What Are the First Steps in Pursuing a Wrongful Death Case?

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A lawyer and a client together in an office discussing details of a wrongful death case.Losing a loved one is one of the most devastating events someone can experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 224,935 unintentional deaths in the United States in 2021.

If this has happened to you, you are probably wondering how wrongful death lawsuits work and the steps involved in the process. The wrongful death attorneys at Tatum & Atkinson understand your loss and frustration and will walk you through every step of the lawsuit.

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

The most important step of a wrongful death lawsuit is finding and hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney. This lawyer will be your guide throughout the entire process and will provide invaluable advice and services to ensure the success of your case.

Your lawyer will help you determine if your situation qualifies for a wrongful death lawsuit and the amount of time you have to file your claim for damages. They will help you through the investigation of the death, determination of the liable parties, and gathering the necessary evidence and documentation.

They will also take care of the negotiations with the responsible party’s insurance company for a fair settlement. If necessary, your attorney will file a lawsuit with the civil court and represent you during the trial.

Hire the Right Lawyer for Your Case

There are confusing laws and strict deadlines involved in wrongful death cases. They are usually very sensitive, and even the smallest details matter.

In order to be successful in your claim, you will need a dedicated lawyer with plenty of experience in winning wrongful death cases.

A competent wrongful death attorney will be knowledgeable about the precedents and statutes that apply to your unique circumstances. Your lawyer will explain every step they are taking so you understand what is happening in your wrongful death case.

Your attorney will prepare and file a strong claim in compliance with all the applicable requirements and laws in North Carolina. Your lawyer will be able to give you advice on the best ways to simplify the progress of your case and how to improve your likelihood of receiving favorable compensation.

Your lawyer will also handle all communications with the insurance companies on your behalf so the insurance adjusters are not able to coerce you into saying something that can be used against you or agreeing to a settlement offer that is insufficient for your level of damages.

A good lawyer will also give you peace of mind about your case. You will be able to mourn your loved one and take care of the rest of your family without worrying about the paperwork and deadlines involved in your case.

Open an Investigation into Your Loved One’s Death

The first thing your lawyer will do once they begin working on your case is open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. The initial details available for your case may be incomplete and not clearly explain what really happened.

Witnesses may contradict each other with their statements and be confused about what they saw. Someone who is liable for the death may be attempting to conceal important information or shift the blame onto someone else to avoid blame.

An experienced lawyer will thoroughly investigate your family member’s death to determine what actually happened.

For example, your loved one may have died in a car accident. Your lawyer would go through the police report and witness statements to discover the exact cause of the accident and who was at fault.

They would also be able to obtain surveillance footage if there were cameras near the scene of the accident. They may even enlist an accident reconstruction specialist to get a clear understanding of what really happened.

If medical negligence caused the death of your family member, your lawyer would obtain medical records and consult with a medical expert witness to determine if the doctor responsible for the medical care of your loved one was using an appropriate standard of care.

If the doctor failed to provide the proper standard of care, and your loved one died as a result, you would have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.

Determine the Potentially Liable Party

There may be more than one liable party in your wrongful death case. Determining who was at fault requires a thorough examination of the investigation findings and depends on the facts and circumstances of the accident.

For example, if your loved one was killed by using a defective product, the product’s manufacturer may be at fault, but the retailer may share fault as well.

Gather the Necessary Evidence and Required Documentation

Collecting the evidence and official documentation is a big job, and your lawyer will guide you through the process and make sure that you have everything you need for your case to succeed.

For example, you will need medical records and possibly police reports, depending on your specific situation.

For example, if medical malpractice is what caused the wrongful death, you will need evaluation reports, doctor’s notes, diagnostic test results, prescription medications, nursing charts, and more. These medical records are the most critical evidence that you will need for your wrongful death lawsuit.

You will also need the death certificate for your loved one, as it will show the official date, time, and cause of death. Autopsy reports will be necessary if one was performed.

These reports may reveal medical mistakes or otherwise unknown events that caused the death.

The evidence needed for your specific case will depend on the circumstances of the death. Other common types of important evidence include:

  • Witness statements
  • Photo or video evidence
  • Expert witness testimony
  • Financial records, including pay stubs and tax records
  • Family records

Initiate Settlement Negotiations

After calculating the value of your case, a letter detailing your claims for damages will be prepared by your lawyer and sent to the liable party’s insurance company. Determining how much your wrongful death case is worth is complex and will typically be calculated by an economist enlisted by your lawyer.

Aspects that will be accounted for include the following:

  • Funeral costs
  • Medical expenses of the deceased that were caused by the incident that caused the death
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering from the loss of your family member
  • Loss of support, services, guidance, and consortium

With respect to the defendant’s insurance coverage limit, your lawyer will pursue the highest possible settlement amount. The insurance adjuster will typically disagree and may offer a low offer that may be insufficient to cover your expenses.

Negotiations may be lengthy but are necessary in order to get you a satisfactory settlement agreement. You will have the final decision to either accept the offer or continue to court, but your lawyer will give you the expert advice that comes with years of experience in dealing with wrongful death cases such as yours.

File the Lawsuit With the Civil Court

In the event that settlement negotiations have not produced an acceptable outcome, your lawyer will file the lawsuit with supporting documentation with the clerk’s office at the civil court. The details of the lawsuit will be outlined and include facts and laws to support the amount of compensation you are seeking in your claim.


There is a discovery phase before the actual trial that will give your lawyer time to gather and prepare as much information about your wrongful death case as possible. The length of time for the discovery phase depends on the details of your case.

Most cases will have a few weeks, while some may take several months of preparation if multiple witnesses and defendants are involved.

The litigation phase is next and includes pre-trial and the trial itself. There may be a request made by any party involved for a mediation session during this time.

It would be facilitated by an impartial mediator in a last attempt to negotiate a settlement. The case will continue to trial if no settlement is reached.

The judge or jury would then be responsible for hearing both sides and issuing a verdict favoring either you, the plaintiff, or the defendant. If the verdict is in your favor, a monetary award will be decided and awarded to you.

Who Collects the Money From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

According to the North Carolina Wrongful Death Act, the people who collect the payout from a wrongful death claim are the same as the people entitled to receive an inheritance from the victim if the deceased dies without a will.

The total amount awarded for the claim may be divided between family members depending on their family dynamics and circumstances. A lawyer will be able to analyze your situation and discuss how the payout will be distributed.

A legal will cannot dictate who receives proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit as they are always distributed according to intestate succession. Different states have different intestate succession laws, so the distribution could be different in different cases depending on where the accident occurred.

Contact the Heavy Hitters: Your North Carolina Wrongful Death Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If your loved one was tragically killed in a wrongful death accident, we are so sorry for your loss, and we are here to help. We will take care of your case and ensure your family receives the best possible outcome.

Call Tatum and Atkinson: The Heavy Hitters at (800) LAW-0804 as soon as possible to discuss your options and if your situation qualifies for a wrongful death claim.