What NOT to Do If You Believe You have a Wrongful Death CaseWhat NOT to Do If You Believe You have a Wrongful Death Case

What NOT to Do If You Believe You have a Wrongful Death Case

There’s a lot to think about when a loved one passes away. Making sure everyone is notified. Arranging a funeral and memorial. Handling the will. Collecting insurance. Even when the death is expected, it can be overwhelming. If you suspect that the death was wrongful—or know it was—things can get even more complicated. Of course, the best thing you can do is hire a lawyer with experience in wrongful death cases as soon as possible after the death.  Much of the evidence that is very helpful to providing a case may only be available days after the incident. Before you make a mistake, learn what not to do when proving a wrongful death case.

1. Don’t Depend on Others to Report the Death

You likely know that you need to get a death certificate and report the death to various agencies, like Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). But what about a wrongful death? Who will investigate the circumstances around your loved one’s death? Don’t assume that an investigation will automatically take place. Even in cases where a wrongful death does trigger an investigation – in a workplace, hospital or long-term care facility – the facility first must report it, and they don’t always do this.

It’s best to report the death to the medical examiner yourself as soon as possible. Request an investigation into the facility and the circumstances surrounding the death. You should also request an autopsy. It won’t be required if the death is assumed to be the result of natural causes or a known illness, but having detailed autopsy results will help your wrongful death case.

If the death occurred by medical malpractice in a hospital, nursing home, assisted living facility, or other health care setting, you should consider filing a complaint with the State agency that regulates the facility. If the death occurred on a work site and your loved-one was not a worker there at the time, a complaint filed with OSHA might trigger a full investigation for violations of safety rules.

2. Don’t Delay Gathering Evidence

Evidence is essential, especially in certain types of wrongful death cases, like medical malpractice or nursing home neglect, in which a suspicious death may be overlooked. The autopsy is just one piece of evidence you’ll need. You’ll also want to make sure you obtain and preserve:

  • Medical, Hospital, and Ambulance records
  • Accident reports from law enforcement
  • Photographs and video
  • Surveillance footage

The evidence in a wrongful death case can be time-sensitive. For example, surveillance footage is often deleted on a regular schedule, and witnesses become less reliable the longer you wait to talk to them.

On top of evidence to prove the death was wrongful, you’ll also want to have records to back up your claims of monetary damages, like:

  • Medical bills
  • Burial costs
  • Income history

You can also include evidence of emotional and mental issues you or your family have suffered, for example entries in a journal or therapy bills. These are helpful for non-monetary claims of pain and suffering.

3. Don’t Talk to the Insurance Company

When you file a wrongful death case, it isn’t actually the at-fault person (such as the at-fault driver, doctor, hospital, nursing home) that negotiates and pays for the settlement – it’s typically their insurance company. These companies have millions of dollars and a full staff of experts on hand who specialize in one thing: Minimizing their liability and getting you to settle a claim for less than you should.

Most wrongful death cases do settle out of court, but you should never take it upon yourself to provide them with recorded statements about your claim or try to negotiate with these powerful companies. They can use any statements you make against you. (And you may not even know you’re saying something bad.) And they will always try to pay as little money as possible. It’s best to hire an experienced attorney and let them do the talking.

4. Don’t Make Any Statements on Social Media or News

It isn’t just the insurance companies you need to avoid. Beyond a basic memorial post, don’t write about the death or the case on social media. Nearly any statement can be interpreted the wrong way in today’s online climate.

If your loved one died in particularly suspicious circumstances or was well-known, their death could make the news. You should never make any statements to the news media—even your local, small-town newspaper.

Make sure your entire family knows not to post on social media or talk to the press for the entire time your case is underway. It’s best to leave all news communication to your lawyer. What your lawyer says to the media is not binding on you in Court.

5. Don’t Postpone or Procrastinate Asserting Your Claim

Wrongful death cases have a two-year statute of limitations in Oklahoma. That means you have two years from the date of the death to file all of the appropriate paperwork. To many people, that seems like plenty of time – but wrongful death cases can be complicated. And, evidence can disappear and witnesses can move or their memories fade.

In Oklahoma, there is no need to file a probate case in Court to pursue a wrongful death case. So, any close family member can hire a wrongful death lawyer right away and without any upfront cost or expense. So, there is no need to delay contacting a lawyer.

If your loved one had a Will, they named a person as the personal representative to take care of their affairs after death. That person is typically a family member.  The personal representative will be the person with the authority to act on the behalf or your loved-one and has the power to hire a lawyer.

Once you hire a lawyer, the lawyer can then decide if a formal appointment by a Probate Court is necessary for your wrongful death case. In many cases, it is not necessary.

6. Don’t Go It Alone

When a loved one passes away, you have enough to think about without also worrying about filing a wrongful death case. That’s why so many people make the mistakes we’ve outlined above. That’s also why it’s so important to have an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side. An attorney can take a lot off your plate, so you can focus on spending time with your family and grieving. They can:

  • Evaluate your case
  • Advise you on the best path forward
  • Help you gather evidence
  • Handle the paperwork
  • Help you remember deadlines
  • Give you peace of mind

At GT Law, we have more than 30 years of experience fighting “Goliath” insurance companies in court and winning. We put our clients first and fight to get you the accountability and compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. While you can’t bring your loved one back, we can help you hold those responsible for their death accountable.

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