How To Choose The Best Wrongful Death Lawyer

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Everyone dies, but not everyone dies because of a defective product or someone else’s negligence. In these instances, a wrongful death lawyer can obtain the compensation that survivors need and deserve.

Dangerous defective products, like the Tylenol/autism/ADHD lawsuit, dominate the headlines. Environmental poisoning, like Camp Lejeune water contamination, happens a lot as well.

Retailers who told pregnant women to take Tylenol, even though they knew the risk of autism and ADHD, had a responsibility to warn women about these risks. So did the USMC, which knew about Camp Lejeune water poisoning for decades. These entities had the chance to do the right thing, and they missed the boat.

As for negligence, fatal car crashes, which had been on the decline, increased significantly during and after the pandemic. Driver error causes almost all these wrecks. Medical negligence, mostly disease misdiagnosis, is all too common as well. Drivers and doctors have a legal duty to anticipate and avoid accidents.

When a friend or loved one goes to work and doesn’t come home or undergoes surgery and doesn’t come out, all the money in the world couldn’t begin to fill the emotional void. But these families need money to pay final expenses. Additionally, while money doesn’t change what happened, it does help survivors move on. That’s what the deceased person would’ve wanted in this situation.

This guide should help survivors pick the best wrongful death lawyer. It also addresses some commonly asked questions about the wrongful death lawsuit process.

What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

Usually, negligence substantially causes sudden, violent deaths. Assume Chris shoots Ben in a restaurant parking lot. The owner posted a “no guns on the premises” sign but didn’t enforce that policy. The owner’s negligence substantially caused Ben’s death.

Ben’s survivors are entitled to compensation if the owner knew about, or should have known about, the injury-causing hazard, which in this case was lax enforcement of a security policy.

Defective products often cause long-term diseases. Camp Lejeune water contamination could cause cancer and many other serious illnesses that don’t appear for decades. Again, a wrongful death lawyer must prove the water substantially caused the illness.

Work and service-related wrongful deaths are different. Workers’ compensation and VA disability covers these areas. These survivors don’t have to prove fault or knowledge. But they do have to prove that the wrongful death was work or service-related.

What kind of lawyer handles wrongful death claims?

Believe it or not, this one question is actually about a half-dozen other questions whu=ich we’ll address individually.

What is a wrongful death lawyer?

Personal injury lawyers are also wrongful death lawyers. A wrongful death claim has the same basic elements as an injury claim.

Very few lawyers focus exclusively on wrongful death cases. But lots of attorneys focus exclusively, or almost exclusively, on injury cases. That’s usually the kind of wrongful death lawyer you want. Lawyers who handle a few injury cases on the side usually look for quick settlements and easy ways out. Wrongful death survivors have been traumatized once. They shouldn’t have to settle for less in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Who can sue for wrongful death?

The rules vary in different states. Usually, the decedent’s personal representative can sue for wrongful death. If the decedent died intestate (without a will), the judge usually appoints a personal representative.

In other states, survivors, usually close relatives, can file wrongful death suits. This rule creates problems. Frequently, relatives don’t want to file wrongful death lawsuits. That’s understandable, because as mentioned, a lawsuit doesn’t change what happened. But it does hold tortfeasors (wrongful actors) responsible for the mistakes they made. It also helps survivors pick up the pieces of their lobes and obtain some closure.

When should I hire a wrongful death lawyer?

Some survivors don’t want to file actions at all. Many others wait and give the tortfeasor, or the tortfeasor’s insurance company, a chance to do the right thing.

But no one should wait to hire a wrongful death lawyer. In our experience, very few people step up and voluntarily do the right thing if a lot of money is at stake. So if you wait, you typically wait in vain. Plus, the statute of limitations in wrongful death claims is usually short. Survivors who drag their feet force lawyers to rush cases into court. That’s not a good thing.

How much does a wrongful death lawyer cost?

Usually nothing, at least upfront. Most injury lawyers take a percentage of the judgment or settlement. The percentage is fixed and wrongful death claims are very time consuming. So, attorneys frequently lose money on these cases. But attorneys don’t represent wrongful death survivors for money. They represent them to stand up for their rights.

Wrongful death lawyers typically front all litigation costs as well, such as filing fees and expert witness fees.

How do I find a good wrongful death lawyer?

As mentioned, your lawyer should be dedicated to injury law. That quality alone narrows the field considerably.

Also look for wrongful death lawyers who are accessible and experienced. Accessible lawyers have nearby office locations. They also don’t refer your case to another lawyer when things get tough. Experienced lawyers should have trial experience. If the insurance company knows lawyers are bluffing when they say “I’ll see you in court,” insurance companies don’t fold.

What questions should I ask a wrongful death lawyer?

Ask a wrongful death lawyer some honest questions. “Have you handled cases like this one before” is a good one. Chances are, the same approach that worked in previous cases will work in your case.

Also ask a wrongful death lawyer some trick questions, like “How much money will I get?” Anyone who promises a specific amount, either expressly or impliedly, is either inexperienced or lying.

Why should I strongly consider hiring a wrongful death lawyer?

Tortfeasors don’t voluntarily do the right thing because their lawyers advise against it. One settlement paves the way for future, larger settlements. If you give a mouse a cookie, it’ll ask for a glass of milk. Furthermore, insurance companies don’t care about what’s fair. They only care about their own profits.

The same lawyers who give this advice also represent tortfeasors in court. Nonlawyers cannot take on lawyers and expect anything good to happen. If I cut my own hair (or what’s left of it) and a barber cuts my neighbor’s hair, guess who will look better when the big ball’s in Cowtown.

How do I prepare for an initial consultation with a wrongful death lawyer?

Give your lawyer a thumbnail version of the events and relevant documents. You might not need these documents at your initial consultation with a wrongful death lawyer, but you’ll probably need them eventually.

Don’t give a lawyer the play-by-play version. More than likely, you’ll tell that story several times during the course of the lawsuit. The more you tell the long version, the blurrier the details get.

Accident-related documents usually include the police report (if available), medical bill, and witness contact information. Don’t worry too much about these documents because your lawyer can track them down. Lost future financial support is part of the damages in a wrongful death case. So, give your lawyer the decedent’s last few tax returns and other financial documents.

How much is a wrongful death lawsuit worth?

Once again, this one question is really about a half-dozen questions. So, once again, we’ll look at them individually.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit?

The damages in a personal injury or wrongful death case usually include economic and noneconomic damages. These damages go to different places.

The estate usually receives compensation for medical bills, final expenses, and other economic losses. The personal administrator must pay these bills before s/he closes the estate.

Survivors usually receive compensation for other losses, such as lost future financial and emotional support. If a court awards punitive damages, which are available if the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk, the survivors usually receive this money as well.

Incidentally, most wrongful death claimants aren’t entitled to compensation for their own grief and suffering. Sometimes, a lawyer files a separate claim and obtains compensation for these losses.
Different states have different rules regarding how wrongful death settlements are paid out and how to divide a wrongful death settlement.

How long does it take to settle a wrongful death suit?

The only honest answer to this question is “longer than you think.” Liability issues often hold up wrongful death settlements.

Let’s return to the aforementioned car crashes and environmental poisoning claims. Both drivers could be at fault for a car crash and many things, other than poison water, cause cancer. Insurance companies use these excuses to delay settlements as long as possible. Every day the settlement check stays in the insurance company’s bank account, the bank pays substantial interest.

Who pays in a wrongful death suit?

This final question also relates back to something we touched on earlier. Many people don’t want to file lawsuits not only because a court case doesn’t change anything, but also because they don’t want the tortfeasor to “pay” for an “accident.”

In most cases, tortfeasors don’t pay anything in wrongful death suits. Their insurance companies pay. The insurance company will almost certainly increase the tortfeasor’s premiums or drop coverage. But those things would’ve happened anyway.

Also as mentioned, negligence and defective products cause most wrongful deaths. People accidentally leave the lights on. They don’t accidentally drive drunk and cause crashes or knowingly sell dangerous products.

Picture of Bret Thurman

Bret Thurman

Bret is a former lawyer and full-time writer who knows how to simplify complex topics. He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For over twenty years, he handled a wide variety of cases, including criminal defense, personal injury, family law, and consumer bankruptcy.

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