether or not the decedent’s survivors depended upon the decedent for income. Another common factor is the amount of pain and suffering the decedent experienced between the time of the accident and their untimely death.
Common recoverable damages in wrongful death claims and lawsuits include:
- Future lost wage compensation: In many cases, accident victims who pass away leave behind family members who depend upon them for income. As part of a loss wage claim, claimants may recover the anticipated value of what the decedent would have earned had they survived their accident.
- Loss of comfort, care, and companionship: Individuals who pass away in an accident often leave behind bereaved spouses, children, and other close family members. As a bereaved claimant, you may be eligible to recover the value of your loved one’s companionship, comfort, and care, going forward.
- Pain and suffering: Many victims who suffer fatal injuries in an accident do not pass away right away. In fact, it can take weeks or even months before an accident victim eventually succumbs to their injuries. In those circumstances, a wrongful death claimant may be eligible to recover the reasonable value of the accident victim’s pain and suffering between the accident date and their death date.
In addition to these damages, wrongful death claimants may be eligible to recover the costs of burial and funeral expenses, along with other out-of-pocket costs and bereavement damages.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer in your area can determine which of these damages you are eligible to recover in your claim or lawsuit. Your lawyer will do everything possible to advocate effectively on your behalf so that you recover the total amount of wrongful death damages you deserve.
What Legal Elements Must I Prove in a Wrongful Death Case?
To recover damages in a wrongful death claim or lawsuit, the claimant—usually the decedent’s surviving family member or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate—has the legal burden of proof. The wrongdoer defendant, such as a driver who caused a fatal car accident, does not need to prove anything in the case.
The legal elements of proof in a wrongful death claim are much the same as in any other personal injury claim or lawsuit. First, the wrongful death claimant must establish that another person behaved unreasonably and negligently under the circumstances. For example, in the context of a fatal car accident, the claimant must demonstrate that another driver violated a traffic law, engaged in distracted driving, or operated their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, thereby causing the fatal accident. In addition, the claimant must establish that as a direct and proximate result of the deadly accident, their loved one’s untimely death occurred.
In some instances, insurance companies may try to allege that the decedent’s death resulted from something other than the accident. In those circumstances, you can retain a medical expert who can testify on the witness stand, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that a causal connection exists between the accident and the decedent’s untimely death.
A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer in your area can also help you establish the remaining legal elements of your claim and pursue the full amount of compensation you deserve.
Settlement Negotiation Steps in Wrongful Death Cases
Many wrongful death claimants encounter resistance from insurance company adjusters. After all, a settlement adjuster’s primary duty is to try and save their insurance company as much money as possible.
Moreover, insurance company adjusters are aware that in a wrongful death case, the deceased individual is no longer available to testify and tell their version of events at trial. In general, that may benefit the insurance company. However, by having a knowledgeable and experienced wrongful death lawyer in your corner, you increase your chances of recovering favourable damages. A lawyer will know how to obtain and introduce the necessary evidence to prove each legal element of your wrongful death claim. Your lawyer will also be your advocate when negotiating with insurance company adjusters and litigating a wrongful death lawsuit in court.
A lawyer’s first step in the wrongful death claims-filing process is to obtain the necessary documents. These documents include copies of a police report or investigation report, as well as any photographs of the accident scene and injuries that the decedent suffered. In addition, if the decedent underwent medical treatment between the time of the accident and the time of their death, those records may become necessary for the settlement adjuster to assess the claim accurately. Finally, documentation from the decedent’s employer may become vital if you are asserting a future lost wage claim.
After obtaining these documents, a lawyer will assemble them into a settlement demand package. They will then send the demand package, along with the settlement demand letter, to the handling adjuster. The adjuster will review all of this information and decide whether to accept fault for the accident.
When a settlement adjuster accepts fault, the parties may begin negotiating a monetary settlement in the case. Settlement negotiations are typically a back-and-forth principle, where the insurance company adjuster gradually increases their settlement offer as the claimant’s lawyer gradually decreases their demand. For this process to work, the claimant’s lawyer should initially ask for more money than they think they will obtain in the case. Settlement negotiations may then continue until the parties either reach a resolution or an impasse. If the parties cannot settle the wrongful death case, the claimant’s lawyer may prepare a lawsuit and file it with the court.
Litigating a Wrongful Death Case
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit begins litigation. However, if settlement negotiations were previously ongoing, the parties may continue those negotiations even after a claimant’s lawyer files suit. After filing a lawsuit in the case, the court will schedule various dates and deadlines—including a discovery deadline, a settlement conference date, and in some cases, a trial date.
During discovery, the parties will answer one another’s written questions, called interrogatories, and may take one another’s depositions to learn more about each side’s respective version of the case. In some instances, the defense lawyer will take the estate personal representative’s discovery deposition.
Following discovery, the parties may agree to settle their case—especially if the insurance company adjuster increases their offer meaningfully. Otherwise, the parties will take their case to trial or alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration.
At a wrongful death trial, the jury or judge will decide what, if any, damages to award the claimant(s). If the parties select a neutral mediator, the mediator will help them facilitate settlement discussions in the case. If the case resolves at mediation, it will not need to proceed to trial. Finally, at binding arbitration, a pre-selected neutral arbitrator decides the amount of money to award the wrongful death claimant or the estate. The parties may select binding arbitration as an alternative to a jury trial.
A compassionate wrongful death lawyer in your area can help you evaluate your legal options and select the best course of action for your claim or lawsuit.
Filing a Timely Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Under most circumstances, a surviving family member has a limited time in which to file a lawsuit for wrongful death damages. If a claimant—or the personal representative of the deceased individual’s estate—does not file their lawsuit within two years of their loved one’s death, they will not be eligible to recover wrongful death damages.
If they later try and file a wrongful death lawsuit, the insurance company’s lawyer will likely file a motion to dismiss the case, which the court will promptly grant. Therefore, if you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligent actions or inactions, you should retain an experienced lawyer to represent you right away.
Your lawyer can file a lawsuit well ahead of the wrongful death statute of limitations expiration date. Moreover, after filing a lawsuit in court, your lawyer may continue settlement negotiations with the insurance company adjuster or promptly begin the litigation process.
Call an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Your Area Today
Losing a loved one is never an easy experience for surviving family members. This is especially true if the loved one’s death—and the accident which caused it—were preventable. In addition to recovering the full amount of monetary compensation you deserve, a favourable settlement, jury verdict, or arbitration award can bring about a sense of closure for both yourself and your family members.
A knowledgeable and compassionate Edmonton personal injury lawyer in your area can guide you through the entire process and work to recover the damages you deserve. You can seek justice for your loved one, but you never have to do it alone.