Trying to bring a wrongful death claim can leave you with numerous questions. If you're planning to discuss a possible claim with a wrongful death attorney, it's a good idea to address some of these questions before your consultation. Here are four questions people often want to put to a wrongful death lawyer.
Do You Have to Sue?
Most cases don't lead to lawsuits. The normal process involves filing an insurance claim against a person or an organization. In some cases involving self-insured parties, you might have to directly deal with the defendant in the claims process.
However, filing a claim doesn't guarantee you'll avoid a lawsuit. The defendant or their insurer might reject the claim. Similarly, they might disagree strongly regarding how much compensation you deserve. If the two sides can't reach a settlement, a claimant will have to sue if they want any chance of obtaining compensation.
Who Can Bring a Claim or Suit?
State laws make wrongful death claims exclusively the domain of surviving family members. Surviving spouses have the strongest legal claims, followed by surviving genetic or adopted children. Likewise, stepchildren usually have similar standing. If neither a spouse nor child survives a victim, then parents would be the next potential claimants. This would continue further through the branches of the family tree as long as no one else had a better claim of standing.
How Is a Death Legally Wrongful?
American law maintains three basic theories of how a death might be wrongful. First, the actions of the defendant might have been negligent. This means they failed to do something they legally should have done to prevent death. For example, a landlord might have ignored the maintenance of a balcony railing.
Secondly, reckless conduct could form the basis of a claim. For example, a driver might have hit another motorist's car while going 30 mph over the speed limit.
Finally, deliberate actions can drive wrongful death claims. For isntance, many successful cases against cities and police departments in officer-involved shootings fall into this category. Likewise, some murder cases may support separate civil actions for wrongful death compensation.
Does There Have to Be a Criminal Conviction Associated with the Death?
No, criminal and civil proceedings related to deaths are separate issues. In fact, a wrongful death attorney will often pursue cases where there are never any criminal charges. Suppose someone died in an auto accident caused by a faulty seatbelt. The odds are low that a prosecutor would file criminal charges. However, the surviving family members might have a strong argument for compensation due to the manufacturer's negligence.