One of the most frequently asked questions for a wrongful death lawyer is, “How long will my wrongful death case take to resolve?” The answer to that question depends upon the specific facts of the case, but I can give you some general guidance on it. I have had million, and multimillion-dollar wrongful death cases resolve within days of my taking the case. On the other hand, I’ve handled cases that have taken several years to resolve. On average, a wrongful death case at our firm settles in about a year. Here are some facts to take into consideration.
If there is a limited amount of insurance, it’s almost always wise for your lawyer to make a time-limited demand for the full policy limits. The lawyer will put together a settlement demand package that includes evidence of liability, medical records, funeral bills, expert witness reports and affidavits, and whatever else the lawyer believes is necessary to prove to the insurance carrier that the case is worth more than the insurance policy limits. In a situation like that, wrongful death cases can resolve very quickly, within days, weeks, or months, depending upon how long it takes to get the evidence together to prove to the carrier that the case is worth more than the limits.
Under Florida’s bad faith law, the insurance carrier has a duty to investigate the claim within a reasonable time frame. One appellate court held that nine days was long enough for the carrier to do a full investigation. Once we get the evidence together that we need to prove the case value, we send the demand package and usually give a nine-day deadline. I have had multimillion-dollar cases resolved like that on several occasions. This year I settled a million dollar case with a nine-day demand, and last year I settled a two million dollar case with a nine-day demand.
However, it doesn’t always work like that. In cases with disputed liability, causation, or other legal questions, the insurance carrier or corporate defendant will often choose to fight us. In those situations, we file a lawsuit, which usually takes about a year to resolve. Once you file a lawsuit, you have to serve all defendants. Defendants often respond by filing a motion to dismiss the case, and it can take months before the court is available to conduct a hearing to determine whether to accept the case. Once the court rules in your favor, the defendant has twenty days to respond to the complaint. Once the defendant responds, the paper discovery phase is completed, which usually takes about forty-five days. Once paper discovery is completed, the depositions phase begins, which usually takes a few months.
About nine months after the case is filed we usually get the case to mediation, which is where 75% of all litigated cases are resolved. Sometimes it takes longer than nine months. If it doesn’t settle at mediation, we push the case to trial, which is usually three to six months after mediation. Sometimes the cases settle at trial, but if the case goes to verdict and we get a great result (which is what we expect), the defendant will certainly file an appeal. That can take a year or two, and if we lose the appeal, there is likely to be a do-over, where we have to re-try the case and go through the entire process again.
These numbers are approximations, but I wanted to give you an idea of how these cases go so you know what to look forward to. As always, I am a wrongful death attorney, and available to talk if you have any questions.