Going to Trial

There is a big disconnect, as big as the Grand Canyon is wide, between the fact that a loved one has died and the value of any given wrongful death case. It is the job of an experienced wrongful death trial attorney to maximize the monetary compensation.

Sometimes it can be a combination of a settlement and a verdict. For example, if the wrongful death claim was brought against three different people and a company, and you settled with the people but kept going to Court in a jury trial against the company.

This sounds like a really simple wrongful death lawsuit, but in fact it is quite the opposite: Settling with one person and continuing against the other normally involves some technical questions about the paperwork, the terms and conditions, and the possible effect upon the remaining company that you are suing.

In the case of multiple parties, perhaps one claimant will settle and the other claimant will continue through to a jury verdict. What happens, when during a trial where three people are suing for wrongful death, one of them settles? How does it affect the jury to have this person suddenly disappear from the trial as a claimant, and how would the jury react if the same person suddenly reappeared only as a witness in that same wongful death case?

More such delicate legal issues may come into the picture. There may be a pending workman’s compensation claim, or a medical malpractice claim may have occurred in the course of the accident care and treatment.

Any settlement involving Medicaid may need to be placed in a proper Medicaid trust, and perhaps the settlement will be paid in the form of a annuity or payments over time. These Medicare and Medicaid planning functions are so technical and problematic that today, many very experienced personal injury law firms use an outside contractor or law firm to process the lien or satisfy these requirements.

If there are minor children surviving the death, the settlement proceeds may need to be kept in trust or the court approved account under the care of an appointed guardian.

At what age, would lump sum payments to such minors begin, and how would the guardian or parent of the minors be able to access the settlement money in the event of a future possible medical treatment emergency?

When a Personal Representative or Executor considers a global settlement of all claims, in some jurisdictions, such a settlement may act to extinguish the legal rights of any surviving claimant to continue onward in the litigation. In effect, in some jurisdictions, the Estate may be able to settle the case over the objections of some of the people who would prefer to go all the way to a jury verdict.

A Personal Representative of the Estate in a wrongful death car accident case might also himself or herself be a claimant, and needs to be very careful to avoid conflicts between ” wearing two different hats”, and owes the other survivors a special duty as to how they must be considered and respected, called a “fiduciary duty”. Sometimes a wrongful death accident attorney will use a Estate Lawyer to advise the Estate Personal Representative about the proper way to go about things.

The big point here is that there is no such thing as a simple wrongful death lawsuit settlement, there are only settlements which require skilled planning and attention to the issues and details.