Nothing is more painful than losing a loved one in an untimely death, primarily if caused by a preventable mistake.
When someone else’s negligence causes your loved one’s passing, taking legal action through a wrongful death suit is the best way to make the at-fault party responsible for their actions.
However, going through a legal battle is usually not the first thing on a grieving family’s mind.
Unsurprisingly, many families want to resolve their cases as quickly as possible, and they often ask: “How long does a wrongful death lawsuit take?”
Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple. Every wrongful death claim is unique, meaning a case can take months to years to settle.
Many variables come into play, which can either shorten or lengthen the time it takes for your family to receive compensation.
Our personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC will gladly answer your questions about wrongful death cases and the legal process.
Contact our law firm at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation with an experienced Chicago wrongful death lawyer.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit refers to a civil action brought when someone dies due to another person or entity’s wrongful act, negligence, or default.
Such lawsuits are generally brought by the survivors or the deceased person’s estate.
While laws vary by jurisdiction, there are usually several elements that must typically be proven to establish a wrongful death claim:
- Death of a Person: This is straightforward – there must be a death for a wrongful death lawsuit to be possible.
- Negligence or Intent: The plaintiff must prove that the death of their loved one was caused, in part or whole, by the recklessness, carelessness, or intentional acts of the defendant.
- Causation: Besides showing the defendant’s negligence or intent, the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s act (or failure to act) was the cause of the loved one’s death.
- Damages: The victim’s death must have generated quantifiable damages such as hospitalization costs, funeral expenses, burial costs, loss of income and potential earnings, loss of protection, guidance, or companionship, and the mental pain and suffering of the survivors.
In the United States, wrongful death lawsuits are governed by state laws, and procedures and requirements can vary significantly from one state to another.
It’s essential to consult a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney to understand the laws in the relevant jurisdiction.
Claimable Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
By filing a personal injury claim or wrongful death lawsuit against an at-fault party, you may receive financial compensation for the following losses:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Funeral and burial costs
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
How Much Compensation Can You Receive?
The potential value of your settlement will heavily depend on the extent of your damages. Moreover, some factors may increase your compensation, such as:
- Age: Your family may receive a larger settlement if your deceased loved one likely has a long life ahead of them.
- Employment: Compensation may be more significant if the deceased is the family’s primary wage earner.
- Earning Capacity: The deceased’s job may also influence how much compensation their family might receive. For instance, a family may receive a larger settlement if the deceased had a six-digit salary.
Resolving a Wrongful Death Claim Through an Insurance Settlement
The quickest and easiest way to seek compensation from a negligent party is to submit a case to their insurance company.
Many types of personal injury-related accidents settle through insurance claims.
For instance, auto insurance companies settle wrongful death claims in car crashes, homeowner’s insurance compensates victims injured on private properties, professional liability protects medical professionals in medical malpractice cases, and so on.
In case of wrongful death, you can file a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance provider in your loved one’s accident.
Afterward, you may receive a settlement offer from an insurance adjuster (if the insurer does not deny your claim outright).
You could accept this offer right away, but most lawyers advise against it because of two main reasons:
- Generally, insurance companies attempt to settle wrongful death claims with low offers to avoid paying more than necessary
- You can no longer sue for additional damages once you accept payment
With this in mind, having your wrongful death attorney negotiate the settlement on your behalf is highly advisable. This way, you receive the amount your family deserves based on the extent of your damages.
How Long Does it Take to Settle an Insurance Claim?
If negotiations are successful, your lawyer will facilitate the remainder of the process until the money is in your hands.
On average, wrongful death lawsuits settle through insurance agreements in a few weeks to a few months.
How to Avoid Bad Faith Insurance
Some insurers push quick settlements to protect their bottom line, especially in cases involving injured victims who may not have discovered the full extent of their damages.
That said, we recommend that you:
- Consult with an attorney before you file a case
- Never accept a low settlement
- Do not sign any financial documents from the insurance provider
- Avoid discussing your case with anyone except your lawyer
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Sadly, not all wrongful death cases end in amicable insurance settlements. You may have to file a wrongful death lawsuit if:
- The defendant’s insurance company refuses to make a fair offer
- The defendant denies causing your loved one’s death
- The insurance company denies your claim without a valid reason
- The extent of your damages exceeds the maximum payable amount of the defendant’s insurance policy
- Negotiations have stalled
Your case will go to civil court, where a judge or jury will hear evidence from both sides to determine a verdict.
How Long Does it Take to Settle a Wrongful Death in Court?
Trials are usually expensive and time-consuming, so surviving family members and representatives of a deceased person’s estate typically opt for a quick settlement.
Unfortunately, some families don’t have a choice but to take the case to court.
The average case length of a wrongful death trial depends on the case’s circumstances. Some wrongful death lawsuits take just a few months to resolve, while others take years.
Your attorney will give you an idea of how long it will take to close your wrongful death lawsuit should it be necessary to recover compensation.
Factors Affecting the Timelines of Wrongful Death Claims and Lawsuits
Several factors can influence the length of a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
Amount and Strength of Available Evidence
To file a successful wrongful death claim, you must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care, which led to your loved one’s passing.
For instance, if your loved one died in a car accident, you must show that the at-fault driver failed their duty of care to prevent injury to pedestrians and other drivers.
Proving the negligence of at-fault parties in personal injury cases is often challenging. You will have to collect substantial evidence, such as:
- Medical records
- Photos of injuries
- Surveillance videos
- Documentation of the accident scene
- Police reports
- Witness accounts
Generally, the more pieces of evidence you have and the stronger they are, the faster the case.
Uncooperative Defendant or Insurance Company
A defendant or insurance provider that refuses to cooperate in your case will likely delay compensation.
This tactic may be part of their goal to force you to accept a quick settlement. If this happens, filing a wrongful death lawsuit might be in your best interest.
Some cases are more complicated to resolve than others, such as medical malpractice cases that usually involve lengthy and complex investigations.
Others are straightforward, such as slip and fall accidents, and don’t take much time to settle.
However, shared negligence typically adds time to a case regardless of the conditions of the accident.
If your loved one somehow contributed to what happened, the court will need more time to determine their degree of fault.
Note that comparative negligence rules differ from state to state and will affect the amount of damages you may recover.
Other factors that can complicate your case include:
- Multiple at-fault parties
- Filing a claim against a corporation
- Bad faith insurance practices
- There is more than one deceased or injured party
Our attorneys will give you an estimated timeline of a claim process or trial, depending on the circumstances of your particular case.
The Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on wrongful death suits varies from state to state. Most states allow plaintiffs to file a case two years from death.
Additionally, there are varying rules on exceptions for filing a suit outside the statute of limitations.
Your lawyer will help you understand the specific state laws that may apply to your case.
Can You File a Wrongful Death Case While a Criminal Case is Pending?
The police might file criminal charges against the defendant if the illegal activity involved your loved one’s death (e.g., drunk driving resulting in an auto accident).
You do not have to wait for the court to convict the defendant to file a wrongful death case.
However, a verdict may be strong evidence for your wrongful death lawsuit.
Will You Have to Pay Taxes on a Wrongful Death Settlement?
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Rule 1.104-1, wrongful death settlements are non-taxable because they are classified as part of a claim caused by personal injuries or physical illness.
In other words, the IRS does not consider payments from wrongful death claims as income.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Why You Need an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
Wrongful death claims are often tedious and complicated, and the last thing you need in your time of grief is to deal with a lengthy wrongful death case.
Our attorneys can help ease your burdens by taking the reins. We will:
- Help you understand the legal process
- Investigate how and why the accident happened
- Interview numerous witnesses and experts
- Prove liability of at-fault parties
- Gather evidence to support your wrongful death lawsuit
- Negotiate with insurance companies
- File your suit in civil court and represent you in a trial, if necessary
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Passionate Lawyer Today
Many clients ask: “How long does it take to settle wrongful death claims?” Some also wonder, “How long can a wrongful death lawsuit take vs. an insurance claim?”
While these are valid questions, there are no direct answers as there are too many variables to consider.
We encourage you to discuss the particulars of your case with our wrongful death attorneys.
Our lawyers settle countless wrongful death claims yearly and will know how long your case might take.
Contact our law firm at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form for a free consultation today. We will guide you through the process and help you seek justice for your loved one’s untimely passing.
All confidential or sensitive information our clients share during free consultations remains private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our personal injury lawyers handle all accepted wrongful death lawsuits on a contingency fee basis. You don’t have to pay for our services unless we recover damages for your family.