When a loved one dies in an accident resulting from someone else’s recklessness, negligence, omission, or intentional act, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. However, wrongful death statute of limitations claims are very short. Claimants only have two years from their loved one’s death date to file a lawsuit in court seeking damages. If the claimant or their lawyer files suit even one day after the deadline passes, they waive their right to recover wrongful death damages.
One of the most important steps you can take after a loved one dies in an accident is to call an experienced Edmonton wrongful death lawyer for legal representation. Your lawyer can determine your eligibility for filing a claim and help you open an estate.
Once the court opens an estate and names a personal representative (PR) to oversee the estate, your lawyer can file a wrongful death claim with the at-fault person or entity’s insurance company. At that point, settlement negotiations may begin, and your lawyer can try and resolve the case. If the insurance company does not offer you favourable compensation, your lawyer can file a lawsuit seeking wrongful death damages in the court system.
When Can Someone File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Losing a beloved family member is never easy, especially when that loss is preventable. When someone dies due to another person’s negligent or intentional act, surviving family members may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. According to the Fatal Accidents Act (FAA), eligible family members include a spouse, parent, child, brother, sister, or adult interdependent partner.
When individuals and entities commit negligent and reckless acts, they may cause accidents that lead to fatalities.
Some of the most common accidents that result in fatalities—and which may lead to a wrongful death claim or lawsuit—include the following:
- Car and truck accidents: In most fatal car/truck accident scenarios, a driver operates their vehicle carelessly or recklessly under the circumstances, such as by speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way at the appropriate time, exhibiting road rage, or failing to use a turn signal. At other times, the at-fault driver might operate their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs—or while distracted. When drivers use their vehicles negligently, they may cause a broadside accident, head-on crash, or other serious accident which leaves one or more people injured or dead.
- Bicycle and motorcycle accidents: Like car and truck accidents, bicycle/motorcycle accidents usually result from driver negligence and error. However, these accidents may also result from defective parts malfunctioning on the road, such as steering mechanisms or braking systems. Cyclists are also at a severe disadvantage compared to car and truck operators, given their direct exposure to the surrounding environment and lack of a protective covering. When a cyclist strikes the ground in a crash, they may suffer a severe head injury or spinal cord injury, which can cause premature death.
- Pedestrian accidents: Many pedestrian accidents happen when drivers speed, fail to watch the road, or operate their vehicles while intoxicated. If a driver does not see a pedestrian in the vicinity, they may negligently cause their vehicle to strike the pedestrian, knocking them to the ground—or onto another vehicle—and causing them to suffer fatal injuries.
- Slip and fall accidents: Fatal slip and fall accidents usually occur when property owners fail to take proper care of their premises. Property owners typically have a duty to inspect their premises regularly and correct or warn about both known and unknown dangerous conditions that they uncover. This includes promptly cleaning up spills on floors, maintaining staircases, repairing railings, and addressing other defects that arise on their properties from time to time. Failing to do so within a reasonable time may cause an accident victim to suffer a fatal injury. This is especially true with elderly individuals.
- Product malfunctions: Product manufacturers, designers, and distributors owe their consumers a high duty of care. Specifically, they must act reasonably when assembling and designing the products they make available for consumer purchase. When they fail to exercise reasonable care, consumers may suffer fatal injuries if a product malfunction occurs or the product explodes when the consumer uses it properly. When a fatal injury occurs, the deceased consumer’s survivors can pursue wrongful death damages via a claim or lawsuit.
- Medical negligence: Medical providers must also follow a high standard of care when treating their patients and providing medical care. Most doctors must follow the standard of a hypothetical “reasonable doctor” acting under the same or similar circumstances. When medical providers deviate from the applicable standard of care, such as by misdiagnosing a patient, failing to diagnose a medical condition, botching a surgical procedure, or overmedicating a patient—and the patient dies as a result—the provider opens themselves up to a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
A knowledgeable and compassionate wrongful death lawyer in your area can review your loved one’s circumstances to determine if you’re eligible to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit on their behalf. If you qualify, your lawyer can assist you with every step of the claims-filing process and, if necessary, litigate your case to a conclusion in the court system.
The Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit
To recover wrongful death damages in a claim or a lawsuit, the claimant must satisfy their legal burden of proof. In a wrongful death claim, as with a personal injury claim, the claimant has the sole legal obligation. The at-fault party does not need to prove anything in the case.
To recover wrongful death damages, a claimant must establish that another person acted unreasonably—or negligently—under the prevailing circumstances. For example, in a fatal car or truck accident, the at-fault driver may have violated a road rule, engaged in distracted driving, or failed to watch the road sufficiently, causing the accident. In addition, the claimant must establish that the accident was a cause of the deceased individual’s fatal injuries.
Whenever a claimant satisfies both of these legal elements, they may be eligible for various damages. A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer near you can determine your eligibility for filing a claim or lawsuit and will work to maximize the compensation you recover. If the insurance company does not offer you the total amount of wrongful death damages you deserve, your lawyer can file suit and litigate your wrongful death case to a conclusion in court.
What are Some Potential Wrongful Death Damages Recoverable in a Claim or Lawsuit?
Every wrongful death case is different, and the damages a claimant may recover will vary from case to case. Wrongful death damages typically depend upon various factors, including the types of fatal injuries that the decedent sustained in the accident, whether they underwent any medical treatment between the accident date and their death, and whether surviving family members rely on the decedent for their income.
First, surviving family members may be eligible to recover funeral and burial expenses following their loved one’s death. If the deceased individual was the primary breadwinner for the family, and family members depended upon them for income, a wrongful death claimant can recover anticipated future lost wages.
To prove these damages, a claimant will typically need to obtain employment records and documentation from the decedent’s employer. A wrongful death lawyer can then use this information to estimate the decedent’s future lost earnings when making a claim or pursuing a lawsuit in court.
In addition, if the decedent underwent medical treatment between the time of the accident and their death, the claimant can recover monetary damages for that treatment and the pain and suffering the decedent endured during that time.
Finally, surviving family members can recover monetary damages for the loss of the decedent’s future care, comfort, and companionship, as well as bereavement damages and reimbursement for certain out-of-pocket costs.
Steps to Filing a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit
Wrongful death claims proceed in much the same way as other personal injury claims. First, the claimant’s lawyer will need to gather certain records and submit them to the insurance company adjuster handling the claim. These documents may include the deceased accident victim’s medical records between the time of the accident and their death, as well as lost wage statements from the decedent’s employer and recent income tax returns.
These lost income statements may indicate the amount of money the decedent earned in previous years, providing an estimate for anticipated lost earnings. In addition, the claimant’s lawyer may obtain copies of any police report or investigation report, along with eyewitness statements, photographs of property damage, and photographs of the decedent’s injuries.
A wrongful death lawyer can submit all of these documents on your behalf, as well as a settlement demand letter, to the insurance company adjuster handling the claim. Once the adjuster receives all of this information, they will decide whether or not to accept fault for the accident. If the adjuster accepts fault, they might make an offer to resolve the wrongful death claim via settlement.
You should always be wary about accepting an initial settlement offer from an insurance company adjuster. This is because initial offers are routinely far below the actual value of a wrongful death claim. Insurance company adjusters often want to see if the claimant is in a hurry to settle their claim. If so, the insurance company adjuster can settle for a lot less money than they originally anticipated.
However, a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer will know the tactics and tricks these adjusters routinely use to undervalue wrongful death claims and lawsuits. Your lawyer can negotiate with the adjuster on your behalf and pursue the maximum amount of damages available. If the insurance company does not offer you the compensation you deserve in your wrongful death claim, your lawyer can file a lawsuit in the court system.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit in court begins the litigation stage of the case. Even when a case is in litigation, the parties may still resolve it through settlement. In fact, most wrongful death claims resolve via settlement, as opposed to a jury trial or binding arbitration proceeding. During the litigation stage of a case, the parties may engage in both written and oral discovery. Written discovery consists of exchanging physical documents, along with answers to written questions, called interrogatories.
Also, during discovery, the defence lawyer may take the claimant or personal representative’s deposition. Your lawyer will prepare you thoroughly for your discovery deposition so you can testify convincingly. After discovery is complete, the parties may settle their case if the insurance company increases its most recent offer significantly. However, if the parties reach an impasse, they may take their case to a jury trial or binding arbitration proceeding.
During a jury trial, the jury will decide what amount of damages to award the claimant for wrongful death. At trial, your lawyer will be your advocate and will highlight the strengths of your case while downplaying any weaknesses. As an alternative to trial, the parties may consider binding arbitration, where a pre-selected arbitrator decides the total damages to award the wrongful death claimant.
Your lawyer can help you determine what course of action will be most beneficial for your wrongful death claim or lawsuit. Your lawyer can also represent you at all courtroom proceedings and zealously advocate for your legal interests there.
Call an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Near You Today
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident that resulted from negligence, you must involve an experienced Edmonton personal injury lawyer right away. The longer you wait, the lesser your chances of recovering favourable monetary compensation.
Although monetary damages can never replace a lost loved one, they can help to bring about a sense of closure and justice for both you and your family members. A wrongful death lawyer in your area will make your claim or lawsuit a priority and will do everything possible to help you recover the damages you deserve for your loss.