Wrongful death claims are a type of personal injury lawsuit that encompasses deaths from auto accidents, product liability, medical malpractice, and much more. Typically, these cases are settled out of court. However, going to trial may be the best solution in certain circumstances.
Damages Included in a Wrongful Death Settlement
Typically, a wrongful death settlement includes the following types of damages:
- Medical care received as the result of the deceased person's final illness or injury
- Loss of the deceased person's future income to support his spouse and children
- Pain and suffering in the deceased person's final moments
- Loss of the deceased person's care and companionship
- Reasonable funeral and burial costs
Generally, cases involving younger victims will have the highest settlements. When a case involves an older person, future life expectancy and earning potential are less.
Punitive damages are not an automatic part of a wrongful death settlement. But they can be included if the conduct that caused the wrongful death was particularly reckless, malicious, willful, wanton, or extremely negligent.
Expert testimony is typically necessary to establish the value of damages. For example, a medical expert may be called on to testify if death would have been instantaneous or if the deceased person would have suffered in his final moments. Economic experts will likely be needed to estimate the value of future lost earnings, given the deceased person's education, current occupation, and anticipated life expectancy.
While no amount of money can replace your loved one, pursuing a wrongful death settlement can provide a sense of closure and alleviate some of the financial burden that resulted from your loved one's untimely death.
Settling a Case Out of Court
It is difficult to obtain precise figures regarding how often wrongful death claims are settled out of court because this type of case can include so many different forms of wrongful death. However, most experts estimate about 90% of cases are settled before trial.
The likelihood a case will go to trial often depends on how clear-cut liability is. For example, if a patient dies as the result of a surgical object being left inside the body, this is a "never event" in healthcare that can't be attributed to any cause other than negligence. However, if someone dies in an auto accident where poor weather or the actions of the deceased person may have been contributing factors, determining liability becomes much more complicated.
Factors to Consider Before Accepting a Settlement
Some of the factors that should be considered before accepting a settlement include:
- Your attorney's assessment of the value of your case
- How long it would take for a trial to be completed
- Potential delays in going to trial
- If there are recent examples of similar claims with positive or negative results
- Potential weaknesses in your case
- Potential weaknesses in the evidence presented by the defendant
- The possibility of being required to pay the other side's attorney fees if you were to lose at trial
- Unfavorable publicity that may result from the trial
- If a trial might force the discourse of trade secrets or confidential business
Remember that accepting a settlement in a wrongful death case means that you have no further legal recourse. You can't later decide to ask for additional damages if you realize the settlement was too low.
Collectability of Damages
In wrongful death cases involving a large corporation as the defendant, collectability of damages is normally not an issue. Large companies have substantial insurance policies and a fair amount of assets that can be used to pay a settlement. However, if your wrongful death case involves an individual who is underinsured, you may need to consider whether going to trial in hopes of a larger settlement is worth the time. Even if you have a strong case, a high settlement is only valuable if the defendant has the resources necessary to pay the damages in full.
How an Attorney Can Help
Even though most wrongful death claims will be settled out of court, you shouldn't forego legal representation. An experienced attorney can advocate for your interests throughout the process of resolving your claim. This helps ensure you receive a settlement that will fairly compensate you for the loss of your loved one.
The award-winning legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault has extensive experience handling wrongful death cases. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review.