Losing a loved one is devastating, especially when it was preventable. In California, auto accident fatalities increased by about 7.6% from 3,980 in 2020 to 4,285 in 2021. When someone else’s negligent actions or misconduct caused the victim’s death, the surviving family members or the representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit to pursue financial compensation. You may wonder, how long can a wrongful death lawsuit take? Generally, wrongful death suits involve complex legal processes that require careful consideration, negotiation, and sometimes, litigation. It’s not uncommon for these cases to take several months or even years to resolve.
The timeline of a wrongful death settlement depends on factors such as the complexity of the case, the cooperation of involved parties, court schedules, and the strength of the evidence.
Factors that May Affect the Timeline of a Wrongful Death Claim
Several factors can influence the timeline of a wrongful death settlement, including the following:
Availability of Eyewitnesses
One critical aspect of wrongful death claims is the availability of eyewitnesses who can provide their testimony. The accessibility and willingness of these witnesses to participate in the legal process can significantly impact the duration of the wrongful death case.
The presence of reliable eyewitnesses can be instrumental in expediting the resolution of a wrongful death lawsuit. Eyewitness testimony can provide valuable insights into the events that led to the tragedy, helping to establish liability. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you obtain witness statements as well as expert witness testimonies. Expert witnesses can provide their specialized, objective, and credible opinions to help the court understand complex issues and technical matters.
The Complexity of the Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases are often complex, which can impact the time it takes to settle. Cases involving multiple parties, intricate legal matters, factual issues, or liability questions typically require thorough investigation and expert testimony.
It’s crucial to investigate, gather and build a compelling personal injury claim which can extend the duration of the legal proceedings. While it’s important not to rush through the legal complexities, skilled wrongful death attorneys can navigate these intricacies effectively and resolve the case in a timely manner.
The Responsiveness and Cooperation of the Parties Involved
The willingness of all parties involved to cooperate and engage in negotiations can substantially impact the timeline of wrongful death lawsuits. If the parties involved are responsive and open to negotiating, it becomes more feasible to settle without prolonged litigation.
If the other party’s insurance company is uncooperative, it can lead to delays, as litigation might be necessary to reach a settlement. If your wrongful death lawsuit goes to trial, having an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side is crucial.
Insurance companies want to avoid paying out large settlements and will try to minimize wrongful death claims. Insurance adjusters are well-trained to assign fault and may try to deny the case entirely. Personal injury lawyers know how to handle the insurance company and their deceptive tactics.
The Court’s Current Workload
The court’s current workload is another influential factor in the timeline of a wrongful death claim. Courts have busy schedules, and cases are often scheduled in the order they are filed. Depending on the court’s docket and the number of cases already in line, your case may experience delays in terms of hearings, trial dates, and overall resolution. While this aspect is beyond your control, having an experienced attorney can help expedite court processes efficiently.
Is the Evidence Compelling?
The strength of the evidence in a wrongful death case can significantly impact how long it takes to reach a settlement. If the evidence supporting your claim is compelling and demonstrates the other party’s negligence, it can lead to a quicker resolution.
Conversely, if there isn’t substantial evidence, additional time may be needed to gather, present, and analyze the information. Working with legal experts to build a strong case can help expedite the settlement process. Personal injury lawyers can help you collect evidence including:
- Pictures and videos of the accident scene
- CCTV footage
- Police reports
- Medical records
- Witness statements
- Expert witnesses
The Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Case
In a wrongful death case, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff—the party bringing the lawsuit. This means that the plaintiff is responsible for presenting evidence that demonstrates the defendant’s negligence.
Meeting the burden of proof often requires detailed documentation, eyewitness and expert testimony, and a thorough understanding of personal injury law. The time it takes to gather and present this evidence can affect the case’s timeline.
The Statute of Limitations in California
The statute of limitations sets a time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is generally two years from the date of the individual’s death.
Failing to file within this time frame could result in the case being dismissed. It’s essential to be aware of this deadline and take timely action if you believe you have a wrongful death claim. Consulting with a personal injury attorney can help ensure that you adhere to these legal time constraints.
What is the Discovery Rule?
The discovery rule is a legal principle that can impact the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases. It’s important to know when the discovery rule applies. The discovery rule is particularly applicable in cases where the cause of death might not be immediately apparent or where evidence emerges after the fact. Applying the discovery rule can extend the time to file a lawsuit, offering more flexibility to seek justice.
For example, if the plaintiff did not discover their loved one’s death until some time later or the plaintiff did not know they have a legal claim, the discovery rule may apply. Therefore, the statute of limitations would start after the plaintiff or a reasonable person should have known about the injury.
What Happens if the Other Party is Uncooperative?
If the other party involved in the wrongful death claim is uncooperative or unwilling to engage in settlement discussions, the case might require more time to resolve. If the insurance company stalls and is not willing to negotiate, it may be necessary to take legal actions like formal mediation or even litigation. While these legal processes can extend the timeline of a wrongful death settlement, they are crucial for ensuring that your rights and best interests are protected.
Why It’s Best Not to Rush a Settlement
While the desire for a speedy resolution is understandable, rushing into a settlement might not always be in your best interest. Wrongful death cases involve complex legal considerations that could impact how much compensation you can recover.
Settling too quickly might lead to inadequate compensation for your losses. Taking the time to thoroughly investigate, gather evidence, and engage in negotiation can lead to a more fair settlement. It’s crucial to work closely with an experienced attorney who will fight for the maximum compensation available.
What Damages Can I Seek in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit aims to compensate the surviving family members for the losses they’ve suffered due to the negligence or intentional actions of another party. Damages sought in personal injury lawsuits can include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages
- Childcare services
- Household services
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering
How are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
Wrongful death settlements are typically paid out in a structured manner. The settlement amount is often negotiated between the parties involved, with the help of legal representatives. Once an agreement is reached, the payment might be divided into several parts, which could include immediate lump-sum payments to cover immediate expenses like medical bills and funeral and burial costs.
Additionally, there may be structured payments over time to ensure ongoing financial support for the surviving family members. This can help ensure that the settlement meets the family member’s immediate and future needs.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
The amount of time needed to settle wrongful death claims can range significantly depending on the circumstances of your case. Navigating the complexities of a wrongful death lawsuit requires the expertise of a compassionate and experienced wrongful death attorney. At Harbor Accident Lawyers, we are dedicated to helping victims recover the maximum compensation. We maintain a 99% success rate and have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients.
Our attorneys will fight for the financial compensation your family deserves. Contacting a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible can help you build a strong case while adhering to important legal timelines. Call our San Diego personal injury law office today to schedule a free consultation.