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​How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid?

Losing a loved one is always tragic. The pain of a loss intensifies if we lose a loved one because another person or entity was negligent. If that situation happens, every state has laws allowing wrongful death lawsuits and giving families an avenue to pursue compensation for their losses.

Although money will never replace the loved one you lost, winning a wrongful death case may provide some comfort moving forward. You may receive a money settlement from an insurance company or a judgment from a judge or jury, but how the money gets to you and your face is another challenge. There are various ways to pay the proceeds from a judgment or settlement. To learn more about the payments after the loss of a loved one, continue reading some of the useful information our wrongful death attorneys have compiled. ​

Understanding a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit alleging a negligent act or actions that lead to someone’s death. The deceased’s surviving family members may use a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages they sustained after losing their loved one. ​

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

compensation for Phoenix wrongful death claimPlaintiffs can recover two major categories of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. The first category includes the damages the deceased might have recovered had they survived the accident. Those damages include medical bills, property damage, and other economic and non-economic damages owed to the deceased.

The plaintiff(s) may recover damages they have sustained in their own right. These damages can include loss of financial support, loss of companionship, loss of guidance, loss of consortium, mental anguish, and emotional trauma. Plaintiffs may also recover for the funeral and burial expenses incurred and other final expenses of the deceased. ​

Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death laws vary from state to state. Only close relatives are eligible for wrongful death damages. The family members that may pursue wrongful death damages include the deceased’s spouse, children, and parents. In some cases, if the deceased died with a will, the executor will file the lawsuit, and if the deceased died without a will, the court appoints a personal representative to pursue a wrongful death claim.

What Happens If the Defendant Has Liability Insurance?

The person or entity that pays out a wrongful death settlement or judgment depends on the defendant’s insurance status. If a defendant is uninsured, a plaintiff may be entitled to go after the defendant’s assets if the defendant is an individual. However, liability insurance will likely pay a wrongful death claim.

How Does Liability Insurance Work?

Liability insurance is a standard part of a driver’s or business’s insurance policy. Liability insurance pays for the damage caused by the policyholder after an accident occurs for which they are responsible. Liability insurance provides coverage for the policyholder if they are responsible for another person’s property damage and bodily injury. Liability insurance covers economic and non-economic damages, including medical bills, repairs to property, and pain and suffering. ​

How Do Insurance Companies Use Liability Coverage to Pay Wrongful Death Claims?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a personal injury claim. If the case elements are proven, the settlement or judgment gets paid like any other personal injury lawsuit action. Once a settlement or verdict happens, the insurance company sends the plaintiff(s) the money they deserve.

Like with other personal injury lawsuits, insurance companies will fight to disprove their insured’s liability to ensure that they do not negatively impact the company’s profit margin by paying out your claim. Contact a wrongful death attorney in your area to protect your legal rights in a wrongful death case. ​

How Do I Get Compensation if the Defendant Does Not Have Insurance?

An unfortunate reality of settling a wrongful death case is that the responsible party may not have high enough insurance policy limits to pay the entire settlement amount or satisfy the judgment. In those scenarios, the surviving family members may not know how to recover sufficient payment for their losses.

All insurance policies have an upper limit on their coverage limit. There are circumstances when a policyholder’s insurance policy limits are insufficient to pay the settlement or judgment. In those cases, the insurance company may refuse to pay more than the policy limits.

If an insurance company refuses to pay more than policy limits, the plaintiff is entitled to pursue the individual’s assets to cover the remaining balance. The negligent party is responsible for paying the settlement or judgment, so they are on the hook for any remaining balance left after policy limits.

After a settlement or judgment, there are various ways to collect your judgment. If you are having trouble collecting on a wrongful death claim, speak to a local wrongful death attorney in your area. ​

How Will I Receive Payment for a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims are either paid out in a lump sum or by partial payments over time. The way surviving family members receive a wrongful death settlement depends on a few factors. One factor determining how the settlement or judgment gets paid is whether the party is a business or an individual. ​

What Is a Lump-Sum Payment?

If a wrongful death payment is a lump-sum payment, the money a plaintiff deserves after a settlement or a judgment goes out to the surviving family members at once. This method is usually the payment arrangement that large businesses with ample insurance coverage choose when involved in a wrongful death lawsuit. ​

What Happens If They Cannot Make a Lump-Sum Payment?

If a defendant cannot make a single lump-sum payment after being liable in a wrongful death lawsuit, they can negotiate partial payments. The responsible party must pay the plaintiff’s damages; therefore, they must arrange to pay the money they owe. Partial payments might continue until they satisfy the judgment.

Each side’s legal team will discuss the best way to satisfy the judgment.

How Do You Distribute Wrongful Death Settlements?

After plaintiffs collect an award for wrongful death damages, the next step is determining who gets the money from the settlement and when. The deceased’s spouse and children receive the money after a settlement. In some states, the spouse will receive a larger percentage of the settlement than the deceased’s children.

If the children are under 18, they cannot receive the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement or judgment. In most states, a trust must keep the proceeds until the child reaches 18.

A trust is an arrangement between a trustee and beneficiaries wherein the trustee agrees to manage and care for the property placed in the trust. Here, the beneficiaries are the children, and when they turn eighteen (or reach the majority), the trustee will ensure that the beneficiary receives their share of the wrongful death benefits. ​

How Do You Pay the Deceased’s Debts?

You and your family will not receive the total settlement or judgment amount should you win your wrongful death lawsuit. The judgment must also cover certain bills the deceased left behind. For example, if your loved one left a hospital bill, that must get covered before the settlement money gets distributed among the family.

Depending on the state and situation, the court or representative of the deceased’s estate will ensure that the debts that the deceased left associated with the accident that took their life (i.e., medical debt) get paid. After the associated debts get paid, the estate representative will ensure that the beneficiaries receive their rightful share. ​

Who Receives the Money from a Wrongful Death Settlement?

Settlements from wrongful death lawsuits go to the heirs of the decedent. Any potential plaintiffs for a wrongful death suit are called designated beneficiaries. These designated beneficiaries include the deceased’s spouse, children, adopted children, and parents.

In some states, more distant relations may get wrongful death damages. Distant relatives include siblings, grandparents, or other relatives. Contact a wrongful death attorney in your area to determine if you are eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim. ​

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?

Wrongful death damages are compensatory. Compensatory damages are restorative money damages awarded to an accident victim or their family for the harm they suffered because of the negligence of another.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not tax compensatory damages. However, consult a tax attorney or other tax professional if you are awarded compensatory damages in a wrongful death suit. You may still be required to pay taxes on compensatory damages during the probate process. If you have any questions, contact an experienced attorney in your area. ​

What Happens If I Do Not Receive the Money Awarded?

If you don’t receive the money you should after winning a wrongful death lawsuit, you may have to file a separate lawsuit to recover damages. A garnishment is a legal action wherein a plaintiff attempts to take a portion of the defendant’s wages until a judgment is satisfied. Alternatively, a plaintiff may file a lawsuit to place a lien against a defendant’s property.

If you do not wish to file a separate lawsuit, you may want to talk to your lawyer to file a motion to enforce the judgment. Collecting a judgment can get complicated. Contact a local attorney if you have trouble receiving the money owed you from a judgment. ​

How Can a Wrongful Death Attorney Help Me?

An attorney can help you in various ways, including communicating and advocating for your full recovery. Often insurance companies work hard to avoid paying out any settlements. Unrepresented plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits are vulnerable to the tactics of insurance companies.

Insurance companies’ tactics to avoid paying wrongful death lawsuits center around denying liability. The insurance company will attempt to frame the harm and cause of death to blame the deceased. Having a legal advocate on your side is vital to protect your legal rights after losing a loved one in a wrongful death accident. ​

What if I Cannot Afford an Attorney?

There is no reason to delay pursuing a lawsuit for wrongful death because you think you cannot afford an attorney. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, and most civil accident attorneys use a payment structure called a contingency fee to receive payment for their legal services.

In a contingency fee agreement, a client does not pay a lawyer unless they recover a settlement or judgment. The attorney and client must sign a contingency fee agreement in writing.

The terms of the contingency fee agreement include the percentage of the settlement that the attorney will receive as payment and who pays litigation costs. The percentage can vary depending on whether the case settles or requires litigation. The law firm or the client may pay litigation costs as the case continues. If the attorney and their firm pre-pay for litigation costs, they must usually receive reimbursement after the case settles.

The bottom line is that your family can afford to seek legal help with your wrongful death claim. Families with the right representation regularly take home much higher compensation – even after legal fees. The insurance company will underestimate your losses unless you have a lawyer to prove what you deserve for your wrongful death claim. ​

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

Dave Abels Lawyer
Wrongful Death Attorney, Dave Abels

Call an accident attorney in your area to learn more about your options for a wrongful death claim. Accident attorneys help protect your legal rights from medical providers and insurance companies. After losing a loved one, you should focus solely on your recovery. Let an accident attorney do the legal work.

​Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

One of the worst things that many of us can think of is losing a loved one suddenly in an accident. The only thing that can worsen the loss is if a negligence action caused it. You may wonder what to do next after such a tragic experience. Along with the emotional impact of your loss, you may suffer financial harm after losing your loved one. The law provides a remedy to help ease both the emotional and financial burden.

A wrongful death lawsuit protects the bereaved family’s legal rights after losing a family member in an accident caused by the negligence of another person or business. Although your loved one gained many relationships they held dear during their life, only certain people may file a wrongful death lawsuit. To learn more about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, continue reading.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

​Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal cause of action that is available to specific parties after a loved one dies due to the negligence of another person or entity. The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is for the family of the deceased to recover compensation for their loss. Wrongful death laws are different in each state. If you think that you may have a wrongful death claim, speak to a local wrongful death lawyer.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

​Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?Different people may recover damages for wrongful death depending on state law. However, the laws on wrongful death are different in each state. A person who can be a plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit also varies from state to state. Despite the state where someone makes a wrongful death claim, certain groups of people are typically allowed to be parties in a wrongful death suit. The following people commonly file complaints for wrongful death.

Immediate Family Members

Immediate family members include close family members, often only the family members who live in your home, although residence does not affect the family member’s right to sue. In many states, immediate family members include the deceased person’s spouse, parents, and children. In some states, legally adopted children can recover from a wrongful death claim. However, the law precludes stepchildren and foster children even if they live in the deceased’s home.

There is a hierarchy of sorts within the immediate family members who can sue. If the deceased leaves a surviving spouse, the spouse will be the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit alone. If there is no surviving spouse, then the deceased’s children will be named as the plaintiff(s) in the lawsuit.

If the children are under eighteen, then a guardian is appointed to represent the children’s interests in the lawsuit. If the deceased did not have a spouse or children at the time of their death, then their parents can file a lawsuit for wrongful death damages.

If the deceased and their spouse were divorcing but a court did not finalize it at the time of the deceased’s death, the surviving spouse may file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the divorce was final, the surviving ex-spouse does not have a claim for wrongful death. In that circumstance, the children will be the plaintiff(s) in the wrongful death lawsuit.

An Executor or Personal Representative of the Estate

In some states, the deceased’s last will and testament decides who the plaintiff is in a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased left a last will and testament, then the executor, a person named in the will, is named as the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased did not leave a last will and testament, then the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is named the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit.

An executor is someone named in a person’s last will that they chose to ensure that someone completes the terms of their will after the person’s death. If you die because of another’s negligence, in some states, your executor can act as a plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. The executor’s service as the plaintiff will mirror their other work as the executor.

Just like how the executor is responsible for paying the estate’s bills and that the beneficiaries get the property as the will dictates, the executor will ensure that they use the settlement from the lawsuit to pay medical bills first and then distribute the rest to the deceased’s beneficiaries. You must choose a responsible and trustworthy person to act as your executor. ​

In some states, for a person who died because of another person or entity’s negligence and without a last will and testament, a court will appoint a personal representative.

A personal representative performs the same or similar duties as an executor. A personal representative ensures that the estate pays a deceased person’s last debts and that they distribute their property and money to the appropriate heirs. Family members may apply to serve as a personal representative, or the court will appoint someone who may not be a family member, to serve as the deceased’s personal representative.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, a personal representative acts as the plaintiff and represents the interests of the family in the lawsuit- just as they will in probate court. In some states, the personal representative will be unable to receive any damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit.

If an executor or personal representative is the plaintiff in a wrongful death case, the lawsuit is filed on behalf of the estate. If the court awards a judgment, the court may divide the settlement proceeds between the estate and the family. The estate will use the portion allocated to it to pay any outstanding bills related to the accident. The same way that it would be if the deceased survived the accident.

Who Can Sue if the Deceased Person is a Minor?

If a child who dies is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, their parents are the plaintiffs in the complaint about wrongful death. If the parents were married at the time of the child’s death, both parents are named plaintiffs. If the parents were not married at the time of the child’s death, then the parent who is the primary custodial parent at the time of the child’s death is named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Although the lawsuit only names one parent, both parents will receive a share of any settlement proceeds awarded. If the child is adopted, the adoptive parents are each named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Adoptive parents may have more of a challenge than biological parents because the adoptive parents must prove that they have legally adopted the child and that the adoption was final before the child’s death.

Stepparents and foster parents do not have a legal right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death benefits unless a legal adoption of the child is final at the time of the child’s death.

Determining which parent(s) has the right to sue in a wrongful death lawsuit can be confusing and varies from state to state. If you have questions or a complicated issue, contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer in your area.

Why Are There Restrictions on Who Can Sue?

The damages that are available in wrongful death lawsuits are specific. The money awarded in wrongful death lawsuits, and any personal injury lawsuit, are intended to compensate or restore the victim to their position before the harm occurred.

In a wrongful death claim, the beneficiaries are pursuing the claim to recover from the loss of companionship, guidance, consortium, and other emotional damages and loss of financial support. The deceased person provides those things primarily to their immediate family. In that sense, the law does not entitle people beyond the deceased’s immediate family to wrongful death damages.

Who Can I Sue for Wrongful Death Damages?

Typically, a person can sue all responsible parties for wrongful death. If a commercial truck driver operated a truck negligently, the driver and the company they work for are liable for wrongful death. Further, if the truck had a manufacturing defect that caused the accident, then a person can also sue the manufacturer for wrongful death damages.

Some parties may be responsible for the accident but have immunity from a lawsuit. The government usually has immunity from litigation. Immunity here means that you cannot sue the government for wrongful death.

What Damages are Available in Wrongful Death Cases?

Wrongful death damages include two types of damages. Plaintiffs can recover the damages the deceased person would have recovered and may also separately recover compensation for their emotional damages and loss of support.

In a wrongful death case, a plaintiff can collect:

  • The deceased’s hospital bills
  • The fee for the ambulance ride
  • The deceased’s property damage
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial or cremation expenses
  • The emotional damage to the bereaved
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of guidance
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of financial support
  • Punitive damages (Punitive damages are available in limited situations, and courts typically only use them for wildly outrageous conduct)

How Do I Collect My Judgment?

Winning the wrongful death lawsuit is the first step to receiving recovery. The first step to getting compensated for a wrongful death lawsuit is to get a judgment from either a judge or jury. The next step is securing the money by collecting it from the defendant.

The ease of getting a judgment depends on who the defendant is in the lawsuit. Typically, if the defendant is a business collecting a judgment is easier. The business’s insurance company will cut a check for the total settlement amount. If the defendant is an individual, they may not have the money to pay the entire settlement amount at once. Defendants that are individuals may want to create a payment plan and schedule small periodic payments to satisfy the judgment.

A plaintiff can collect a wrongful death settlement in one large payment called a lump sum or small periodic payments over time. The parties must agree upon the way that the plaintiff collects the settlement.

In addition to collecting the money from the defendants, the plaintiff may choose to receive their payments in installments regardless of how the defendants pay the judgment.

When a plaintiff receives the money from their settlement in phases, it is called a structured settlement. If you receive a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit and want a structured settlement, speak to your attorney about how to set that up.

If the defendant fails to pay the settlement, either because they can not make the payments or they refuse to satisfy the judgment, the plaintiff can pursue a wage garnishment. A wage garnishment is a civil action separate from the original case that creates a legal right in the plaintiff to receive a portion of the defendant’s regular income until their judgment is satisfied. Speak to a local attorney if you desire to pursue a wage garnishment action.

How Can a Wrongful Death Attorney Help Me?

Dave Abels Lawyer
Wrongful Death Attorney, Dave Abels

The laws surrounding wrongful death lawsuits are complex. The laws vary from state to state. Talk to a wrongful death lawyer in your area to maximize your compensation and protect your legal rights.

A local wrongful death lawyer knows the particularities of state law and can avoid pitfalls that an unrepresented family may face while pursuing wrongful death benefits.

While no money can replace the ones we hold dearest, receiving compensation from the accident can help you and your family cope with the financial and emotional loss that you suffered.

Contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer today.