Everyone deserves their day in court, as the saying goes. If you are dealing with financial or emotional losses resulting from the unnecessary or untimely death of a loved one, you may qualify for compensation from the negligent party. Have you considered filing a wrongful death lawsuit, but wonder if your circumstances would merit a case? And, if your circumstances do justify a day in court, what would the process be?
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
The question of who can file a wrongful death suit is more complicated than one might initially imagine. Each state has laws regarding this matter, and, based on legal precedents, unique situations may be taken into account.
In all states, spouses of the deceased may present a wrongful death suit. In some, but not all states, romantic partners of the deceased may file wrongful death suits (a contributing factor in the ongoing culture wars regarding traditional and nontraditional marriage). Parents of deceased minor children are allowed to file wrongful death suits in every state. Similarly, every state allows minor children to file wrongful death suits on behalf of a deceased parent.
After these relatively narrow guidelines, however, the laws about who can file a wrongful death suit become less generalized and rely more heavily on the state in which you reside and the unique situation you have experienced. Can you file a wrongful death suit for a grandparent? A sibling? A cousin? Can an adult child file on behalf of a deceased parent? A parent on behalf of a deceased adult child? A friend? Generally, the further removed the relationship with the deceased, the less likely it is that you can file a wrongful death suit for that person. Still, your unique situation will be taken into account.
If you are unsure whether your relationship with the deceased would allow you to file a wrongful death suit, consider talking directly with a wrongful death lawyer in the Las Vegas area. Talking with a lawyer about your unique situation will help you identify your options and determine your best course forward.
Will I Be Expected to Testify in Court?
First of all, wrongful death lawsuits are mostly enacted on a computer keyboard, not in a courtroom. No matter how justified your case, the pre-trial phase of a wrongful death lawsuit will last from one to several years, as your attorney researches your case and files the necessary rounds of pre-trial paperwork. Your attorney will also spend time reacting to the corresponding paperwork that comes from the defendant, as both sides meet lengthy legal requirements to establish responsibility and inform each other of evidence.
The vast majority of wrongful death lawsuits are resolved out of court before trial. Cases that do not reach court are either settled out of court (when the defendant agrees to make restitution) or are dismissed (when the judge decides that there is not enough evidence against the defendant to continue the case). Obviously, you will not be testifying in court if your case is settled or dismissed before going to trial. Your attorney will interview you as part of the research phase of the trial, and your evidence will be noted in the legal record.
If your case does end up going to court, it will be presented before a live jury. Whether you testify or not will be determined by the nature of the case. To be clear, however, your ‘day in court’ will be a very short time – possibly days – after a very lengthy pre-trial phase. In books and movies, the time in court looms large. What they don’t usually show is that this time rarely comes except after months or years of pre-trial negotiating and evidence gathering.
What happens after the trial?
Let’s say you filed a wrongful death suit, endured a couple of years of pre-trial negotiations, and your case goes to court. Court appearances may last several days or several weeks, depending on the situation. In the movies, the end comes right after the jury has given a verdict, but, in real life, the ending may be postponed even further.
In many cases, motions and appeals can still be filed by either side. Even if the jury returns a verdict in your favor, the opposing attorney may file an appeal (or appeals), which will postpone the ending of your case significantly. Sometimes, defense attorneys use appeals partly as a delaying tactic to test the patience of the plaintiff, who may feel emotionally exhausted at this point in the case.
Knowing how the timeline of a wrongful death suit typically unfolds should not deter you from seeking compensation which is rightfully yours. Rather, knowing what to expect from the process will help you have the persistence and patience you will need to successfully navigate a wrongful death suit.