Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuit Settlements

If you’ve watched primetime television, you’ve probably heard the word “settlement” tossed around during a legal drama show. Or perhaps you’ve heard the word when referring to cases made prominent in popular culture? Like that time Nancy Grace agreed to pay $200,000 after being accused of bearing some responsibility for the death of a former guest who she grilled pretty hard on her show and then later took her life. You have heard the expression before but probably don’t know what it means. Or how it can relate to you? Here, we’ll explore what a settlement means as it relates to a wrongful death case.

If you’ve lost a loved one due to the negligent act of another, the last thing you have the energy or heart for is a negotiation. Green Law Firm understands this; it’s our job to make things as simple for you as possible during this painful time. A settlement is an agreement that takes place out-of-court without finishing legal proceedings. Either the plaintiff (the party initiating the lawsuit) or the defendant (the party the suit has been brought against) makes an offer for a specific amount that they believe will “settle” the case. Our team of experts will review your case and advise you towards your best course of action before taking you through the process of seeking compensation after your loss. Is a settlement right for you? Let’s explore.

Wrongful Death Settlement or Court Case

Keeping this simple, when it comes to a wrongful death case (which is a type of personal injury claim), there are only a few basic outcomes that can occur when a claim is made. First, the surviving spouse can initiate a claim. If the claim is not filed within the necessary deadlines or does not meet the required relationship qualifications, this claim may be denied. Second, is that the lawsuit process begins and that it goes before a judge or jury; in this case, a judge or jury hears mounting evidence from both sides and determines the level of negligence and how much damages, if any, should be awarded to the surviving person. The last option is for the parties to reach a settlement.

Here are five main points of consideration when it comes to settling outside court or going through a court case.

Who determines the monies awarded?
In a court case, a judge or jury will determine how much value is placed on the loss of the deceased. With a settlement, an offer is proposed by either the plaintiff or defendant. The initial offer does not have to be accepted; in most cases, the parties will go back and forth till a sum is agreed upon.

Length of proceedings
Let’s be honest – lawsuits are not pleasant for anyone involved. They can be long, draining, emotionally exhausting and can drag on and on and on. Many times, to avoid the drain of a long court case (emotionally, physically and financially), both parties will want to “wrap things up” as fast as possible to allow life to move on and heal as best as possible. A plaintiff may be tired, overwhelmed and in intense grief; in some cases, there may be something taboo or controversial about the passing. In many cases, settling out of court will allow the process to finish faster.

Is there a potential for bad publicity?
Wrongful death cases can make for bad publicity on behalf of the defendant. Many defendants will wish to wrap up a lawsuit to “make it go away” as fast as possible to minimize any negative impact it may have on their business or reputation. The more anxious a defendant might be, the more likely they will be to offer a sizable amount to a plaintiff quickly.

How strong is the case?
Many times, parties involved in wrongful death lawsuits are swayed by what they believe are their chances to win a favorable judgment. If defendants know the case against them is strong, they might be inclined to stop the process in its tracks and “minimize the damage” by making an immediate offer. Just the same, if plaintiffs do not have an exceptionally strong chance of getting a favorable judgment, they may adopt a “take what we can get” approach and try to make things swift and efficient.

Mediation or arbitration?
If a case does not go through litigation, it may be settled one of two ways. Mediation is when both parties meet and discuss the case with a mediator. This person listens to both sides and offers his or her expertise and advice as to how the case should be settled and how monies should be awarded. The second is working with an arbitrator. This individual listens to both sides and meets with both the plaintiff and defendant. The arbitrator then makes a ruling based on interpretation of the situation. While both of these can be a costly process, they are still more cost effective than going through an extensive trial.

What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement Amount?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to wrongful death claims. The truth is… there is no set formula.

Recoverable damages are based on so many factors and are open to interpretation. (This is why many parties lean towards settling their claim out of court!) Some of the things that will affect compensation in a wrongful death claim can include:

  • The earning capacity of the person who passed. If they had a high-earning threshold, a surviving spouse or beneficiary would be more likely to receive a high amount.
  • If there are children who are now left without the love, guidance and care of a parent.
  • The degree of negligence involved in the case.
  • Potential pain and suffering.
  • Medical bills.

Remember that it is up to your legal team to prove that the defendant(s) was 51 percent liable for the death of your loved one. They need to have been “more than likely” to have caused the defendant’s death. While juries have been known to be unpredictable, they can also be generous and award large sums to surviving spouses based on case details.

Is a Wrongful Death Settlement Taxable?

Simply put, no. Monies awarded from wrongful death settlements and lawsuits are excluded from federal and state tax. According to the IRS, any monies awarded to someone for physical injury, illness or death are non-taxable.

If you are unsure if your potential lawsuit is better served with a court case or settlement, let Bill Green advise you! We will review the sum of your case to determine the best course of action in pursuing your wrongful death lawsuit. Your case is 100 percent risk-free; we understand how important it is for you not to accumulate additional financial burden during this challenging time. We are compensated based only on monies you may be awarded.