Published On: Thu, Sep 17th, 2020

How Long Can a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?

A wrongful death lawsuit is often a lengthy and always traumatic process for the family and close friends of a loved one who dies under accidental or murky circumstances. While some cases may be resolved in a matter of months, you should be prepared for this type of lawsuit to last for well over a year. Some suits may last as long as three or four years, and it may vary by state law. What determines the amount of time is going to come down to several factors.

Before considering how long a wrongful death suit may take or how much compensation you and your family can expect, it is essential that you get yourself proper representation by an attorney qualified in wrongful death suits and licensed to practice in your state or the state where the death occurred. 

There is an insurance company involved that is offering a quick settlement. Why do I need a lawyer?

It is true that without legal representation, and with the culpable party covered by insurance, their insurance company will likely contact you with a speedy, low-estimate settlement offer that you can sign for and receive much faster than through a drawn out court case. However, and this is a big however, this insurance offer is simply put, probably not going to offer you enough money to cover the real, and unseen, costs of the wrongful death. 

With an attorney representing you, you can expect to gain quite a bit more for less quantitative losses, such as emotional loss, pain and suffering, and lost wages, particularly if the deceased was the main income earner in the family.

For example, an insurance company may offer to quickly pay all medical and funeral expenses plus a single payout for emotional damage that seems high initially, but less so when you factor in longer term losses. This is why it’s so essential that you consult with a lawyer before signing anything. Together with your attorney, there are a number of items that will determine the length of time you can expect a wrongful death suit to last and how much you can expect to gain.

Your relationship to the deceased

The financial damage you can claim for a deceased family member will be determined in part by your relationship to them. Spouses are entitled to sue for lost wages and benefits, known in legal terms as a “loss of consortium.” For children, the damages sought will pertain to costs associated with the loss of a parent and the relevant loss that this incurs, including losing the guidance, teaching, and security of a mother or father. 

This similarly applies to parents of a deceased child. In all three categories, the individual(s) can seek compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other forms of emotional damage.

You can find out how damages for wrongful death are calculated here.

Discovery, testimony, and mediation

When a wrongful death lawsuit does get underway, part of what makes the process so lengthy is a stage called discovery, in which lawyers representing each party will seek information, testimonies, related documents, and witnesses to assemble their case and make their argument in court. Next, all relevant witnesses will need to be interviewed at length (under oath), and important documents will need to be submitted to establish the facts of the case. 

After all of this has been completed, the parties involved will usually participate in a mediation with their legal representatives to determine whether they can come to a settlement that both parties agree to. Successful mediations will always yield shorter lawsuits. However, as is often the case, if no settlement is reached, the suit will need to move to a trial.

Civil suit with a jury

Wrongful death lawsuits that are determined by a trial jury are going to take a long time. When a trial date is set, it is by no means going to be immediate, as it takes time for a jury to be assembled and selected. The trial itself can also last for weeks. Once a jury does render a decision, they will also determine the amount of damages that ought to be awarded if they rule in favor of the suing party. But, this may still not be the end of your wrongful death lawsuit. Civil cases can be appealed, which means that the case could continue up into another court, extending the process further. 

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