Wrongful Death Attorneys
We are wrongful death attorneys in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. We prosecute cases on behalf of families and individuals who have lost loved ones as a result of the negligent, careless, or reckless conduct of another person or company.
Why Consult With a Wrongful Death Attorney?
Oftentimes after a catastrophic incident resulting in death, the family simply wants answers. What happened? How did this go wrong? Why did this happen to my family member? Was someone at fault? More often than not, we find that families come to us for legal help in wrongful death cases because they need their questions answered. It’s very hard to have closure if you have lingering questions about what happened and why. In addition, families are often concerned about where the money will come from – who will pay for funeral arrangements? Who will support the minor children? In many cases, we are able to assist the family to obtain compensation for their financial losses.
What is a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is the death of a human being that happened as a result of some conduct that is not acceptable under the law. Each state has its own wrongful death law or statute. We can look to the state statute in the applicable state to see how it defines wrongful death. For example, if your family member was killed in a car accident in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania wrongful death law will presumably apply. Or if your loved one died due to a surgical mistake committed in Delaware, the Delaware Wrongful Death Act will be the law that determines whether the death was wrongful. Generally, to be considered a wrongful death, death will be the result of the negligent, careless, or reckless conduct of another person. Death could also be wrongful if it is the result of an incident where the law imposes strict liability. For example, in a case where a person is killed by a dog in a state where dog owners are strictly liable for all damages caused by their dog, the person’s death could be wrongful by operation of law.
Incidents that Result in Wrongful Death
There are a number of types of incidents or accidents that result in wrongful death cases. For example, despite modern advancements in automotive safety, automobile accidents result in thousands of deaths every year on our roadways. Some types of automobile accidents seem more likely to produce catastrophic injury and death claims. It is not infrequent for us to be consulted in automobile death cases involving tractor-trailer accidents, motorcycle accidents, and car vs. bicycle or car vs. pedestrian collisions.
Another frequent cause of death in wrongful death cases is medical/surgical mistakes. These medical negligence wrongful death cases often involve failure to diagnose a condition that results in the death of the patient, completion of unnecessary surgery, the performance of surgery in a negligent manner, or an infection that was not properly treated and resulted in the patient’s death. Another error that somewhat frequently results in patient death each year is pharmacists’ errors. Filling the wrong medication or the wrong dosage can have catastrophic effects including death.
What Money Can Be Obtained in a Wrongful Death Case?
In a wrongful death case, the family of the deceased may be eligible to receive compensation. The types and amounts of compensation can vary depending on which state’s law applies, the type of incident that brought about the wrongful death, and the available insurance coverage and assets of the responsible parties. In many states, a plaintiff in a wrongful death case may receive financial compensation in the form of a settlement or an award of damages at trial. The settlement or award can be for the loss of expected pecuniary benefits, loss of contributions for financial support, loss of services, funeral expenses, mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other losses. Each state’s wrongful death law is different, and the laws vary widely from state to state. You should consult with an attorney in the state where you lost your loved one to learn specifically what damages may be awarded.
What Time Limits Apply?
Wrongful death cases are generally governed by a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law that creates a time limit for filing your lawsuit case. Each state’s law is different. For example, if your family member dies in an accident in the Town of Marydel, Delaware, then Delaware’s two-year statute of limitations is likely to apply. But if the accident happens fifteen feet to the west in Marydel, Maryland, then Maryland’s three-year statute may apply. You should consult with an attorney about your specific case for specific advice about your statute of limitations.
How Do I Select the Best Wrongful Death Attorney?
- There are a few great attorneys, many adequate attorneys, and a handful of terrible attorneys in every state. As the surviving family member of someone killed in a wrongful death accident or incident, you have the unenviable task of selecting a wrongful death attorney. Choose wisely! Here are some thoughts from our Managing Partner, Ben Schwartz, on how to select the best wrongful death attorney:
- Don’t delegate the task of finding a lawyer. In many states, there can be only one lawsuit for a wrongful death regardless of the number of claimants. As a result, all family members who are eligible to make a claim must come together to file one lawsuit. In many – if not most – wrongful death cases I have handled, the entire does not come in and meet with the lawyer at the initial consultation. Rather, one person or two people are selected to choose the lawyer who will represent everyone. I think this is a mistake. It would be much better for all the family members who will be participating in the lawsuit as plaintiffs or claimants to come in and meet the attorney and satisfy themselves that they are making a good choice.
- Treat the initial consultation like it’s a job interview, and interview multiple candidates before you settle on one. Every wrongful death trial lawyer I know offers a free initial consultation in wrongful death cases. That means it costs the same amount of money whether you interview one lawyer, two lawyers, or three lawyers. If I had to pick a wrongful death lawyer to represent me or my family members, I would not just go with the first lawyer who can make time to see me. I would pick out three lawyers who limit their practices to handling death and serious injury claims and who have been in practice for more than ten years. I would interview each of them, and see who I’m most comfortable with.
In my “job interviews” of these wrongful death lawyers, I would ask questions.
Here are some of the questions I would ask:
a. “Why do you think you’re qualified to handle this case?”
I like this question for two reasons. First, it is designed to get at the attorney’s actual qualifications to handle your wrongful death case. Second, it challenges the attorney’s authority. Many attorneys have a big head. It’s hard to have a big head and be a successful trial lawyer because judges and juries will keep your ego in check. If the lawyer gets upset when you ask this question, he or she’s probably not as awesome as he or she thinks.
b. “Who in your office besides you are going to be working on the case?”
No top-level trial lawyer works every facet of every case all alone. The top-level trial lawyers have teams helping them – case managers, paralegals, secretaries, law students who serve as clerks, and other associate attorneys. If the lawyer you’re interviewing works alone, types his or her own letters and answers his or her own phone, keep moving. Conversely, if the lawyer works with a team, ask if you can meet the other team members who will be working on your case.
c. “If I want to speak to other clients who you have represented in wrongful death cases, can you give me a reference?”
The answer to this question is probably going to be something along the lines of “I cannot do that because the client’s names and phone numbers are confidential.” Ask the question anyway for two reasons. First, you can see how the lawyer answers the question. Second, if the lawyer tells you that info is confidential, you can ask him or her to reach out to past wrongful death case clients and seek permission to connect you. Very few clients who have been through this ordeal are going to say no to the opportunity to help someone who has just lost a family member and who is starting the process.
d. “How many jury trials have you conducted? How many of those were in the last five years? And how many of those were as ‘lead counsel’”?
This is a great question or series of questions to ask a lawyer. The lawyer may have to take your case to trial to get you fair compensation. It used to be that there were very few personal injury and wrongful death lawyers, but nowadays there seems to be a lawyer on every street corner in some cities, and they all advertise for these types of cases. Unfortunately, many of these lawyers are not well qualified to try a wrongful death case to a jury, and as a result, the insurance company’s settlement offer will be low. Steer clear of attorneys who don’t try cases.
e. “Why do you handle injury and death cases? Would you rather do something else less stressful or more cheerful?”
The really great lawyers who handle personal injury and wrongful death cases do it for some reason other than the money. Maybe they had a parent or sibling who was injured or killed in an accident, and they learned firsthand how important it is to a family to have someone who can competently prosecute their case. Or maybe they have a love for the art of trying cases, and they wake up every morning super excited to go to court and give a great opening statement to the jury. There are a lot of reasons why great lawyers are great lawyers but one thing is there in every great lawyer: a passion for the work. Ask the lawyer why he or she is doing what he or she is doing, and gauge the response. Are they passionate about it? Is it just a job? Do they seem like they’re tired and they want to go lay down?
We hope you found the information on this page helpful. If you would like to speak to an attorney about your and your family’s rights after a wrongful death has occurred, please contact us.