What to Expect in a Wrongful Death Case

Mourning the loss of a loved one is difficult enough, but add claims of wrongful death and things get even tougher. These types of cases can be very complicated and can easily become long, drawn out  ordeals for families.

What is Wrongful Death?

First things first, let’s define wrongful death. This type of claim is made after someone dies due to the negligence or malicious/intentional action of another person. Obviously, the victim is not able to file suit so in most cases it is a spouse or family member who wants the “wrongdoer” to pay compensation.

The most important distinction is that a wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit, not a criminal case (although the person responsible for the death can be charged or tried separately in a criminal case).

Let’s use the example of a fatal car accident. Your spouse was killed after being hit by a drunk driver. You, as the widow can file a wrongful death suit against that person even if prosecutors choose not to file charges against the drunk driver.

Anatomy of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

  1. Discovery process is when both sides obtain information from each other regarding the case. This information can include physical documents as well all a deposition or interview and/or written question and answer statements.
  2. Legal motions are the next step leading up to the wrongful death trial.  Attorneys can make legal arguments to the court (legal motions). This information can be about disputes over evidence or may contain further details about the complaint or answer.
  3. A Settlement conference may take place between the judge and attorneys.  Some states require this meeting or mediation, while other states do not. This is when the judge tries to work out a settlement between the two parties in order to avoid going to trial (saving time and money in the end).
  4. A Wrongful Death Trial is set if no settlement is reached. This is when both sides present their evidence, call on witnesses to take the stand, cross-examine other witnesses and lay out their legal arguments. A judge or jury will enter a verdict in favor of the plaintiff or defendant. The amount of damages is then decided upon by the judge or jury.
  5. Appeals can be filed by either side following the verdict. (Depending upon the case and the state in which you live there are time limits for filing appeals)
  6. The Collection process begins following the verdict.

There are several different kinds of damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. The most obvious is lost wages or financial support due to the loss.  Pain and suffering can also be quantified.

Think you have a wrongful death case?  Give us a call and we’ll give you some complimentary advice.


Zachariah B. Parry is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau and is an adjunct professor who teaches torts, contracts, and Nevada practice and procedure for UNLV’s paralegal program. He can be reached at 702-912-4451 or zach@p2lawyers.com.