Perhaps your loved one was killed in an auto accident due to a drunk driver or a driver who was too busy texting to pay attention to the road. Maybe it was due to a defective auto part.
Perhaps your loved one died on the job due to unsafe working conditions or was the victim of a careless hospital or rest home employee who gave them the wrong medications or allowed a preventable but deadly fall.
Regardless of the circumstances, when a loved one dies due to the negligence of others, your grief is compounded. Not only do you mourn their companionship, support, and the loss of a bright future with your loved one, you’re left with the knowledge that the death didn’t have to happen. Were it not for another person’s careless or cavalier actions, your loved one might still be here.
If you are having a hard time deciding whether or not to file a wrongful death lawsuit, know that you are not alone. Many people have agonized over this same heavy decision. The most important thing is that you make an informed decision. Every situation is different, and we cannot tell you how to proceed. However, we can shed light on some common concerns surrounding wrongful death claims so that you can make the best decision for your situation.
I was not married to the deceased. Can I still file a claim?
Many people think that if they are not the surviving spouse of the deceased, they cannot file a wrongful death claim. In general, the surviving spouse is first in line to bring the claim, but what if the spouse is also deceased? Or if you are not a spouse but a life partner?
A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by children (including adoptive children), stepchildren (if they were under 18 and financially dependent on the step parent at the time of their death), and parents. If none of these people can file the lawsuit, other blood relatives (such as siblings) may be able to do so. A life partner may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. So may a legal guardian (vs. a parent) if the deceased person was under their guardianship at the time of death. A wrongful death lawyer can help you know if you are eligible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in Utah.
Be mindful that if you were not dependent on the deceased for financial support, your reward may be decreased. For example, a sibling would not likely be able to sue for the same amount of damage as a dependent child.
Money can’t bring my loved one back.
True, but this is not why you are filing a wrongful death lawsuit. You are filing a wrongful death lawsuit because your loved one’s death robbed you of things. It may have left you with medical and funeral expenses. If you depended on your loved one for financial support, you no longer have that—now or in the future. You also lost their companionship, which has brought you a lot of grief and will continue to do so.
Wrongful death lawsuits cannot change the past, but they can help improve your future by restoring financial losses and compensating you for the pain and suffering that are diminishing your quality of life.
In addition, your claim may contribute to changing the behavior of the defendant so that they do not wrong others.
Will the reward be worth all of the effort?
A lawsuit can be time consuming and stressful. However, it will be less so if you work with an experienced wrongful death lawyer. They can interface with the opposing party, file all necessary paperwork by the established deadlines, gather evidence, and build a strong case on your behalf. Many clients are surprised to learn the extent of the financial damages that they are entitled to, so don’t write the lawsuit off until you have talked to an attorney about the amount of compensation you could receive.
The final reward will depend on your age and relationship to the deceased person, the age of the deceased, their income and earning capacity, and their life expectancy.
The case is not cut-and-dry. I might not win.
Are you worried that you don’t have enough evidence to support your case? Or perhaps the other party insists that they were not liable for your loved one’s death. Or maybe there are multiple people at fault in the accident rather than one clear negligent party.
It’s true that all of these things could complicate your wrongful death claim, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a case that is worth pursuing. Start by seeing an experienced attorney. They can examine your case and the existing evidence. They can help you know if you stand to win your case.
I don’t want to go to court.
If you’ve watched many legal dramas or movies with heated court scenes, you may be (understandably) afraid of going to court. Will you have to testify? Will you be mercilessly cross-examined?
The good news is that most wrongful death cases are settled out of court. A qualified attorney can negotiate with the opposing party’s insurance to produce an acceptable settlement. If you absolutely cannot reach an agreement, then you may need to go to court. The good thing about going to trial is that you may be able to win more than you did through negotiations. However, there’s always the risk that you will be awarded less—or that you won’t receive any compensation at all.
If you are nervous about testifying in court, your attorney can help prepare you. They can anticipate what you might be asked and help you practice responses. And remember, you don’t have to give a perfect testimony. In fact, people in the legal profession know that there are no perfect testimonies. You simply need to focus on the question, answer only what you are asked, and tell the truth.
Be advised that going to court can prolong your trial. For starters, it can take a while to get a court date on crowded trial calendars. In addition, if the facts can’t be worked out during the settlement, both parties may go back to the discovery process to drum up more and better evidence. There’s also the process of deposing witnesses and experts, preparing for cross-examination, and the actual cross-examination. The defense may also drag their feet on requests or postpone meetings to delay the process.
I don’t have the money for attorney fees.
At LifeLaw, we have a contingency fee arrangement, meaning we don’t get paid unless we secure a monetary recovery on your behalf. If you don’t want to get stuck with attorney fees, find an attorney who will work on a contingency basis.
I have waited too long.
In Utah, the statute of limitations requires that wrongful death lawsuits be filed within two years of death or one year of death if the lawsuit involves a government entity. However, there could be exceptions, such as when evidence of the wrongful death does not become available until close to the cut-off date. Talk to your attorney to see if you qualify for an exception.
For more help deciding whether to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, contact our Utah wrongful death lawyers. With decades of experience advocating for victims’ rights, we are devoted to helping you recover what you are owed so that you can move forward with hope and healing after your loved one’s death.