When someone close to you dies, it’s always a difficult time in your life. But when their death shouldn’t have happened, there’s another layer of stress and grief on your plate.

In addition to the normal parts of dealing with the death, now you’re wondering if you should file a wrongful death lawsuit. It’s common to have mixed feelings about this action. You don’t want it to seem like you’re trying to profit off your loved one’s demise, but those responsible for it should be held accountable.

If you’re considering hiring a lawyer to pursue a case for you, you first should know that you are doing the right thing. On average, 170,000 unintentional deaths happen every year. The more these are punished, the less likely they are to be repeated.

When an attorney accepts your case, the process is more straightforward if you know what to expect. Here are the must-knows of how a wrongful death lawsuit works to help you along the way.

1. You Meet for a Consultation

During your initial consultation, you’ll meet with the attorney who will represent your case. He or she will listen to your concerns and review any documentation you bring to the appointment.

This initial consultation is typically free. The lawyer will use this time to determine whether you have enough legal grounds to file a lawsuit and how likely it is that the case would be successful. This response also depends on your connection to the deceased party and the state you’re filing in. For instance, surviving family members in California can file a wrongful death claim. If you’re not an immediate family member, your ability to bring a claim to court may be questioned.

However, this initial consultation isn’t one-sided. You can and should ask questions about your case and how much experience the attorney has handling it specifically. 

Consider your consultation akin to a job interview, where you decide whether to retain the law firm or keep looking. When you aren’t comfortable with someone, go with your gut. If you have enough legal grounds to file a case, plenty of other attorneys will work with you.

2. Documentation is Collected

Once you hire a firm, their staff will have you sign paperwork allowing them to collect all relevant medical records and other documentation. They’ll begin the process of interviewing healthcare providers and staff, law enforcement officers, and independent experts. 

The goal will be to set up a chain of evidence that points to the person ultimately responsible for your loved one’s death.

3. Economic Losses are Reviewed

Anything financially connected to your loved one’s death gets documented. This may include things like their medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and long-term effects on the family.

The costs are considered if you or another immediate family member need to go to counseling to handle the grief. The loss of income and benefits has a detrimental effect that is also included in the claim.

Emotional suffering, loss of love and companionship, and other hardships are impossible to put a number on, but your lawyer will use these factors to determine a compensation request.

4. A Complaint is Filed

With all the information compiled, your lawyer files a formal complaint explaining the legal grounds they’re using to bring a wrongful death claim to court. They’ll file a summons to be delivered to the defendant, informing them of the intent to sue and where the case takes place.

Should the defendant hire an attorney, your firm will work with theirs to disclose all evidence. This step is legally required, and it is often helpful. When the other party sees the documentation your lawyer has collected and how it can hurt their client, they may suggest a settlement negotiation.

Instead of going to court and incurring those fees, plus dragging out the grieving period extensively, a settlement is often the best way to compromise. However, you can choose to go to trial, when both parties present their evidence.

A jury will determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury will decide on a suggested compensation if it’s a guilty verdict. This is a suggestion, though. The judge has the last say on what your final compensation will be.

From there, your lawyer will update you on the small details to iron out before you receive your money, but the hard legal work is over.


Handling a wrongful death lawsuit on top of grieving for your lost loved one isn’t something anyone should have to do. But you deserve closure, and the negligent party must be prevented from hurting others in the future. 

Work with a wrongful death lawyer and let them handle the legal side while you focus on healing and moving forward.

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