Every wrongful death claim is different, so we cannot give an answer that will reflect how long your case will take to settle. Some cases will never settle and will have to go to trial to get a decision from a judge or jury.
There are several stages to a wrongful death claim. A case can breeze through some phases and getting bogged down in others. Often, a claim will get delayed due to factors beyond the control of your lawyer, like the judge’s trial schedule.
Filing the Initial Claim
Sometimes the legal beneficiaries of the deceased person do not have to file a formal claim with the insurance company of the person whose negligence or wrongful act caused the untimely death of your loved one. For example, in the situation of a fatal car accident, the insurance company for the at-fault driver will often contact the decedent’s spouse.
If the insurer contacts you about your family’s claim for compensation for your losses, instruct the insurance adjuster to talk to your wrongful death lawyer. There is a lot of money at stake, so the insurer has the financial motivation to do whatever it can to decrease the amount of money they have to pay you. It is best to have a lawyer on your side from day one in these situations.
Your lawyer can investigate the accident, gather the evidence to build your case, and send the insurance company a demand letter for a specific amount of financial damages. After you choose a lawyer to represent you, the insurer is not supposed to contact you directly. You can focus on dealing with your grief and helping your family get through this crisis, while your lawyer takes care of everything else.
Working With the Claims Adjuster
Make sure that you do not provide a recorded statement to the claims adjuster without your lawyer. Giving a recorded statement on your own is risky. The adjuster can take your words out of context to say something that you did not intend. Instead of giving one of these statements, have the adjuster contact your lawyer to get information.
Your lawyer can negotiate directly with the insurance company on your behalf, so that you do not have to do so. If you have a lawyer, you should not contact the insurer directly. Just as a child might do with its parents, the insurer can play you and your lawyer against each other—to your disadvantage. Let your lawyer take care of communications with the insurer.
The insurance company and your lawyer will collect information about the incident that took the life of your loved one. The accident report, medical records, ambulance notes, and any other relevant information can help your lawyer calculate a fair settlement amount. If it looks as if the claim will settle for the amount that you deserve, your lawyer can file a lawsuit for you.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Some wrongful death claims will never settle for a fair amount. In some other cases, the adjuster and your lawyer might negotiate in good faith, but your lawyer might still need to file a lawsuit.
Georgia law limits the amount of time that you have to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your losses. If the deadline is nearing, your lawyer might file a lawsuit to protect your legal rights, even though the case is likely to settle without having to go to trial. If you miss the deadline, the law can bar you from going after money damages.
What Happens Before Trial
After the lawsuit gets filed, the insurer will assign a defense lawyer to the case. Your lawyer will work directly with that person instead of the adjuster. The lawyers will continue to exchange information about the wrongful death. The lawyers will request documents from each other. They might draft interrogatories, which are written questions that you will have to answer under oath. The attorneys might take depositions, which are questions that they ask you, also under oath, in person at the office of one of the lawyers.
Negotiations can continue while the lawyers are preparing their sides of the case for trial. Most claims get settled without having to go to trial. The time from filing a lawsuit until trial can be many months.
What to Expect During a Trial
A wrongful death trial can last for days or weeks. Both the plaintiff and the defendant will have witnesses testify and present evidence for the trier of fact to consider. Some of these trials have juries, and others have only a judge with no jury.
How Long a Judge or Jury Can Take to Make a Decision
A jury will not be dismissed until it completes its job, which is to decide who wins and how much money the defendant has to pay the plaintiff if the plaintiff emerges victorious. A judge does not have the same deadline. A judge can either announce a decision at the end of the trial or take the case under advisement, entering a ruling days, weeks, or even months later.
The wrongful death team at S. Burke Law can help you and your family navigate through the claims process of a wrongful death claim. If the case does not settle, we can file a lawsuit on your behalf. We treat our clients with respect and compassion. Call us today at (404) 842-7838 for a free consultation.