When another person or entity causes the death of a loved one, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against them and be compensated for your suffering and loss. This money is meant to help pay for medical costs, funeral costs, loss of financial benefits from the death of loved ones, and compensation for suffering and grief.
More importantly, a wrongful death claim is meant to hold the other party responsible for the death of a loved one, and sometimes this occurs concurrently with a criminal case.
However, wrongful death cases can be tough to win since you have to prove that the actions (or negligence) of the defendant were directly responsible for the death of your loved one. When you have your first consultation with a wrongful death attorney, it is important to ask the right questions to determine whether you have the best attorney to represent you.
Have these important questions written down and work them into your consultation, then weigh what answers you get. In some cases, you might have to consult with a number of attorneys before making your choice.
What is Your Track Record of Handling Wrongful Death Cases?
Wrongful death cases tend to be highly complicated, often requiring the use of experts to help prove your case. They will also need experience working with insurance adjusters to ensure maximum compensation. If your case has a significant claim of a million dollars or more, your attorney needs experience with dealing with this kind of high-stakes case.
In addition, wrongful death cases tend to be emotionally distressing and draining. Your attorney should be skilled at handling the case with care, empathy, and passion. Sometimes, the best attorneys are those who have suffered some kind of loss themselves.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
According to statutes in the state of Washington, the surviving family members such as a spouse, children, parents, or siblings have the first right to file a wrongful death suit. If they fail to do this (usually after three months), a personal representative files the case for them. This representative is often the legal executor of the deceased’s estate.
Do I Have a Solid Claim for a Wrong Death Claim?
Early on in the consultation, your attorney should be able to tell you whether or not you do have a case for a wrongful death claim. If the death of the deceased was in some way due to their own fault or was under unprovable circumstances, you may not have a compensable case.
In most cases, the attorney will decline to take up such cases anyway because they may not be financially viable.
What if an Insurance Company Offers Settlement?
After filing a wrongful death case, the insurance company representing the dependant may approach you with a settlement offer. They will be nice about it and try to make you sign off your legal rights in exchange for some money, but this is almost always a bad move for you.
You should always get your attorney involved in the negotiations and act upon their advice. Otherwise, you risk not getting full compensation for what should otherwise be a significant amount.
What are The Biggest Challenges Facing my Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death cases tend to be very unique in their circumstances, so they often present singular challenges. Your attorney should let you know straight away what burden of proof is necessary to provide such as loss of financial benefits, negligence, or absence of other factors that may have caused death. This usually has a lot to do with documentation, so your attorney will advise you on what to do early on.
How Much Do I Stand to Recover in Damages if we Win?
This is often the most frequent question asked, although it doesn’t have a simple answer. The damages recovered in a wrongful death claim have to do with economic and non-economic damages caused by the loss of the deceased. Economic loss includes lost wages, medical bills, and funeral expenses while non-economic losses include loss of companionship or suffering.
The deceased’s Estate is responsible for proving what medical or funeral expenses were incurred by the deceased, as well as any loss of income or other financial benefits. Often, experts are also called in to determine these figures for both economic and non-economic damages.
What is the Statute of Limitations Regarding a Wrongful Death Claim?
If this is the initial consultation, it is very important to know how much time you have before you file a wrongful death claim. The statute of limitations in Washington state expires in three years, which means you should have your case filed within that time or lose the legal right to do so.
You should always involve a wrongful death attorney as early as possible. That’s because there is a lot of work that goes into filing such a case, in addition to the time needed to grieve and adjust. Most attorneys will advise you to get the process started within two years of the date of the wrongful death.
How Long Will it Take the Case to be Decided?
Many wrongful death cases take years before they are decided. After reviewing your case, your attorney should be able to estimate how long it should take to have a decision or settlement on the case. In our experience, you should expect anywhere from 1 year to 4 years depending on the facts of the case.
One factor that can significantly lengthen the time taken for your case to be decided is the state of the deceased’s Estate. A probate court often has to be involved to appoint an executor and evaluate the damages caused before actually filing the lawsuit. The court will also have to approve the damages sought or settlement awarded.
Other factors such as the insurance companies involved, the admittance of liability, the number of claims, and even the location of the claim all determine how long it will take for your case to be decided.
How Much Will Your Fees Be, and What if We Lose?
Most wrongful death attorneys will say that “you don’t have to pay unless you win.” That is true because these types of cases are based on a contingency fee. In other words, the legal fees are going to come out of the settlement or award as won in court.
However, you should ask whether there will be a structured settlement or whether the payment will be a percentage of the money awarded. Some attorneys will ask for as much as 40% of the award or settlement, so be sure to get this out of the way during the first consultation.
How Will My Case Be Decided?
Your case can be concluded by settlement or by trial. Most cases end by settlement, where the representative and the other party’s insurers agree on a figure out of court. The probate court will have to approve any settlement reached before it becomes official.
However, if any fact of the case is highly contested (such as the amount in damages sought or admittance of wrongdoing), the case will likely be heard by a trial jury. In rare cases, there may even be post-trial motions such as an appeal.
Talk to Us About Your Wrongful Death Case
At Park Chenaur & Associates is a team of highly experienced wrongful death attorneys operating in Tacoma and Federal Way. Since our firm was founded in 1999, we have gained the reputation of being a trustworthy ally who will fight tooth and nail to win. It may not bring back your loved one, we know it will make the responsible party pay.
Even if you’re not an immediate family member in a wrongful death case (perhaps you’re an aunt or grandparent), talk to the wrongful death attorneys at Park Chenaur about it and let us fight for you. Wrongful death cases are hard work, but no one handles them better than we do.