Losing a loved one is difficult under any circumstances, but when a negligent party is to blame, the loss can seem especially senseless. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit may stir up feelings of grief, but determining who was at fault for your loved one’s death and holding them accountable for their actions can go a long way towards providing healing and closure.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, working with an attorney is crucial to developing a strong wrongful death case. Wrongful death attorneys have extensive experience with these emotionally-charged lawsuits and can provide advice, investigative services, and guidance at every stage of your claim.
Continue reading to learn more about proving wrongful death cases, how to file a claim in Oklahoma, and what compensation you can recover.
RELATED ARTICLE: How Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work in Oklahoma?
What Is A Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death refers to a situation in which an intentional, reckless, or negligent act causes someone’s death. Family members file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased person, instead of filing a personal injury claim.
Proving A Wrongful Death Claim
The most important aspect of proving a wrongful death claim is establishing negligence or fault. Proving negligence involves the at-fault party’s “duty of care,” their legal obligation not to cause injury to others. Negligence in a wrongful death case depends on demonstrating three elements:
- Your loved one was owed a duty of care.
- Someone breached this duty.
- The breach caused an injury that led to the deceased’s passing.
Sometimes, proving the defendant breached their duty of care is a simple process. But other times, it can require an in-depth investigation by a personal injury attorney, especially if your claim involves multiple parties, product liability, or other complex legal claims.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Oklahoma
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is considerably more complicated than most other personal injury claims. There are four main stages of a wrongful death lawsuit in Oklahoma.
1. Opening an Estate
In a wrongful death claim, you are filing a lawsuit on behalf of your deceased loved one, and anything you recover for them will go to their estate. Therefore, you must formally open an estate by filing paperwork with the probate court.
2. Appointing a Personal Representative for the Estate
Sometimes called an administrator or executor, the personal representative is responsible for wrapping up your loved one’s affairs and distributing their assets. If there’s a will, it typically will name a personal representative. If your loved one died without a will, you’ll need to appoint one. In Oklahoma, the estate’s personal representative is the only person who can file a wrongful death claim.
3. Filing Insurance Claims and Lawsuits
Next, you’ll need to file insurance claims with all of relevant insurance companies, including those of your loved one and the at-fault parties. The number of insurance claims will depend on the type of incident that caused the wrongful death. A car accident may only have one negligent party, while a malpractice case or commercial trucking crash could involve two or more responsible parties, each requiring you to file separate insurance claims.
However, Oklahoma sets strict filing deadlines in wrongful death lawsuits. You only have two years from your loved one’s death to file a lawsuit. That means you’ll need to investigate their claims, open an estate, name a personal representative, and file your claims or lawsuits before that two-year window expires. In other words, you’ll need to act quickly to protect your loved one’s legal claims.
4. Negotiating with the Insurance Companies
Throughout the claims and litigation processes, your wrongful death attorney will work to reach a settlement with the insurance companies. If they successfully negotiate a settlement, the estate will distribute the proceeds to the family and heirs.
Sometimes, your lawyer or the judge will suggest mediation or other dispute resolution methods, where someone with specialized training helps the parties find common ground. However, if you can’t agree on a settlement, the case will go to court.
Due to the complex nature of estate management and wrongful death claims, working with an experienced attorney will save you considerable time and stress and ensure that all the necessary paperwork is filed properly and on time.
How Much Is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
A wrongful death lawsuit provides compensation, called damages, for losses suffered by both the deceased and their family. Damages incurred by the deceased are very similar to those awarded in personal injury cases and are designed to compensate the victim for their losses. They might include compensation for your loved one’s pain and suffering, lost income, and medical bills.
The family and heirs of the deceased are entitled to compensation for the loss of their loved one including loss of companionship, loss of financial support, and funeral costs.
In rare cases, the jury may also award punitive damages, which punish the at-fault party for wildly reckless or intentional conduct.
The value of your loved one’s wrongful death claim will depend entirely on the specifics of your case. Not only can a lawyer assist you in collecting medical and funeral bills, but they can also provide an estimate for the less tangible damages such as the deceased’s pain and your loss of companionship.
Once you agree to a settlement or a jury issues an award, your loved one’s damages, such as their lost income and pain and suffering will be distributed according to Oklahoma’s inheritance laws. Compensation awarded for loss of companionship or support will be given directly to the family.
Atkins & Markoff: Over 20 Years of Advocating for Victims and Their Families
If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, working with an attorney is crucial to navigating Oklahoma’s complex claim process successfully. At Atkins & Markoff, our wrongful death attorneys can help you file all the necessary paperwork involved in estate management, insurance claims, and settlement negotiations so that you can focus on taking care of yourself and your family.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.