Losing a loved one is never easy—especially if the loss was preventable, had a person exercised reasonable care under the circumstances. Wrongful death is one that occurs due to someone else’s negligent act, omission, or intentional act.
If you lost a loved one in an incident that resulted from another person’s error or omission, you might be eligible to file a claim or lawsuit seeking various wrongful death damages.
How are wrongful death settlements paid? Time is of the essence in wrongful death claims, and claimants only have a limited period during which to seek monetary compensation. Therefore, as soon as possible after the incident, you should contact a knowledgeable Denver wrongful death lawyer in your area to represent you throughout your claim.
Although no amount of monetary damages can ever replace a lost loved one, it can help to bring about a sense of closure and justice for both you and your family members. Your wrongful death attorney will do everything possible to help you recover the highest amount of compensation available, bringing you and your family peace, satisfaction, and closure.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit?
Several individuals are eligible to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit on behalf of a deceased loved one. During the first year after the decedent’s untimely death, only the decedent’s surviving spouse is eligible to pursue wrongful death damages. However, if the surviving spouse provides written permission, they may allow the decedent’s children to initiate the wrongful death claim. Alternatively, the surviving spouse can join with the decedent’s children in filing the wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
If the decedent was not married at the time of their death, then the decedent’s surviving children—or a designated beneficiary—can file the wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
During the second year following the decedent’s death, these individuals can properly file a wrongful death claim:
- The decedent’s surviving children
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving spouse, along with the surviving children
- An eligible beneficiary, along with the decedent’s surviving children
Moreover, if the decedent was not married at the time of their death and did not have a designated beneficiary or children, then the decedent’s surviving parents can lawfully bring a wrongful death claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party.
A knowledgeable and experienced wrongful death attorney in your area can determine your eligibility for taking legal action following a loved one’s untimely death. If you are eligible to file a claim or lawsuit, your lawyer can assist you throughout the claims-filing and litigation processes and help you maximize the damages you recover in your case.
Legal Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
The legal elements of proof in a wrongful death case are essentially the same as in any other personal injury claim or lawsuit. First, the claimant must establish that the fatal incident resulted from another person’s wrongful, negligent, or intentional action or inaction. Furthermore, the claimant must show that this incident caused their loved one’s untimely death.
Common incidents that may lead to a wrongful death claim or lawsuit include:
- High-speed motor vehicle accidents.
- Motorcycle and bicycle collisions.
- Pedestrian accidents.
- Premises accidents.
- Medical negligence and malpractice incidents.
- Defective product malfunctions.
To establish that another person or entity caused a fatal incident, you or your attorney may need to retain an expert, such as an accident reconstructionist, who can evaluate the available evidence and piece together exactly what happened. An expert can review police reports, speak with eyewitnesses, and visit the accident scene to ascertain exactly how the incident occurred and who or what caused it. Moreover, an accident reconstructionist can testify at a discovery deposition or jury trial in support of your wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney in your area can help you satisfy the legal elements of your claim or lawsuit and, if necessary, retain an expert who can testify at a deposition or court proceeding in support of your claim.
Deadline to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in the Court System
Wrongful death claimants have a limited time period in which to file their wrongful death lawsuit with the court. Specifically, a claimant must file their lawsuit within two years of the decedent’s death—or four years from the decedent’s death if the fatal accident involved a vehicular homicide.
These statutory deadlines are hard-and-fast rules. Therefore, if the claimant files their lawsuit belatedly, they automatically become ineligible for monetary compensation at a later time. Therefore, it is in the claimant’s best interest to retain an experienced wrongful death attorney to represent them as soon as possible after their loved one’s untimely death.
If the statutory deadline is quickly approaching in your case, your attorney can promptly file suit on your behalf in court and begin litigating the case for you. If the insurance company refuses to settle your claim favorably, your attorney can assist you through the discovery stage of your case and, if necessary, take your case to trial or binding arbitration for a fair resolution. Your lawyer can explain all of your legal options to you and help you select the best option for your case.
Settling a Wrongful Death Claim
The wrongful death settlement process begins when your lawyer files a claim with the at-fault party’s insurer. Your lawyer will also prepare a settlement demand letter for the settlement adjuster’s review. In some wrongful death claims, the claimant’s attorney will request the full limits of the at-fault party’s insurance policy to settle the claim.
In addition, your wrongful death lawyer can assemble a settlement demand package on your behalf.
Most demand packages include:
- Copies of the decedent’s medical records and bills between the date of their accident and the date of their death
- The decedent’s most recent earning statements
- Police/incident reports
- Eyewitness statements
- Injury photographs
- Incident location photographs
Once your lawyer submits these claim documents to the insurance company, the adjuster will decide whether to accept fault for the accident. If they accept fault, your lawyer can begin negotiating with the adjuster on your behalf.
In most wrongful death claims, the initial offer that a settlement adjuster puts on the table is far below the actual claim value. Many adjusters lowball their initial settlement offers to see if they can resolve the case quickly and cheaply. When you have a compassionate and experienced wrongful death lawyer on your side, however, your lawyer can negotiate with the adjuster for as long as it takes to obtain a higher settlement number.
If you decide to settle your wrongful death claim, the case will end, and you will sign an insurance company release. A release prevents the claimant from filing another wrongful death claim arising from the same incident circumstances.
Once you sign a settlement release, the insurance company will issue a check for the gross settlement amount. However, your wrongful death attorney will then deduct their attorney’s fee, pursuant to the contingency fee percentage you agreed to accept. Generally speaking, if your wrongful death attorney filed a lawsuit in court—and your case proceeded all the way to a civil jury trial or binding arbitration proceeding—your lawyer may charge a higher fee, pursuant to the contingency fee agreement terms.
In addition, your lawyer will pay any medical providers the balances owed to them out of the gross settlement proceeds. Finally, if the decedent had a pending health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid lien—such as when an insurer pays for some or all of the accident-related medical treatment—your attorney will satisfy the lien balance out of the claim’s gross settlement proceeds. Your attorney will then issue the remaining amount to you as the claimant—or as the personal representative of the deceased individual’s estate—depending upon the circumstances.
A compassionate wrongful death attorney in your area will be by your side during every step of the settlement negotiation process. Moreover, if you decide to settle your wrongful death claim, your lawyer can ensure that you sign all of the necessary documents to finalize the case and obtain your settlement check.
Litigating a Wrongful Death Case through the Court System
If the insurance company still refuses to compensate you fairly in your wrongful death claim, your lawyer can threaten the adjuster with litigation and, if necessary, file a lawsuit in court seeking the damages you deserve. Once your case is in litigation, it may still settle if the insurance company significantly increases its offer. However, you—as the wrongful death claimant—have final decision-making power when accepting or rejecting a settlement offer.
Once the case moves forward in litigation, the parties must partake in discovery. During the discovery stage of litigation, the parties will answer one another’s written questions, called interrogatories, and take each other’s depositions. If the defense attorney notes your discovery deposition, your lawyer will prepare you well in advance about the questions the other attorney will likely ask.
If your case remains unresolved by the end of litigation, the parties have several options. First, they may take their case to a civil jury trial and allow a jury to decide the outcome of all disputed issues—including the total of wrongful death damages to award the claimant.
The parties may consider mediation or binding arbitration as an alternative to a jury trial. At a mediation hearing, a neutral mediator helps facilitate settlement talks with the parties and their legal representatives. Some cases resolve at mediation, while others do not. However, the ultimate goal of mediation is to bring the parties closer to a settlement resolution.
Conversely, at a binding arbitration hearing, a neutral arbitrator hears the evidence that the parties and their lawyers present and decides the total of damages to award the wrongful death claimant within certain pre-set parameters.
A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney in your area can help you decide whether to accept or reject a pending settlement offer. If your attorney recommends litigation, your lawyer can guide you through the process and represent you at all court hearings, helping you pursue the highest damage award possible.
Potential Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit
Wrongful death claimants are eligible to recover various damages, depending upon the circumstances of their loved one’s death, the accident circumstances, and the medical treatment that the decedent received between the time of their accident and their untimely death.
Potential damages in wrongful death claims include compensation for funeral and burial expenses, as well as compensation for:
- Pain and suffering between the time of the incident and the decedent’s untimely death
- The medical treatment which the accident victim endured between their accident date and their death date
- Loss of future income if the claimant relied upon the decedent for income while they were alive.
- Emotional and mental distress—especially if the claimant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or some other mental condition due to the recent loss of their loved one.
- Loss of the decedent’s future comfort, companionship, and care.
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s carelessness or negligence, a compassionate wrongful death attorney can determine if you are eligible to recover these damages and, if so, will pursue maximum compensation via a settlement, jury verdict, or binding arbitration award.
Call a Compassionate Wrongful Death Lawyer in Your Area Today
If you lost a loved one in an accident that resulted from another person’s error or negligence, you have legal options available. One of the most important steps you can take in your case is to retain an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer to represent you. Your lawyer will be your advocate throughout the entire claim or lawsuit and can aggressively negotiate with insurance company representatives on your behalf.
Moreover, if litigation becomes necessary in your case, your attorney can assist you throughout the process and work to recover the full and fair compensation you deserve.