Dealing with the death of a loved one while also filing a lawsuit for wrongful death can be overwhelming. In the middle of mourning your lost spouse, parent, or another family member, you may also find yourself navigating the legal system for the first time.
This comes with a variety of unique and confusing challenges. One of the first you’ll face is finding a wrongful death lawyer to handle your case. With more than 1.3 million lawyers licensed and practicing in the U.S. today, tens of thousands of which practice personal injury law, narrowing your search can be overwhelming. We are breaking down what you need to do to find the right attorney for your case.
How Do I Choose a Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Choosing a wrongful death lawyer is an important step in filing a lawsuit for the death of your loved one as a result of an individual or company’s negligence. A few simple strategies can help you make sure that you are choosing the right attorney for your case.
Search for an Attorney in Your Area
Attorneys are licensed by the state that they practice in. In order to practice in a state, a lawyer must be admitted to the bar in that state.
There are exceptions to this rule. Some states have reciprocity for surrounding states. To date, 13 states also recognize and offer a standard bar exam, called The Uniform Bar Exam. But in most cases, it’s best to choose an attorney that is licensed to operate in the state where the wrongful death took place. Not only will they be able to legally practice, but they will also be familiar with state and local laws that may apply to your case.
When you start your search for a wrongful death attorney, keep it local. Search for attorneys in your city, or in nearby cities. If the death takes place close to the borders of two or more states, you can also check with attorneys in cities near the borders. It’s likely that these lawyers will be licensed to work in each of the nearby states, as well as their home state.
Look for Those Specializing in Handling Wrongful Death Cases
Not all court cases are created equal. While all attorneys share certain skills and knowledge, this does not mean that they practice all areas of law.
A personal injury attorney is unlikely to take on a case of maritime law. Divorce attorneys would be unlikely to take a criminal case to court. You would not want a lawyer who spends most of his or her time on tax law cases handling your wrongful death suit.
Instead, it’s best for your case to choose a lawyer that is prepared to handle your case. Wrongful death cases are closely related to personal injury cases, so attorneys who practice one area are able to practice the other. But you should look for an attorney who specializes not just in personal injury cases or other similar areas of practice, but in wrongful death specifically.
He or she will understand the complexities of wrongful death cases. They will know which laws may apply to your case and the types of evidence that you will need in order to show proof of the cause of death and of negligence. Having this experience on your side can make all the difference in helping you get a settlement for your loved one’s death.
Call for a Consultation
The internet makes it easier than ever to find and vet attorneys in your area. However, nothing beats speaking with potential candidates directly.
If you have not had to work with an attorney in the past, you might think twice about contacting an attorney out of fear of wracking up costs before your case is even started. But most attorneys will offer a free case review. This is a great chance for you to ask some questions and learn more about their areas of practice, past success, and experience level. It also gives the attorney a chance to find out whether your case fits their typical profile.
Make Sure That They are Experienced
One of the most important factors that should go into choosing a wrongful death attorney to handle your case should be past experience. The last thing you want to do is trust your financial future to an attorney with no experience in court, or with a history of losing too many cases.
Instead, look for experienced lawyers with a strong record of success. The more years of experience the law firm and its attorneys have, the better equipped they will be to handle your case, no matter how unique it is.
Asking the Right Questions
Checking an attorney’s credentials and reading their bio online is a great way to start your search. But during your initial consultation or any follow-up interviews, it’s also important to ask the right questions to help you better decide whether he or she is right for your case.
Is there anything that I should know about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Utah?
This question can help you figure out whether a lawyer really has experience handling wrongful death cases. They might answer with information about who can file a wrongful death case in Utah. Or they may warn you that some cases can be difficult to prove.
Their answer may also help you learn about any potential problems related to your case. These problems may not be enough for you to change your mind about filing. But being aware of them can help prevent a rude surprise later in your case.
If I hire your firm, who will be handling my case?
In some larger law firms, a managing attorney or attorneys may delegate cases to newer, younger lawyers. During your initial consultation, you might think that the attorney you are speaking with is the same one who will be handling your case, but this may not always be true.
If the law firm has a strong reputation, it may not be a problem for a different attorney to handle your case. However, you will want to know who you are working with and talk to them before agreeing to let them handle your case.
Some law firms may also delegate duties to a variety of staff members. While an attorney may represent you in court, a paralegal may prepare documents for your case. A junior attorney may be the one responsible for filing any preliminary motions. They may also use an investigator to compile evidence and additional details about your case.
Make sure that you understand who will be handling the various aspects of your case. You do not need to meet all of them. However, meeting the attorney that will handle your case in court, or who is in charge of making sure that your case stays on track, can help set your mind at ease and let you know whether you are making the right choice in representation.
How many other cases will you be handling at the same time as mine?
If a personal injury lawyer is good at his or her job, your case won’t be the only one that they are handling at the time. But too many cases at once could mean that they won’t have the time that is needed to properly handle your case.
A lawyer may not want to be forthcoming about how many cases they are handling at once. If you find this is the case, you can also ask about how often you can expect to hear from them about your case. If they ensure regular check-ins and that they will contact you with any progress or changes in your case, it likely indicates that they have enough time to handle your case.
Have you handled cases like mine in the past?
This is especially important in unique cases of wrongful death, like product defaults. Some attorneys may have handled only wrongful death suits related to car accidents in the past. Navigating other types of cases, like medical malpractice or premises liability, is very different.
The more cases similar to your own that an attorney has handled, the better. If they have handled at least a few cases similar to your own, they will be better equipped to navigate the unique laws and complexities surrounding your suit.
You can also take the opportunity to ask how previous cases were settled. The attorney may be able to warn you that cases like yours are very tough to prove. Or they may help set your mind at ease with success stories from previous cases.
What percentage of your practice is comprised of wrongful death cases?
Most attorneys specializing in wrongful death cases handle other types of personal injury cases as well. Many of the laws, expectations in court, and circumstances of these types of cases are similar, so handling both makes sense.
But it is a good idea to ask what percentage of an attorney’s practice is comprised of wrongful death cases. If you find out that a lawyer handles only the occasional wrongful death suit, they may not be the right choice for you. They may not be as familiar with the laws surrounding wrongful death cases. And their skills at building wrongful death cases could be rusty, which is the last thing you want when your financial future rests in their ability to handle your case.
What kind of compensation am I likely to receive from my lawsuit?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, an attorney may be able to tell you whether you are likely to receive compensation for medical bills and funeral expenses, or for other costs associated with your loved one’s death.
How many cases like mind settle out of court and how many go to trial?
It is not uncommon for wrongful death cases to be settled out of court. This is especially true in cases of product defaults or medical malpractice. In these instances, hospitals and manufacturers often do not want the cases to go to trial, where they will draw attention.
Settling out of court is not a problem, as long as it means that you can get the full settlement that you and your attorney are asking for. Asking about how often cases like your own settle out of court will allow you to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes.
What will your services cost?
The last question on this list is often the first one that clients have. Some people may think twice about hiring an attorney out of fear of unaffordable legal costs. With no guarantee of receiving a settlement, many clients may worry about paying those fees without the money they are hoping to receive in the case. This fear may even lead some individuals to try to file their lawsuit on their own, without an attorney's help.
But with the right lawyer, you may be able to get the legal help that your case needs to win in court, without getting saddled with a multi-figure bill if you do lose your case.
Many personal injury lawyers opt not to charge clients an hourly or set rate. Instead, they charge a contingency fee. A contingency fee is an agreement that states that the client will pay a set percentage of their settlement to their attorney. However, this percentage will only be paid if the case is decided in the client’s favor. If they lose their case, they will not have to pay their attorney a fee for their representation.
A contingency fee does not cover all costs of taking a case to court. Clients will be responsible for some litigation costs, regardless of the outcome of their case. This includes the cost of bringing in expert witnesses, court filing fees, and other similar expenses.
A contingency fee will usually be about one-third of a settlement or 33 percent. Depending on your case, this percentage could be higher or lower.
Choosing the Right Wrongful Death Lawyer
Choosing the right wrongful death lawyer can help set your case up for success. While there is never a guarantee that you will win the settlement that you are seeking, an experienced attorney can build a case, compile evidence, and fight for the compensation you deserve for the death of your loved one. Nothing can bring them back. But the money you could receive as a settlement will help ensure that their death does not ruin you or your family’s finances in the coming years.