What Is The Timeline For a Wrongful Death Claim in Pennsylvania?
Pursuing a wrongful death claim can be overwhelming and stressful for surviving family members at an already difficult time. Depending on the complexity of the case, wrongful death claims can resolve in a matter of months, but many take one to four years. Knowing what to expect and a general timeline can help.
After a loved one has been killed intentionally or in a preventable accident, it is critical to contact a Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney as soon as possible. They will immediately begin investigating and gathering evidence of fault. Depending on the police report and any other official investigation findings, liability may be clear. However, if it isn’t or liability is disputed, the investigation phase can last for a few weeks or many months. Your attorney may also advise having an autopsy performed if the coroner or medical examiner did not order one. Although this can be an emotional decision, if the findings establish that another party caused the death, it is concrete evidence of grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Typically within six months of a loved one’s death and once an investigation is complete, your attorney will draft a demand letter to notify the at-fault parties that the deceased’s estate intends to pursue a wrongful death claim. Under Pennsylvania law, a personal representative of the deceased’s estate is who must bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of surviving family members. The letter will include the amount the estate is willing to settle for to resolve the claim. The at-fault party’s insurer will typically send a counter-offer, and then settlement negotiations will begin and often go back and forth for some time. If you can agree, your case will be resolved.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If a settlement cannot be reached, the estate can proceed with filing a lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of a victim’s death. If a claim is not filed before the deadline, you will likely be barred from recovering compensation. Your attorney will prepare a Summons and Complaint to be served to the defendant (at-fault party). They then have 20 days to respond and deny the allegations.
Once a response is entered, the discovery phase begins and can take some time as both parties build their case and learn what the other side has as evidence. This stage can involve interrogatories, which are written questions sent back and forth between the parties, depositions, and hiring expert witnesses. If either side is concerned about any particular evidentiary issue, they can file a motion for a judge to rule on whether a specific piece of evidence will be admissible during trial. These motions can be vital components to making your strongest arguments in court. In the months leading up to trial, negotiations may also continue, and the parties are required by Pennsylvania law to attempt mediation. Many cases settle by this point, but if mediation is unsuccessful, the case will proceed to trial.
Trial can take anywhere from a few days, weeks, or months as a jury is selected and each side presents evidence and makes their argument. Outside of the jury’s presence, each side will continue to file motions asking the judge to admit or exclude various pieces of evidence and try to persuade the judge to give various jury instructions or for a summary judgment. Once each side rests its case, the jury will begin deliberations. If you receive a favorable verdict, the defendant can still file an appeal, which will delay payment. On the other hand, if you lose in court, you also have the right to file an appeal.
Navigating a wrongful death lawsuit can be extremely challenging while dealing with a loss, and you should not have to do it on your own. Speak to a trusted Philadelphia Wrongful Death Attorney today.