It is always difficult and painful when a family member dies. It is particularly challenging when you believe or know the demise resulted from someone else's negligence or wrongful actions. Apart from mourning the loss, you will have to pursue compensation from the negligent party by bringing a wrongful death claim. Filing a wrongful death claim and seeking to recover damages can be complicated and exhausting.
However, you do not have to go through it alone. A wrongful death lawyer can assist you. Even better, we at Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm can handle the significant part of the process, so you focus on grieving your loved one’s death. We will be by your side every step of the way, so call us to schedule a consultation. Here, we explain the steps in filing a wrongful death claim. You will know what to do if you have to bring one.
How to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim
Filing a wrongful death claim entails several steps, including preparation, negotiation & settling, and filing the lawsuit.
Preparing to File
The initial step in preparing for bringing a car accident wrongful death claim is establishing whether there is a case to begin with. Several things must happen to have a valid wrongful death case. Firstly, you have to establish that death indeed occurred. If the involved victim was simply injured, regardless of how severe the injury may be, it will only be deemed a personal injury claim.
Secondly, you will have to identify the parties at fault for the accident that caused your loved one’s demise and then notify them that you intend to file a claim or lawsuit. You cannot file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit without knowing who is responsible for the death. It could be one or multiple parties liable for the wrongful death. If liability is not clear, you can hire an expert to evaluate the liability causes of action.
Thirdly, you have to collect evidence that will help you prove that the liable party's negligence or recklessness caused the demise. For instance, if the deceased died because of complications or injuries in the aftermath of an auto crash, and you want to pursue wrongful death damages, you will have to prove that the deceased would be alive were it not for the negligence of the liable party.
The last step is determining who can file the claim or lawsuit. The aspect of who may file a wrongful death claim varies from one state to another. In Nevada, you can only file a wrongful death claim if you are the personal representative of the decedent's estate or intestate heir. After determining who will file the claim or lawsuit, learn about Nevada's statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits or the timeframe within which you must file your case.
Identify Who to Sue
You will have to identify the party or parties you believe to be responsible for your loved one's death first before proceeding to file your case. After identifying these parties, notify them that you intend to bring a lawsuit or claim. One or several parties may be responsible for your loved one's death in a car accident. Some of the parties you could consider suing are:
- Government agencies— if a government employee caused a collision or a government entity's negligence somehow contributed to a crash that killed your loved one, you can file a wrongful death claim against the agency and seek compensation. A government agency may be negligent if it neglects its duty to maintain roads, so poorly-maintained roads are the reason for car accidents.
- Auto mechanics— you can also sue a repair shop for your loved one's death. If the shop negligently maintained or inspected the car, a critical system like the steering or brakes might fail, causing a crash. Negligent mechanics or repair shops that hire them might be responsible if they played a role in causing the car accident that claimed your loved one's life.
- Car manufacturers— auto manufacturers can be fully or partially responsible for wrongful death due to a faulty vehicle part, such as defective brakes, that caused the accident.
- Absent car owners— sometimes, a car owner can be held responsible for an auto accident even if they were not present based on Nevada's negligent entrustment statutes. If the car owner lent their automobile to an unlicensed or otherwise unfit motorist, they might be liable for the death the driver caused.
- The other driver— if it was a standard two-vehicle accident, the driver your loved one collided with could be to blame for the accident for being negligent. Examples of negligent acts that can make a driver cause a car accident are drunk driving, distracted driving (for instance, driving while texting), speeding, driving with defective tires or brakes, and running a red light, among others.
Collect the Necessary Evidence
You cannot file and win a wrongful death claim or lawsuit if you do not have proof to back up your case. To succeed in your claim, you need solid evidence that another party is responsible for your loved one's death. You will need to have evidence ready for when you file your case. Some of the pieces of evidence you need are:
- The police report— usually contains vital proof and an initial determination concerning who was to blame.
- Pay stubs, receipts, and bills to prove lost wages and other costs related to the wrongful death
- Medical bills and records from your loved one's crash-related treatment before they succumbed to the injuries
- Contact info of any survivor of the accident
- Pictures of the accident scene, including damage to the car, your loved one's injuries, and other environmental proof, like shattered glass and skid marks, among others
- Video footage from nearby security or traffic cameras
- Witness statements
- GPS or cell phone records from other involved vehicles or drivers
Some evidence, like cell phone records, can be difficult to obtain without a lawyer's help. Your lawyer can subpoena the proof required to build your strongest claim.
Elements of a Nevada Wrongful Death Lawsuit/Claim
To prevail in your case, you will have to prove various facts called elements. A Nevada wrongful death suit/claim has four elements— the demise of the victim; the wrongful or negligent act that led to the demise; the claimant's eligibility to bring a lawsuit/claim; and the financial damages the claimant suffered.
Element One: Someone Died
Firstly, you must show that someone has passed away. This is the most straightforward of the four elements to prove. Evidence like medical records and death certificates can assist you in establishing this.
Element Two: Another Party's Negligence Led to the Demise
Secondly, you must prove that the responsible party's wrongful actions or negligence caused the death of your loved one. If you successfully demonstrate that a negligent or wrongful act led to your one's demise, you can meet this element. For instance, you can show that the at-fault driver caused your loved one's death because they were driving while intoxicated or distracted and provide evidence for it. Driving while drunk or distracted is a negligent act.
Drivers in Nevada owe it to other road users to be attentive and sober while driving. Several pieces of evidence can substantiate this, including witness statements, police reports, surveillance footage, and photographs.
Element Three: You Have the Right to Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit/Claim
Wrongful death victims are incapable of pursuing legal action on their own. Consequently, a qualified claimant must file the claim or suit on the deceased's behalf. States have set strict regulations on who can and cannot file a wrongful death claim/suit. Only the personal representative of the decedent's estate and the deceased's interstate heirs can file a wrongful death claim/lawsuit in Nevada State. Interstate heirs include:
- The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, or child
- The deceased's parents, in the absence of surviving child or spouse
- The decedent's siblings, in the absence of surviving child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent
- The next closest relative of the victim, in the absence of any of the parties mentioned above
To meet this element, you must prove that you are legally entitled to bring a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
Element Four: You Suffered Damages
Lastly, you must show that you suffered damages due to your loved one's demise that you qualify to claim in the case. Wrongful death damages in Nevada are categorized into two— damages payable to the decedent's estate and damages payable to the deceased's intestate heirs. Examples of wrongful death damages include:
- Burial and funeral costs
- Medical for when the deceased was hospitalized for their injuries
- Lost benefits and wages the decedent would have earned
- Loss of comfort, companionship, affection, and care by the deceased
- The pain and suffering the deceased person experienced
- Loss of inheritance
The Statute of Limitations
Each state has limitations on the period a plaintiff has to bring a wrongful death claim. The statute of limitations in Nevada is two years from when the death occurred. This means you must file your claim within two years of your loved one's death. If you do not file your claim within the speculated period, you will permanently lose your right to file. If you go ahead and file anyway, the at-fault party can bring a motion to dismiss your claim, and the court will likely grant their motion.
There is an exception to the running of the statute of limitations. The exception is when the claimant is below eighteen years old at the time of the accident. In this case, the statute of limitations will be tolled, meaning it does not run until the plaintiff turns eighteen. Therefore if you are below eighteen years when your loved one dies in a car accident by a negligent party, you will have until you turn twenty years to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
We encourage people not to wait too long to file their claims. It is better not to have to litigate statute of limitations questions, and it is easier to investigate and build a case when evidence is still fresh.
Additionally, there is no guaranteed timeframe for receiving your compensation amount. However, if you wait longer before filing your claim, it will take longer to receive damages. You could file the claim immediately after the death of your loved one. The earlier you file, the earlier you will receive compensation. Therefore, start working on your case as soon as possible.
The Actual Filing
The next step of bringing a wrongful death claim is the actual filing. This is where you submit a demand for settlement to any applicable liability insurance, for instance, the responsible party's insurance company.
The entire process of filing a wrongful death claim can be lengthy and complicated, and usually stressful. Even if you succeed in bringing the case alone, it will likely be in your best interests to hire an experienced wrongful death lawyer who understands Nevada wrongful death law and can guide you through this emotionally draining process.
Negotiating and Settling
Once you have submitted your demand for a settlement, negotiations with the insurance company will commence. This step does not occur in all cases but in most of them. The liable party's insurance company will want to try and settle the case out of court. This is usually ideal since it can remove the risk of losing the lawsuit while recovering a fair compensation amount. If you and the at-fault party's insurance company cannot reach an agreement at this stage, you will still have the right to go ahead and file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Filing Your Lawsuit
If you have not reached an agreement with the liable party’s insurance company and have decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the next thing to do is file documents to initiate the suit. Ensure you are still within the statute of limitations to file the lawsuit. Generally, the first document to file is a petition or complaint. This document should provide the accused with notice of the legal and factual bases for the lawsuit. Accompanying the petition will be a summons. A summons is a document that notifies the accused that they are being sued and specifies which court will hear the lawsuit.
Once you have filed the lawsuit, you must provide the relevant documents to all the defendants. This legal procedure is called the service of process and places the accused on official notice of the suit.
Would You Rather File a Lawsuit or Agree to Settle Out of Court?
If you qualify to pursue a wrongful death case, you could claim compensation from the liable party's insurer or bring a civil lawsuit.
You may think that insurers would be sympathetic towards the deceased's family members. But far from it, insurers view the payout of a wrongful death claim as detrimental to their profits.
Consequently, they usually try to deny or minimize claims. The representatives of the insurance companies may assert that the dead victim bears liability for their death, irrespective of the available facts. They might try to turn family members against each other, so the wrongful death case does not proceed successfully. Alternatively, they might try to settle quickly, but for a compensation value that is way less than is deserved.
To tackle these common insurer tactics, hire a lawyer to negotiate with them for a fair compensation value. If the insurer does not want to settle justly, the lawyer can take your case to court and pressure the same insurer toward agreeing to a just settlement. The jury can determine the claim if fair compensation is not reached.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help
Your lawyer will be essential in filing your wrongful death lawsuit or claim. They may do the following on your behalf:
Investigate the death
The circumstances and facts surrounding wrongful death incidents are usually questionable. People can give conflicting accounts of what transpired. That could happen due to genuine misunderstandings or confusion. Still, it may also occur when a responsible party tries to shift blame or cover things up to avoid assuming responsibility. A lawyer can investigate to unearth what precisely happened.
They will review the police report and statements from witnesses or anybody in the auto with your loved one during the accident. A lawyer may discover that a surveillance camera nearby recorded the accident or the moments immediately following or leading up to it. A video could prove that the responsible driver acted recklessly or violated traffic rules. That info may be helpful when building your case.
File the Claim
Your attorney will ensure you meet all the legal requirements before you file your claim. This includes working on all the necessary paperwork, filing it in court, and demanding discovery from the defense.
Negotiate a Settlement
Bringing a lawsuit is not always necessary to recover wrongful death compensation. In most cases, a lawyer can successfully negotiate with the liable party's insurer, so you receive a just settlement offer without going to court.
Filing a Civil Suit If Necessary
It is unnecessary to bring a wrongful death suit if the liable party has agreed to settle through their insurer or without going to court. If that is not the case, you can still seek to recover wrongful death damages by filing a lawsuit. Hiring a skilled lawyer is critical so they can file the lawsuit in court for you.
And apart from offering guidance and collecting evidence to support your lawsuit, a wrongful death attorney can fight for you in court if negotiation efforts are unfavorable to you, and your case must proceed to trial.
Explain and Protect Your Rights
Laws governing wrongful death claims and lawsuits in Nevada are complex. For instance, the law provides that only the personal representative of the deceased estate and the deceased's intestate heirs are eligible to file a wrongful death claim/lawsuit, and you may not qualify. The law also provides a statute of limitations for filing your claim. If you miss the filing deadline, you could lose your right to sue even if you have a legitimate claim. Under certain circumstances, the filing deadline could be extended. A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer familiar with the plaintiffs' rights can explain everything you must know, so you are not caught off guard.
Fight for Fair Compensation
An attorney experienced in handling wrongful death claims and lawsuits can review all the relevant facts and determine a fair compensation amount for your case. The lawyer can bring a claim and try to negotiate a settlement out of court. Whereas settlements resolve many wrongful death cases, the parties involved sometimes cannot agree. Should that happen, an attorney can take your case to court and let the jury determine whether or not you should be awarded compensation and, if so, how much.
Advising and Representing You Throughout the Entire Process
Your attorney will represent and advise you at each step of the process, both in and out of court. They will prepare the necessary paperwork and documents for your claim and negotiate with the liable party's side to ensure the litigation process is as smooth as possible.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Filing a wrongful death claim or lawsuit can be challenging to navigate. Preparing to file the case requires you to pay attention to every detail to stand a chance of winning. You have to gather sufficient evidence, which is solid enough to build a compelling case. You also need to ensure you are suing the right person. Apart from preparation, the general lifespan of a lawsuit, which can be several years, involves various nuances that can be challenging for a layperson.
Consequently, you want to consult a skilled wrongful death lawyer regarding your case before you file. At the Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm, we will help you with the filing process and fight for you to ensure you recover the damages you deserve. Call us at 702-576-0010 for a consultation and case evaluation.