Wrongful Death

Situations where a loved one is lost are devastating and the cases that stem from them are often emotionally difficult, confusing and rarely straightforward. As a national law firm, we have dozens of attorneys who have helped families after they lost a loved one. For many of those attorneys, it is the most important type of case they will ever work on.

Advocates United helps when someone’s negligent actions lead to the death of a loved one. When this happens, there could be a basis to bring a civil suit against the person who chose to act irresponsibly. Wrongful death suits are brought to help the family of the deceased by recovering money from losses that impact the surviving family members. These losses could be things like burial expenses and lost wages.

If you feel as though someone is responsible for the death or someone you love, please give us a call. We are ready to try to help you.

By the Numbers

  • 42.6

    out of every 100,000 death in 2014 may fall into this category

  • 33,736

    deaths in 2014 were attributed to motor vehicle crashes

  • 4

    unintentional injury deaths is the fourth leading cause of death in the US

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Here we offer information on some of the most common questions about wrongful death claims, which may offer some hope to those affected by this tragic situation.

What is a Wrongful Death?

Most states define wrongful death as something similar to “the taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.” Explained in simpler terms, wrongful death occurs whenever someone dies from a careless, reckless or intentional act by another individual or organization.

Causes of a Wrongful Death?

Any type of negligent, reckless or intentional act can cause a wrongful death. There are, however, certain situations that are often the cause of a wrongful death, including:

  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Medical malpractice
  • Tractor-trailer crashes
  • Nursing home neglect
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Dangerous products


Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

In order to know who can file a wrongful death claim, it is important to speak with an attorney who works in the state where the wrongful death occurred. The reason for this is that each state has its own rules on who can represent the deceased victim in these types of cases.

In many states, it comes down to who is the designated beneficiary (a person or persons included in a will, insurance policy, annuity, etc.), or the closest surviving family member, which may include:

  • Immediate family members (e.g. spouse, children, adopted children and parents of unmarried children)
  • Distant family members (e.g. siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins)
  • Domestic life partners
  • Parents of a deceased fetus
  • Financial dependents or anyone who suffers financially as a result of the death
  • The victim’s estate

Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim can be brought against almost any wrongdoer, whether a single person, group of people, or a company. (There are often special rules that apply to governmental agencies and employees that an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you understand). By way of example, take a wrongful death caused by a drunk driver. A wrongful death claim, depending on the circumstances, might be appropriate against one or more of the following:

  • The drunk driver
  • The owner of the bar or bars that served alcohol to the driver
  • The person or persons that actually served alcohol to the driver
  • The manufacturer of the car the victim was driving if the car was defective in some way
  • The company obligated to maintain the roadway if it was not properly maintained in some way
  • The company that designed that portion of the roadway if design was defective in some way
  • It takes an experienced wrongful death trial attorney to determine who should be held accountable when faced with such a serious and complex claim.

Why Should I File a Wrongful Death Claim?

When a loved one dies from negligence or recklessness, it is an extremely difficult thing to process for most people. The fact that the death was needlessly caused by the negligence or reckless act of another, rather than a disease or illness, makes it that much more difficult to bear. You may even feel that no amount of money could begin to compensate for the loss or provide the closure you and the victim deserve. That is of course true, but for many families the loss of the loved one can also cause severe financial hardship on top of the emotional pain. The financial effects may include loss of income to the family, medical bills, and funeral expenses. There is also the understandable desire, apart from the financial loss, to hold those responsible for the wrongful death accountable under the law. Finally, pursuing a wrongful death claim is vital to ensure the individual, company, manufacturer, or organization makes safety a top priority going forward. As unfortunate as it is, it sometimes it takes a successful civil action and payout to family members before this takes place.

How Do I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Before you can file a wrongful death claim, you should first contact an attorney to determine whether the law permits you to do so. There are a number of factors that go into this decision, including your relationship to the victim, the state where you reside, and if the victim has a will designating a beneficiary.

While each state typically gives you one year to file a wrongful death lawsuit, each state has its own laws that must be complied with and there may be filing deadlines you and your lawyer have to meet beforehand. Additionally, any evidence or information pertaining to the case should be collected as soon as possible to avoid complications that could affect the strength or validity of the lawsuit. The collection of evidence is best done by an attorney experienced in serious cases such as a wrongful death claim. An experienced attorney will know who to request evidence from, as well as how to collect and preserve it in a way that will allow its use in the event of a trial.

Also, make sure that you do not sign away your rights while struggling with coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. You may be approached by the insurance company for the wrongdoer acting as if they are there to help. They are not. Make sure you consult with an attorney before agreeing or signing anything while you are grieving and without the benefit of a lawyer looking out for you.

Please note: A wrongful death claim is separate from any criminal charges stemming from the death. Neither of these cases will affect the other, meaning that even if a defendant is acquitted of a crime such as murder, they can still be sued in a wrongful death civil action by the victim’s family or next of kin.
Wrongful Death

How do I Choose a Wrongful Death Attorney?

Choosing the right attorney to help you understand and protect your rights given the seriousness and complexity of a wrongful death claim is critical. In choosing an attorney, here are some of the things you should ask about:

How much experience does the attorney and his or her firm have in serious and complex personal injury claims, including those for wrongful death?

There is no substitute for experience in dealing with serious and complex claims. The experience may be of the specific attorney involved but should also take into account the experience within the firm that the attorney has access to.

Does the attorney or his or her firm have experience taking cases to trial?

Even though most cases don’t go to trial, having a lawyer who is ready, willing and able to take a case all the way through trial is essential to getting the compensation you deserve and holding those responsible accountable for what happened. As with general experience, there is no substitute for trial experience. Again, as with general experience, the trial experience may be of the specific attorney involved but should also include the trial experience within the firm that the attorney has access to.

Does the attorney and his or her firm have the resources necessary to pursue such a serious and complex claim?

A wrongful death claim will very often require the use of one or more expert witnesses, accident or other investigators, requesting and reviewing significant police, medical and other records etc. These resources can be hard to find (if you do not have the right experience) and are expensive.

What types of results has the attorney and his or her firm gotten on behalf of other clients with serious and complex claims?

A note of caution about this: While past results are a factor to consider, every case is different. The results obtained on behalf of other clients is not a guarantee of success in your case. Even when the facts seem very similar to your own.

Is the attorney understanding and compassionate?

You are in the midst of a personal crisis, the unexpected and wrongful loss of a loved one. The relationship with your attorney needs to be one of trust, confidence and understanding. You need to be feel comfortable talking to your attorney. Are they speaking to you plainly or in “legalese”? You also need to feel comfortable that you are being well represented by someone who understands, as best as another can, what you are going through, is compassionate and gives you the comfort and confidence that you are in good hands.

How do I Pay for a Wrongful Death Attorney?

Typically, you do not pay any money upfront or for the attorney’s time if your claim is not successful. More specifically, wrongful death attorneys typically handle these type of claims on what is called a “contingent fee” basis. That means that the attorney is not paid for his or her time unless he or she is successful on your behalf.

Under a typical contingent fee arrangement, the client and the attorney agree that if the attorney were successful he or she would receive a set percentage of the recovery.

The percentage can vary depending on what is agreed upon by the client and the attorney, for example related to if the case settles before or after trial begins. The percentage may also vary in accordance with specific state rules. The responsibility for paying certain expenses, such as court costs and filing fees, deposition and expert charges, varies by state and attorney. So make sure you talk to your attorney about the fee arrangement, ask any questions you have and make sure you fully understand it.

What Types of Damages Can I Claim?

Two types of damages are typically available to those who make a wrongful death claim. These are:

Financial damages:

Known as pecuniary damages, these are the damages that cover the financial loss occurring from the death of a loved one, which may include medical and funeral expenses, loss of financial support (e.g. spousal support, services paid for by deceased, etc.), among other financial losses.

Disciplinary damages:

Referred to as punitive damages in law, these damages can be claimed in cases where extreme harm or willful or malicious wrongs occurred that resulted in the death. While not every state allows punitive damages to be claimed or awarded, they are damages that are considered to be a form of punishment to the defendant. The purpose of punitive damages is to deter the wrongful conduct both by this defendant again as well as by others.

Coping with Loss and Grief after a Wrongful Death

Dealing with the loss of a loved one after a wrongful death can be extremely challenging. The range of emotions associated with grief are difficult to face for anyone, and could linger for years after the loss. So be sure to take care of yourself and the others affected by the loss by reaching out for help.

The help can come from many different sources including grief counselors and other mental health professionals, friends and family members, members of the clergy, and in-person and online support groups.

A grief counselor or other mental health professional can provide you with one-on-one personalized professional help.

Friends and family can provide you with emotional and other support.

Members of the clergy can provide spiritual help and are often experienced in helping others who have gone through the grieving process.

Support groups give you the opportunity to learn and get support from others who are going through what you are going through.

In wrongful death cases, many times helpful resources become available and paid for as part of legal compensation, offering families and dependents a way to cope with the loss of their loved ones in a healthy way.