How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works
No one likes to think about what they would do if a loved one was taken from them because of another person’s reckless or negligent behavior. Wrongful death lawsuits exist to help families of victims recover fair compensation for damages. Survivors have the right to recover damages for:
- Emotional suffering.
- Funeral expenses.
- Loss of companionship.
- Lost wages and financial support.
- Medical bills.
A wrongful death lawsuit cannot bring back your loved one, but it can ensure survivors are not left financially distressed because of someone else’s carelessness.
There are several steps involved in filing a wrongful death lawsuit in New Mexico. When followed, these steps help secure the deceased person’s estate and provide fair compensation to surviving family members. An experienced wrongful death attorney can lead you through each of these steps, settling out of court when possible, or fighting for your rights in a court of law if necessary.
Step 1: Determine whether negligence occurred
The first step any seasoned wrongful death lawsuit attorney will take is to determine whether negligence occurred. Your lawyer will review all aspects of the case, including collecting evidence from the scene of the accident and talking with witnesses. For accidents that included a police investigation, your attorney may request copies of all documents and reports related to the incident. Sometimes police investigators posit blame, especially if the death happened during a motor vehicle accident. If your attorney has enough evidence to determine negligence, he or she will then proceed to step 2, which is to gather evidence to support your case.
Step 2: Gather evidence
Gathering evidence to support a wrongful death lawsuit is critical to the success of the case. Experienced attorneys look for documents that can prove what happened, who was liable, and damages suffered by the victims. Here are some of the types of evidence your attorney will seek:
- Death certificate. A certified record of the victim’s cause of death, this document can support claims about how your loved one died. The New Mexico Department of Health’s Vital Records office issues death certificates on request.
- Medical records. A victim’s official health records can indicate their cause of death and treatment received for any injuries sustained because of someone else’s negligence. In cases of medical malpractice, a victim’s medical records are a step-by-step guide to their prior health, plus any treatments medical professionals used that may have contributed to their death. Medical records include, but are not limited to, consultation records, evaluations, healthcare team notes, prescription medication, and medical treatments.
- Pay stubs and tax returns. Financial accounting is important for determining damages for surviving spouses and children. If the victim was the primary wage earner for the household, this documentation is evidence of the amount of compensation owed to survivors.
- Physical evidence. Anything from the accident scene that supports a claim of negligence is considered physical evidence in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Police and autopsy reports. When police are called to an accident scene, they must produce an official report detailing their investigation. Their findings can support wrongful death claims by establishing negligence and providing a clear narrative of the events. Police reports also list witnesses. Your attorney can use that information to find potential witnesses for a lawsuit. An autopsy, like a death certificate, lists the victim’s official cause of death.
- Witness statements. Witnesses help present a clear picture of the events leading up to the victim’s death. They also may be valuable in providing witness testimony in court should your case go to trial.
Step 3: File a summons ad service of process
Once your attorney has gathered all the evidence needed to support a wrongful death lawsuit claim, the next step is to file a summons. The purpose of a summons is to notify the defendant of your intent to sue for wrongful death. A summons also provides details about where and when the legal proceedings will be held.
After the summons is issued, a service of process happens next. This step essentially puts the defendant and their legal counsel on notice that you are preceding with a lawsuit against them.
Step 4: Negotiate a settlement
When possible, wrongful death attorneys prefer to negotiate a settlement for their clients. Trials can be long and emotionally taxing for survivors of the victim. If your attorney has compiled a strong enough case against the defendant, it increases the chances of settling before court proceedings begin. It is in the best interest of the defendant to avoid a lengthy, public trial. In cases where the defendant is a company or other business entity, settlements appeal to their legal counsel to avoid dragging their clients’ names through the mud during a public hearing.
Even if you do not settle by your court date, it is not too late to reach an agreement. Sometimes defending parties wait until a trial starts to weigh their chances. If their legal counsel does not feel like the case is going in their favor, they may suggest a settlement before a jury or judge can rule on the case.
Choosing a wrongful death attorney
Bill Russell goes to bat for families of victims killed because of someone else’s negligence. He has represented injured people and their families for years throughout Mexico. He has the experience and the compassion necessary to help bring a successful outcome to any wrongful death lawsuit. Call 505-218-7844 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.