When a family member suspects wrongful death of a loved one, they can file a particular type of personal injury claim known as a wrongful death claim. Even if no one is criminally responsible for the death, someone can be held civilly liable through a wrongful death claim. Common causes of wrongful death claims include accidents, defective products, exposure to hazardous materials, and medical mistakes.
In Massachusetts, the decedent’s estate has three years from the time of death or time of discovery to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable parties. Spouses, children, and parents are given priority when filing a wrongful death claim. Other relatives may file if the deceased left behind no immediate family members.
Trial versus Settlement
When it comes to receiving payment from a wrongful death claim, there are several options. While many cases go to trial, they don’t always go to court. A wrongful death case can drag on and take years for a claim to be settled in court. Due to the time-consuming commitment to see a case to the end, many choose a settlement option.
While a judge determines a plaintiff’s award in a court case, the plaintiff or the defendant can propose settlement terms. When deciding on a settlement, it’s important to ensure that the settlement will cover current and future damages.
What about Damages?
Damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit belong to the estate. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a cap of $500,000 on all non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. The damages that can be compensated in a wrongful death lawsuit include pain and suffering, medical and funeral costs, lost wages, lost benefits, loss of consortium, and loss of inheritance.
Before You Settle
There are several factors to consider before deciding on a settlement. The amount the lawsuit is worth, the length of the trial, and how long it will take to go to trial are all crucial considerations. Additional factors include the ability to obtain a favorable judgment, the other side’s ability to pay the judgment if it is obtained before the trial and the ability to pay after an expensive trial, the other party’s desire to settle out of court, and whether there is the chance of arriving at a partial settlement.
Settling Out Of Court
There are two options for settling outside of court, mediation or arbitration. These options are considered a middle ground between accepting a settlement and going to court.
The process of mediation involves the two parties meeting and discussing the case at hand with a mediator. After hearing both sides, the mediator will offer their expertise and advice regarding how the case could be settled. Similarly, parties can meet with an arbitrator who will make a ruling based on his or her interpretation of the situation.
Mediation and arbitration are viable alternatives to litigation. These options do not cost as much as court and legal fees do, and they do not take up as much time as a trial would.
The decision to file a wrongful death claim isn’t easy. Our skilled attorneys can advise you on how to proceed through this difficult time.