If you have lost a loved one as the result of someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault parties. However, it is important to understand that filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be a complex and intimidating process. This is particularly so at a time when families that may be contemplating legal action are also plunged in grief, trying to get their affairs in order and planning the funeral of their loved one. It can be an extremely challenging time both emotionally and financially.
When and Where Should You File?
The process of resolving a wrongful death claim could take several months or even a few years depending on the nature of the case and its complexity. California has a statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits. Typically, you have two years to file a wrongful death action after the incident. In medical malpractice wrongful death cases, you have three years from the date of the incident.
However, in cases involving governmental entities, you must file notice of a claim within 180 days of the incident. Once the statute of limitations has passed, you may not be able to file the lawsuit or seek compensation for your losses. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions. Therefore, they must be filed in California civil court.
How the Process Works
Before filing the wrongful death lawsuit, your attorney will delve into the details of your case, particularly the circumstances that led to the death of your loved one. Depending on the case, this might include looking into police reports or incident reports, arrest records, medical documents, talking to eyewitnesses and compiling other evidence. Facts are necessary to form a strong basis for your wrongful death case.
Then, your lawyer will determine the amount and type of damages you can and should seek in your claim. Armed with all of this information, your attorney will then get in touch and communicate with an insurance company or other representative to find out what is being offered with regard to a settlement.
Your attorney will then file the paperwork that is needed for your lawsuit. This will typically include a complaint and a summons that notifies the defendant that you've filed. The complaint details the incident and will contain allegations with regard to how or why the defendant's negligence or wrongdoing caused your loved one's death. Once your lawyer files the lawsuit, the defendant must respond and may likely seek a motion to dismiss the case. If the judge believes your case has merit, he or she may allow it go forward.
The Importance of an Experienced Lawyer
Once that occurs, your case moves into the discovery phase where each side obtains evidence and examines what the other side has. This might include requesting and examining documents and getting statements known as depositions from key players under oath. A majority of wrongful death cases are settled out of court, typically by the defendant's insurer. But, in cases where the settlement is unfair or inadequate, a jury trial may be warranted. The time frame for a wrongful death lawsuit depends on a number of factors including the complexity of the case, the settlement amount that is offered and the defendant's willingness to settle.
Regardless of what questions you may have regarding the process, our experienced Orange County wrongful death attorneys can help answer them and address any concerns you may have. If you are contemplating legal action and looking to hold the at-fault parties accountable, please contact us for a free consultation.