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Prepaid Legal


Wrongful Death Attorney: How Much Could You Get?

A wrongful death attorney can act for you if one of your family members has died in a situation where somebody else can be held to be at fault. Often this is not counted as murder because it is a situation where the person did not intend to kill and so there may be no criminal conviction.

For example, if somebody dies during a surgical operation in hospital as a result of a mistake by the anesthetist, the anesthetist and possibly the hospital could be said to be at fault because they were negligent (not careful enough), even though they did not intend for the patient to die. In this case the family of the dead person could claim compensation by hiring a wrongful death attorney to act for them.

A wrongful death lawyer will usually begin by opening negotiations with the insurance company of the person who is believed to be at fault. Medical professionals are insured against malpractice claims and most companies have liability insurance covering situations where their employees might have done something negligent in carrying out their job. If it was an auto accident, then the auto insurance will usually pay.

It is often easier to show that somebody was responsible for a wrongful death in a civil case (suing them for compensation) than in a criminal case (where they are on trial for a criminal offense). This is because a person accused of a criminal offense is assumed to be innocent unless proved guilty. In a civil case, the outcome depends on preponderance of the evidence, so you only have to show that the person was probably at fault, you do not have to prove it.

Wrongful death settlements tend to be lower than the highest of the personal injury settlements where the person is still alive but severely disabled. This is because the dead person cannot be compensated. Compensation goes to the family members, and while they might suffer greatly from having lost their loved one, the courts generally feel that a baby whose mother is killed (for example) does not suffer as much in later life as a baby who is severely disabled as a result of medical malpractice.

Nevertheless, a settlement in a case of wrongful death could be several million dollars. It is impossible to know what the highest awards have been because some cases have been settled out of court by agreement between the two sides through their wrongful death attorney. In that situation the amount does not have to be made public.

However, where cases go to court they are usually reported in the news. From this we can see that the highest settlements tend to be awarded where the person who died was the parent of dependent children. For example, in October 2009 a jury awarded $16.5 million to the family of Jennifer Strange, the 28-year-old mother of three young children who died of water intoxication after taking part in a contest named 'Hold Your Wee For A Wii'. The award was made against the Sacramento, CA radio station who staged the contest.

Many factors are taken into account by the jury when awarding a wrongful death settlement. As well as the suffering caused by the loss of a parent, child, spouse or sibling, the court will consider the salary that the person was earning or could have been expected to earn if they had survived, and the effect on their spouse and dependants of losing that money, plus the cost to the family of finding somebody else to care for kids, etc.

If you think that you may be entitled to compensation for a death in your family, you will need to consult with a specialist lawyer. These cases are complicated and it is worth having the best advice. Anything you say to the media or to the other party could affect your case, so it is best to take advice from a wrongful death attorney before you speak to anybody.

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