There may be nothing more disruptive to one’s life than the loss of a loved one. A death, whether sudden or as the result of a long-term illness, can leave a person not knowing what to do next. While it is understandable that you may be unsure of the next steps if you have suffered such a tragedy, it is important that you take immediate steps to protect your interests. Gaining an understanding of the process that you are facing is one of those steps. This article, therefore, is written to discuss what one should expect in a wrongful death case. If you need help, reach out to us today to speak with an attorney.
Retaining an Attorney for Your Wrongful Death Case
The first step you should take after wrongful death is to retain an attorney as quickly as possible. You are likely to be contacted by insurance carriers for the defendant(s) almost immediately after an accident has occurred. These carriers will attempt to deal with you directly and will also attempt to dissuade you from hiring counsel. It must be remembered, however, that these individuals work for the insurance company. Their goal is to settle your matter quickly for the lowest amount possible. An attorney, by contrast, is charged with protecting your interests. Your counsel will deal with the insurance adjusters on your behalf while you focus on the important task of getting life back on track.
The Negotiation Stage
Once you retain an attorney, your counsel will inform the insurance carriers of the representation. Your attorney will then begin the task of determining the financial impact that the loss has had on your life. As we discussed in our article on calculating damages in a wrongful death case, the surviving family members will be entitled to compensation for economic losses, pain and suffering, as well as the loss of companionship. Once your attorney has determined the appropriate amount to request as a settlement, a “demand letter” will be sent to the insurance carrier. This letter will state the amount being requested, calculations showing how that amount was determined, and documentation (such as pay records) that support the request.
Economic experts will likely be retained by your attorneys as part of the negotiation stage. This is due to the fact that the requested damages will include compensation for the amount of money that the deceased could have been expected to earn over the remainder of their life. Determining such a number will require the opinions of vocational and economic experts who will issue an opinion after weighing the facts of the situation. These facts include the career of the deceased, their age at the time of death, the potential for pay raises and advancement, how long someone could be expected to work in their given field, etc.
The negotiation stage of a case can be expected to take some time. The insurance carriers seldom agree to an initial settlement demand. They are, instead, likely to utilize their own experts who will issue a differing opinion as to the amount of money the deceased could have been expected to earn. Also, the insurance company is likely to dispute the amount to be paid for pain and suffering. Your attorney and the insurance adjusters will go back and forth, sometimes for many months if not longer, in an attempt to reach a settlement. If an acceptable settlement cannot be reached, then it will be necessary for the case to proceed to litigation.
The Litigation Stage
A wrongful death lawsuit in the state of Florida must be filed within two years after the deceased has passed away. The case will begin with a Complaint being filed with the Court. Depending on the nature of the case, there may be multiple defendants. This is often true in situations involving trucking accidents, product liability claims, and other matters involving corporate entities. Once the case has been filed, each of the defendants will be served with the Complaint. They will then file their responses.
A period known as “discovery” will begin after the defendant(s) have appeared in the case. This is the process by which information is gained from the other side in a lawsuit. There are several tools available for gaining such information. These include Interrogatories, which can be used to require that the other side provide written answers to written questions. Requests for Production can be used to gain records and other tangible items from the defendant(s). Subpoenas can be used to gain records from third parties. Also, depositions can be used to gain sworn testimony in the presence of a court reporter. Discovery is a highly important part of the process as, without it, you will be without needed evidence at trial.
The trial will begin with the selection of a jury. Once the jury has been empaneled, each side will make an opening statement. Your attorneys will present your witnesses and evidence. The defense will then present its case. Your attorneys will follow with a “rebuttal.” Closing arguments will then be made. The jury will deliberate and issue a verdict in regard to liability, comparative fault, and damages. While the trial process may sound straightforward, it is, in fact, highly complicated. The rules of evidence will be enforced. If your case is not handled correctly, the jury may not hear evidence that is important to your case.
Contact a Florida Wrongful Death Attorney
Navigating the legal process is difficult enough. It can be even more vigorous if you are dealing with the death of a loved one. Our firm is dedicated to standing up for the rights of victims and we pride ourselves on providing quality service. We will stay in regular contact with you as your case moves through the process discussed above. This includes promptly responding to phone calls, emails, and ensuring that we are available to answer your questions. Contact us online or by telephone at 800-780-8607 to speak with a Florida wrongful death attorney.