There are three questions you should ask yourself before you start the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim. Taking a few minutes to answer these questions will help you decide on the next steps.
What are my own expectations?
Consider what you expectations you are bringing to the legal process.
Are you seeking justice? Expecting a particular level of compensation? How long do you expect it to take, from start to finish? What will you need in the meantime?
It is completely understandable, and even admirable, to seek justice on behalf of someone who was suddenly killed by the wrongdoing of another.
Our civil justice system in the U.S. recognizes that we cannot undo a fatal tragedy. The only thing we can do is provide the remaining family with monetary compensation through a wrongful death claim. The compensation itself is a statistical process, using government guidelines, and based on a lot of different factors.
But do remember, a wrongful death claim is a civil (not criminal) case: it is not necessarily meant to punish someone. If the event that killed your person also resulted in criminal charges, that is completely different than suing for wrongful death.
Also, consider that the process of filing a wrongful death claim might take a few months—or it might take a couple of years. It depends on many factors, including:
- The manner of death, and the complexity of the investigation;
- How hard it is to prove fault and liability;
- How many people or companies are involved in the case;
- The legal arrangements involving the Estate of the deceased, and how many family members are involved in the process.
It is important to not agree to a settlement of a wrongful claim until you know the full extent of the damages.
Who will have to be involved in this process?
Who, in your family, would need to be involved in this legal process? Do you know who would be in charge of it? Who would be helpful to have on your side?
Generally, the next-of-kin, or the closest family member to the deceased, has to agree to file a lawsuit. In Washington State, the beneficiaries could include a surviving spouse and children, or parents and siblings. It depends on the structure of the family of the deceased person.
For example: a father of 4 dies in a car crash. He had two kids, who are now adults, with his first wife. After they divorced, he remarried and fathered 2 more children. In this situation, the beneficiaries of a wrongful death claim may include his current wife and 2 minor kids, and his two adult kids from his first marriage.
You should also know that someone will need to be the designated representative of the Estate. The Personal Representative protects the rights of all of the beneficiaries. This person will act as a main point of contact with the lawyer’s office.
Who do I trust to handle the wrongful death claim?
It is absolutely crucial that you chose a lawyer that you can trust—even if that isn’t us. Talk to as many attorneys as you need to in order to find the right one.
It will help if you have few questions prepared before you call, such as:
- How many wrongful death claims have you handled?
- Will you be the main attorney handling my case?
- How long will it take for you to investigate this case?
- Would your office help with setting up the Estate?
- What costs would we be responsible for paying?
- Do you work on a contingency fee, or do we have to pay up front?
This process is not going to be easy, but it can be made a bit easier if you trust that the lawyer is always acting in your best interest.
When you’re ready to take the next step, most wrongful death lawyers will offer a free consultation.
Learn more: About Wrongful Death
Wrongful Death Claim FAQ
It depends on how the death occurred, who you are filing a lawsuit against, and how much investigation is needed.
It could take a few months, or it could take a couple of years. We can give you an idea of how long it takes to file a wrongful death lawsuit once we’ve reviewed your case.
It is important to not pursue settlement of your claim until the full extent of the damages are known. We are careful to consider all aspects of the damages caused by a wrongful death.
A contingency fee means a lawyer only earns a fee by successfully resolving your case.
Personal injury lawyers usually take a percentage of the total amount of money you get at the end of the case. This means that lawyers have financial incentive to help you get the case done as successfully as possible.
It also means that we incur the risks of litigation: if we aren’t successful in your claim, we don’t get paid an attorney fee.
A statute of limitations is a law (statute) limiting the time an injured person has to file a lawsuit.
In Washington State, most personal injury claims must be filed within 3 years after the date of the incident. However, there are exceptions depending on the type of claim, or the age of the victim, or other factors.
And in some cases, an injured person has to give notice of their intent to file a lawsuit in a very limited amount of time.
That’s why most attorneys recommend that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible.