How to File a Wrongful Death Claim in 4 Steps

People find it difficult to move on following the loss of a loved one. While no amount of compensation can bring a life back, bringing those partly or fully responsible to justice can alleviate the pain.

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against individuals or entities who acted with negligence or intent, resulting in the loss of life. Winning the case may not bring back a loved one's life, but it helps families move on with fewer difficulties, financial or otherwise. Filing a claim may prevent further deaths, especially in medical malpractice and defective products.

Regardless of the reason, suing for a wrongful death case can be complicated, especially since applicable statutes vary from state to state. Here's what you can do to initiate the process:

1. Contact an Experienced Attorney

Several factors need to be considered in filing a wrongful death claim. Essential elements include establishing the duty of care and proving that a breach of standard practices was committed.

More importantly, the plaintiff must prove that the breach, whether intentional or not, caused the death.

The family's representative must also know the damages they're entitled to and the state's statute of limitations to prevent case dismissal. In most of the United States territories, the complainant must file within two years after the death of a loved one, while other states have shorter or longer limits.

The easiest way to navigate the system involves contacting an attorney for a case consultation. At this stage, your lawyer will discuss the details to decide whether your case can be held up in court and which steps to take moving forward.

2. Gather As Many Documents As You Can

Case evaluations are crucial in determining sufficient evidence to file a lawsuit. Your counsel might request you bring these documents during the case evaluation. Otherwise, they can help you gather them while building your case or before the formal filing of a wrongful death claim.

  • Police reports

  • Medical bills, test results, doctor's notes, etc.

  • Autopsy records

  • Death certificate

  • Witness details and statements

  • The deceased's financial documents, including tax receipts

  • Photo and video documentation

Your chosen legal counsel will review these papers to assess the case and identify the responsible party. They will also use financial documents such as tax receipts and employment records, including other expenses incurred during and after the incident, to calculate compensatory and other damages a plaintiff is entitled to collect.

The lawyer may likewise ask the family representative to gather additional documents for evidence before the court should the case turn into a full-blown trial.

3. Contact the Other Party for a Settlement

After the lawyer determines that sufficient cause can be established, they will assist you in gathering more evidence to build your case. They will most likely contact the defendant to work on a settlement.

In most cases, the other party will likely accept the negotiation offer to avoid time-consuming and costly litigation. Having a lawyer by your side during this process is extremely helpful. It eliminates your risk of being trapped in a one-sided agreement, especially if you're fighting against a defendant with deep pockets.

An experienced legal counsel will ensure you and your family get a reasonable and satisfactory offer. Depending on the circumstances, the plaintiff may receive compensation for economic and non-economic damages and, in some cases, punitive costs.

However, in some cases, the other party might offer you a smaller amount to downplay the incident or your losses. If you can't agree on a fair settlement, it's time to proceed to the next step: filing a lawsuit.

4. File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A wrongful death claim begins after a settlement breaks down. At this stage, your legal advocate will prepare a summons and complaint to be served to the defendant. A pre-trial or discovery phase ensues, where both parties disclose evidence to each other. That's why working with your attorney is paramount in building your case.

The plaintiff's and the defendant's counsels will review the evidence to initiate interrogatories, where both sides can raise questions that need to be answered under oath or objected to. Witnesses will be asked to appear and share what they know about the incident. This is done to establish the circumstances and actions leading to the death.

After taking the depositions, the judge will often discuss with both parties the possibility of another settlement before the actual trial. If both parties are still adamant about proceeding, the judge will discuss whether certain claims are upheld or dismissed and which types of evidence are admissible.


To say that filing a wrongful death claim is complex is an understatement. As such, you need a skilled lawyer who can understand your situation and is committed to providing the deceased's family with the best legal outcomes.

Whether you plan on filing a lawsuit or not, it's crucial to have compassionate legal counsels who'll stop at nothing to help you get fair compensation and the justice you deserve.

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