Indiana Wrongful Death Settlements
When a loved one dies in an accident, the loved ones left behind face significant emotional and, often, financial struggles. Fortunately, the law provides family members a chance at closure by allowing them to hold any individuals or businesses responsible for the death and recover damages. Given the immediacy of need for many in this situation, working with experienced Indianapolis wrongful death lawyers can help you obtain Indiana wrongful death settlements that provide meaningful financial assistance to families while holding defendants responsible for their actions.
Most people do not understand what a wrongful death lawsuit is and how it can result in an award of damages. Here, experienced Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys from Keffer Hirschauer LLP help you understand how the law treats wrongful death claims, how to navigate the legal process and fight for the damages you deserve, and the impact of settling your wrongful death claim.
An Overview of Indiana Wrongful Death Settlements and Litigation
When a loved one dies, your thoughts may turn to whether the person or entity that caused their death can be held liable. The answer depends on how the accident occurred and the exact cause of the death. In some cases, fault is obvious, making the claim ripe for settlement. Whether settlement is the best option for your wrongful death claim requires evaluation by a knowledgeable and skilled wrongful death attorney, who can explain how Indiana wrongful death settlements and litigation figure in your case.
Defining the Wrongful Death Case
What is a wrongful death case? In short, it is a legal claim based on a death caused by the negligence or careless, reckless, or intentional actions of another person or entity. To recover for wrongful death, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate or a family member must bring the lawsuit. For a successful outcome in a wrongful death case, the personal representative or family member asserting the claim must prove the following elements:
- The conduct of the defendant caused the death
- The defendant was negligent, strictly liable, or intentionally caused the death
- There is a surviving spouse, child, beneficiary, or dependent
- The deceased’s death resulted in monetary and/or emotional loss
A defendant acts negligently when its actions are unreasonable given the circumstances. To determine reasonableness, the defendant’s actions are judged based on what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation. When a defendant’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, the defendant may be liable for monetary damages arising from the consequences of those actions, the deceased’s death.
Circumstances that Can Cause a Wrongful Death
Any serious injury can result in the person dying. As such, any accident that causes a serious injury can result in death. For example, a wrongful death may be the result of:
- Vehicular accidents
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Medical malpractice
- Pedestrian injuries
- Bicycle accidents
- Construction site accidents
Regardless of the cause of the death, the emotional trauma and the financial fallout are real. As a result, Indiana law allows families to seek Indiana wrongful death settlements for damages. Proving a wrongful death claim requires thorough investigation and careful case preparation, and settling requires a strong case and a skilled litigator.
For help recovering these damages, contact an experienced Indianapolis wrongful death attorney at Keffer Hirschauer LLP.
Damages Available through Indiana Wrongful Death Settlements
While nothing can bring your loved one back, damages help you hold the defendant(s) accountable. Survivors can recover damages for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death, along with damages that arise after their death.
The types and amounts of damages in Indiana wrongful death settlements and awards vary from case to case. Individuals who file a lawsuit may be able to recover medical expenses and burial costs through settlement or litigation. The following damages may be available depending on who recovers them:
- A spouse, dependent child, and next of kin who survive the decedent may seek damages for current and future wages lost and for loss of companionship
- A spouse may recover damages for household services losses
- Dependent children may seek damages for loss of parental guidance
- Parents and children who are no longer dependents may recover reasonable attorney fees and damages for loss of companionship and love, but these have a $300,000 recovery cap
- The personal representative of an unmarried adult with no dependents or next of kin can recover reasonable attorney fees
When the deceased is a minor, their parents or guardians can recover damages that assist the surviving parents or guardians and siblings. Indiana Code chapter 34-23-2 allows damages for the following types of loss resulting from the wrongful death of a minor:
- Loss of a child’s love and companionship
- Expenses related to psychiatric care for parents and surviving minor siblings
- Funds to pay a deceased’s child’s uninsured debts
- Loss of household services
While wrongful death claims for adults who have spouses or surviving children have no limits, there are situations when the recovery for wrongful death has limits. Damages limitations arise in the following situations:
- When the deceased is an adult, at least 23 years of age, unmarried with no minor children, the law limits the economic damages to $300,000 plus medical bills, funeral expenses, and attorney fees
- In medical malpractice cases, there is a cap of $1,250,000 on all claims
- Wrongful death lawsuits against a government entity—including the State of Indiana, a city, town, or school—have a cap of $700,000 plus related medical bills, funeral expenses, or attorney fees
Despite these limitations, it is still important to prepare the best wrongful death case possible. To understand and maximize the damages you are allowed to recover, contact an Indianapolis wrongful death attorney.
Survival Actions: The Occasional Companion to Wrongful Death Actions
Similar to a wrongful death claim, in a survival action, the personal representative files a lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s surviving loved ones. Survival actions seek compensation for costs incurred by the deceased before passing. The personal representative typically files a survival action with the wrongful death lawsuit.
In addition to the wrongful death damages, the defendant is liable for damages related to the deceased’s pain and suffering and financial loss before their death. Economic damages compensate the deceased for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the injury. These expenses include medical costs, lost wages, and therapy expenses. Non-economic damages compensate for the pain and suffering the deceased experienced as a result of the injuries before death as well as a loss of quality of life during in the final days. To determine the loss in quality of life, the court compares the difference in the individual’s daily life before and after the accident.
It is important to note the representatives may be required to bring a separate lawsuit for non-economic damages suffered while the deceased was still alive. An Indianapolis wrongful death lawyer can help determine how to pursue these damages.
The Legal Path to Indiana Wrongful Death Settlements
Before reaching Indiana wrongful death settlements, the deceased’s estate typically must initiate the litigation process. While there are times an insurance company may make a fair settlement offer pre-litigation, there are also occasions when the plaintiff’s best chance of recovery is through litigation. Understanding the steps of a lawsuit before yours starts can help you evaluate the benefits of the settlement along the way.
Make an Insurance Claim
The first step to reaching fair Indiana wrongful death settlements is to submit a claim to your and the defendant’s insurance companies. Once the estate files a claim, the defendant’s insurance company will investigate whether its insured’s actions caused your loved one’s death. If the insurer deems its insured to have caused the accident, it will make an offer to settle the insurance claim.
Should you deny this settlement offer, the insurer may make a better offer or simply refuse to offer more. Before accepting a settlement offer from the insurer—your own or another party’s—you need a complete picture of the fairness of the offer. Such information comes from years of experience handling such matters. An Indianapolis wrongful death lawyer from Keffer Hirschauer LLP can help you evaluate the fairness of an offer in your wrongful death case.
Initiating Wrongful Death Litigation
If the insurance company does not make a fair offer under the circumstances, the next step is to file a lawsuit. The defendant’s insurance company is usually the de facto defendant throughout the entire litigation process. The insurer makes all legal defense choices and determines if it should make an offer of settlement and how much that offer should be. However, settlement negotiations may continue even after you have filed a lawsuit.
Under Indiana Code § 34-23-1-1, the estate must file the wrongful death lawsuit in Indiana within two years of the decedent’s death. Failure to timely file litigation bars recovery for a wrongful death altogether. Experienced wrongful death attorneys carefully calendar such dates and monitor
Discovery in a Wrongful Death Case
Once the estate files the lawsuit, the discovery stage of litigation begins. This stage includes investigating the causes of the injuries and extent of financial and emotional loss as well as exchanging such information. As part of this process, the defense attorney may call the family, caretakers, and others in for a deposition. Information learned through discovery. Information gained throughout this stage may help strengthen your case for litigation or for settlement.
Negotiation, Mediation, and Arbitration of Wrongful Death Claims
Once all information is exchanged and depositions are taken, all parties have the information needed to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations. Should the sides fail to settle through private negotiation, they may explore mediation or arbitration to settle the lawsuit.
In mediation, parties use a neutral third party as a go-between for the negotiating Indiana wrongful death settlements. The mediator works with each side toward a fair settlement and to bring the two sides to an agreement. However, the majority of mediations are not binding, which means that the plaintiff can reject the mediated agreement and continue with litigation.
Arbitrations also use a neutral third party but function like a condensed trial. The arbitrator reviews evidence submitted by each side, hears arguments, and listens to witness testimony. The arbitrator comes up with a number he or she believes is fair, and the sides are typically required to accept this outcome.
What Happens in a Wrongful Death Trial
Should the negotiations or mediations fail to bring the lawsuit to a close, the parties head to trial, where they present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury. At the conclusion of all evidence, the judge or jury determines whether the defendant is liable for the death and, if so, the amount of damages. In some cases, settlement negotiations can continue to the eve of or even during trial.
For help navigating the litigation process, including a trial, contact a knowledgeable Indianapolis wrongful death attorney.
Why You Need Experienced Counsel for Indiana Wrongful Death Settlements and Lawsuits
Tallying the financial costs of medical care and funeral expenses is straightforward, but damages in a wrongful death claim could be broader. Further, a grieving family typically does not have the experience necessary to accurately estimate the true value of a wrongful death claim. You need experienced counsel to help you pursue your claim and weigh your options.
A wrongful death lawsuit represents a very emotional and challenging time. While Indiana wrongful death settlements may resolve your claim, you need a legal team with deep litigation skills and experience in wrongful death claims to help you fight for a fair result. The Indianapolis wrongful death attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP can help. For a free consultation, call us (317) 455-4043 or complete our online contact form.