Interviewer: How long could a Wrongful death case potentially last?
Kevin Roach: It really depends on the situation, for someone who was in a fatal accident, there's no treatment phase. Basically once you get the estate in order, you get a personal representative appointed, you get the temporary letters of administration, then that will allow you to get death certificates and other documents that you need in order to get medical records, some other basic information to prove up your claim.
Wrongful Death Claims Generally Take From Six Months to Three Years
They move fairly quickly. Of course, a lot of times there's a dispute over the damages. You may initially try to negotiate with the insurance company, but if they're not willing to pay the policy limits, or you have reason to believe there may be additional coverage that they're not disclosing, then you want to file suit on it, or to do some discovery and do your due diligence to determine whether there's additional coverage in order to maximize the recover for your clients. Anywhere from six months to, it may be a couple years. Normally they don't drag out longer than a year, typically you can get it resolved within a year.
In Missouri Wrongful Death Claims are Always Settled in Courts
Interviewer: Will wrongful death cases always go to court?
Kevin Roach: They will always go to court, you can sometimes work out a settlement with the insurance company, but you still have to notice it up for court approval. You have to file what's called a friendly suit, it's not a hostile lawsuit, it's just a lawsuit for an apportionment of the monies, and you have to notice up all the parties that have a right to a claim. They have to all be put on notice.
Then the judge has to ensure that all parties have been put on notice and then he has to make sure the settlement is fair, and it has to be approved by the court. Even though it may have been agreed to by all the parties, the judge still has to sign off on it.
Dealing with the Loss of Life is the Most Difficult Aspect in a Wrongful Death Claim
Interviewer: What's the most difficult aspect in a wrongful death case for an attorney to go with?
Kevin Roach: The most difficult aspect is anytime you're dealing loss of life, it's just very emotional; it's a difficult thing to deal with. People are grieving, at the same time you have a job to do, and you have to try to recover as much money as possible. It can be a very satisfying area of the law. If you can recover a sizable amount of money after someone loses a loved one, it can be very satisfying, but at the same time there's not a lot of insurance coverage and it can be hard telling a family that they can only recover "x" amount of money for the loss of their loved one, if that's all the coverage that there is.
We try to do our due diligence and try to find as much coverage as we can, and go after the person responsible for the loss of life. If that's what our client wants to do, we try to do everything we can to get a good result for our clients.
Economists are Utilized as Expert Witnesses to Prove Pecuniary Losses in Wrongful Death Claims
Interviewer: What sort of experts, or witnesses, could be utilized in a case?
Kevin Roach: A lot of times you'll have to retain, for wrongful death suits, you'll have to retain an economist to prove up the pecuniary loss, loss of income. Basically the economist will look at what the person's earning ability was, what their life expectancy was, what they would've earned over their lifetime. That's a really important piece of evidence to have;a lot of times that's the lion share of your damages is proving up those pecuniary losses.