What Are the Most Important Issues to Consider Before Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim?

Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is difficult. The grieving process can be long and slow. In addition, at the same time one is dealing with these emotional aspects of death, it may be necessary to administer the deceased’s estate and make important legal decisions. One such decision is whether to pursue a wrongful death action.

In this article, we’ll discuss some important factors to consider when determining if a wrongful death lawsuit is appropriate.

1. Understand what Constitutes Wrongful Death

Wrongful death in Oregon refers to the death of one person caused by the wrongful act or omission of another person.

First, note that the definition includes both acts and omissions. An example of a wrongful act would be to negligently drive a car and cause a crash, while an example of an omission would be the failure to give prescribed medicine to an elderly resident in a nursing home.

It’s also important to note that the wrongful act or omission can be either negligent or intentional. 

2. Investigate and Determine Liability

In some cases, liability is easy to determine. In other cases, it can be quite complicated. For example, in one case there may be numerous witnesses who saw a person negligently run a red light and cause an accident. In another case, it may be necessary to determine if a complicated surgery was performed negligently.

Moreover, determining who is at fault is sometimes more difficult when a death results because that person cannot share his or her version of the events leading up to the death. Thus, careful investigation and analysis are often required. Issues of comparative fault can also arise.

In all of these cases, an experienced wrongful death attorney can help immensely. It’s especially important to obtain legal assistance before discussing the case with an adverse party’s insurance adjuster.

3.  Know the Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are laws that govern the time during which a lawsuit must be initiated. Failure to file the suit within the statute of limitations can extinguish the right to pursue the action. The issue is complicated by the fact that statutes of limitations can be different for different types of actions. For example, for a car accident, Oregon has a two-year personal injury statute of limitations, but the limitations period is longer for recovering property damage (such as damage to the car). 

Pursuant to Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years. The statute runs from the date the injury that caused the death is discovered, or reasonably should have been discovered.

It should be clear that the workings of these statutes can be complicated. An experienced personal injury lawyer can assist you to make sure mistakes are avoided.

4. Determine the Value of the Case

There is no easy formula for determining the value of a wrongful death case.

Keep in mind that both economic and non-economic damages can be recovered under Oregon law. Economic damages include items such as lost wages and medical bills that can be objectively determined. Non-economic damages are more subjective, such as pain and suffering.

Expert witnesses often help identify the total amount of damages, including future lost wages. The expert considers a whole host of factors, such as the age, education, and earnings history of the deceased. Many factors must be identified and weighed to reach a final opinion on the value of the case. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help.

5. Hire the Right Lawyer

As you can see from the previous factors, an attorney is essential at every step of the case to protect your rights and maximize your recovery. Moreover, the sooner you can get the attorney involved, the more advantageous it is to the preparation of the case.

And this isn’t the time to hire a generalist who spends time handling divorce cases and criminal law. Look for an experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorney with a history of taking cases to trial. While many cases will ultimately settle, recoveries are often better when the opposing insurance company knows the attorney is willing to take the wrongful death case to court.

Call with Questions

At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, our experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys know that the only way to ultimately protect society is to hold wrongdoers accountable for their behavior. If your loved one has been the victim of such wrongful behavior, you probably have questions. Please call us. We will be happy to answer them and help you in any way we can.


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