You’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s actions and the last thing you want is to deal with is a long, drawn out wrongful death case. The bad news is, a wrongful death case can take a substantial amount of time to come to completion, especially if it goes to trial. The good news is, the time it takes to finish a wrongful death case can be much shorter if both sides reach a settlement instead of going to trial.
There are many of factors that contribute to the length of time it takes to complete a wrongful death lawsuit, and while your attorney may be able to give you an estimate, there are things that could come up that change it significantly. Some wrongful death lawsuits are settled within a number of months, and some that go to trial can take years to come to a conclusion.
What Has To Be Proven In A Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Claim?
In order to understand why wrongful death cases can take so long, it’s important to know exactly what has to be proven. In Pennsylvania, there are three things that must be proven by the plaintiff (the side of the victim’s survivors) to result in a successful outcome. First, it has to be proven that a death occurred; this is pretty obvious. Second, the death was caused by the defendant’s (the side of the accused) negligence, or intent to harm. The last thing is that surviving family members have or will suffer monetary loss due to the death of their loved one.
What Are The Factors That Determine How Long A Wrongful Death Case Will Take?
Wrongful death lawsuits are often complicated and involve many pieces, any of which can expedite or slow down the process. The following are some of the things that can contribute to the length of your case.
Once you hire a wrongful death attorney to seek compensation for your loved one’s death, your attorney will have to conduct an investigation to establish that all three of the criteria for a case are met. If your case involves an accident or injury for which law enforcement gathered information, then the investigation might proceed quickly. In cases like medical malpractice, where responsibility might not be as apparent, it can take much longer.
Sometimes your lawyer will have to consult with experts to determine responsibility. In those cases, the expert will have to conduct his or her own investigation, which may take some time to complete.
After the wrongful death claim is filed with the court, both the plaintiff and the defendant have a right to information from one another about the case. This is called “discovery.” Discovery can be in the form of written questions, depositions in front of a court reporter, and requests for applicable documents and other evidence. There really is no way to tell how long this process will be, but the more complicated the lawsuit is, the longer you can expect it to take.
Before a trial date is set, the attorneys for both sides may make legal arguments about the wrongful death case to the court, which typically take the form of legal motions. The arguments may be regarding disputes about getting evidence, details about the complaint or answer, or an argument that one side is entitles to win the suit without a trial.
Pre-trial motions can slow the pace of the case if they are numerous, or require extra time in front of the judge.
Determining the amount of damages that family members are entitled to is also a factor that can increase the length of a wrongful death case. There are some damages that are easily determined, like medical and end of life expenses, but others are more likely to be disputed. Your wrongful death attorney may need to hire an economist – and in some cases, a vocational expert – to establish the present value of the income the victim would have earned if he or she had lived.
Settlement Vs. Trial
Your wrongful death case can potentially be settled at any time after it is filed. If both sides can come to an agreement outside of court, it can greatly reduce the length of time your case will take. If an agreement isn’t made, the court may require that the attorneys for both sides meet with a judge or a settlement conference to see if a settlement can be agreed upon prior to trial.
If the settlement hearing fails to result in a settlement, the case will be scheduled for trial, where a verdict will be made. If the verdict is for the plaintiff, then damages will be determined. Once the trial is over and a verdict is made, it isn’t necessarily over. Either side can appeal the decision if they believe there was a significant legal error in the trial.
Finding An Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
As you can tell, wrongful death cases are complicated and can be lengthy – just how long can depend on many things. The attorney you choose for your case needs to be experienced with wrongful death claims and Pennsylvania law to be able to guide you through the process.
If your loved one died due to the negligence of someone else, Ross Feller Casey can help you with your case. Our attorneys have a strong and successful background in wrongful death cases, and we are able to support you through what is typically a difficult time.
Ross Feller Casey attorneys handle wrongful death claims on a contingency basis, so you will not be charged anything until a financial award is made. Please contact us today for your free case evaluation.
Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.