Losing a family member because of another party’s or entity’s negligence leaves a void within the family that can’t be filled, not to mention the emotional injuries and the emptiness caused by the absence of the deceased. Surviving family members can exercise their legal right as administrator to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party, but the laws governing these cases are complex and take time to solve.
Every case is unique, but one thing that will greatly impact the duration of your case is the statute of limitations. In Kentucky, if your loved one died in a motor vehicle accident, you have two years to file suit and only one year for non-vehicle related cases. In Tennessee wrongful death cases, you have one year to sue regardless of the type of accident. At Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, most wrongful death cases are settled within one year out of court if suit is not filed. In personal injury cases involving a death, if liability (fault) is an issue and suit is filed it may take years to resolve.
What’s In This Guide:
- Why You Should Think Twice About Accepting an Insurance Company’s Initial Offer
- Why It May Take a Long Time to Settle a Wrongful Death Claim
- Factors That Can Affect Your Wrongful Death Case
- Is There a Reasonable Timeframe Estimate?
If you have filed a wrongful death claim in court, you will be dealing with the at-fault party’s insurance company and their attorneys. In the vast majority of cases, you only deal with the defendant’s insurance company where the case is settled out of court. In all cases, you must be appointed administrator to settle a wrongful death case.
If you have been offered a settlement for the death of a loved one, should you accept an insurance company’s initial offer? The simple answer is “No!” That’s because the settlement fee you get for wrongful death is not only meant to cover the medical bills or the funeral expenses, but also recover damages for the pain and suffering of the deceased prior to their untimely death. For instance, the loss of a parent or spouse robs a family of a breadwinner. Granted, the settlement fee should enable you to hedge your financial life after your loss. Although the settlement may not fill the void left by the deceased, it reduces the emotional stress of not having a loved one in your life anymore.
Insurance companies hire claim adjusters to inspect the case and determine the “rightful” pay-out amount. They work for the insurer and may attempt to lower the settlement fee at your own expense. Remember you have hospital bills, funeral expenses, and lost income. By accepting the money, you won’t be doing justice to yourself – nor other beneficiaries – because you’re cheating yourself out of thousands of dollars.
The time that a wrongful death case takes is dependent on whether the claim settles out of court or in court. Kentucky Personal Injury Law favors out-of-court negotiations for case resolution. As mentioned earlier, an insurance company may be quick to present you with an initial offer. If a claimant is compelled to accept the amount, the case immediately settles.
When represented by a wrongful death attorney, if the insurance offer is not in your family’s best interest, the case will go to trial, and it might take a long time. Kentucky courts have myriad cases to hear, and it might take a while for you to get a jury trial. Fortunately, most cases in court settle prior to trial at mediation within the first year.
It’s essential to exercise patience during the legal process despite the financial obligations you still have and let your attorney handle the negotiations and litigation. That’s also when a partnership with a professional personal injury lawyer works for your benefit. A reputable attorney has the financial capability to cover the lawsuit costs as you await the settlement. Patience pays because no matter the time it takes to settle the case, you’ll get the rightful settlement amount you and your family deserve.
Regardless of whether you settle the case out of court or not, other factors can affect your wrongful death claim. They include:
Complicated Liability Cases
It’s easy to determine who’s at fault in a wrongful death case, but it gets more complicated if the alleged perpetrator fled the scene of death/accident. According to a 2019 surveillance report by the Kentucky State Police report, there were a total of 733 fatalities resulting from road accidents in 2019, and many of these cases are hit-and-run.
Luckily, there’s no time limit for seeking legal action after an at-fault party has fled the scene. The time that your case takes depends on the gathered evidence. If the wrongdoer is nowhere to be found, the police will open an investigation to identify their whereabouts. If there’s more evidence in the scene, the police will identify the perpetrator and prove their negligence.
However, if the evidence isn’t sufficient, a hit-and-run-caused death can take a long period to settle. The police can’t identify and charge a driver on the loose. Therefore, the claimant is left hoping that law enforcement will one day catch up with them and open the case.
- Comparative negligence case
The deceased may have been partially at-fault. One recent case we handled involved litigating for a couple of years when the deceased rear ended the defendant, a trucking company who had no lights as required by law.
- Seat belt usage
In Kentucky and Tennessee, seatbelts are required by law. Victims may be partially to blame or have the value of their case significantly reduced due to failure to wear proper safety restraints.
The Insurance Company Refutes Fault
Based on their assessment and determination that wrongful death was due to a third-party’s negligence, an insurance company may refuse to pay the settlement. If you think you have a legitimate claim, you should seek professional legal services. Personal injury attorneys can offer expert advice on what to do – and say – to ensure your case is settled in a relatively shorter time. Otherwise, you might end up losing the case after wasting a significant amount of time.
The Defendant is Facing Criminal Charges
Sometimes the defendant in a wrongful death claim is facing other criminal charges. In a personal injury lawsuit for damages, the jury bases its verdict on “preponderance of the evidence” and awards damages. On the other hand, criminal law requires the jury to determine the defendant’s guilt “beyond reasonable doubt” and may sentence the defendant to prison or jail.
In Tennessee, for instance, the statute of limitation offers the plaintiff a specific period within which they can file a wrongful death claim against a defendant facing other criminal charges. This is one year from the date of the victim’s death.
In a nutshell, a wrongful death case can take a few months or years, once again depending on how quickly the case gets resolved. Even if the case is litigated in court, it will still take time with discovery, depositions, hiring experts, and negotiations.
Working With an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
Partnering with an experienced wrongful death attorney is your best bet of winning a wrongful death claim – and getting your rightful settlement or verdict. It might not shorten the settlement time; it might take longer because the lawyer will first investigate the accident and hire experts before they negotiate with the insurance company. Experienced attorneys know how to deal with them and know how to ensure you get the maximum recovery.
If you’ve sustained financial and emotional damages due to the wrongful death of a loved one, contact Flora Templeton Stuart and partner with an experienced accident injury lawyer to get time-effective legal representation for your settlement. With over 45 years of experience representing families in wrongful death cases, Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers has recovered millions. Call today for a free consult if you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person or company.