Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Utah?

In Utah, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the personal representative (sometimes called an executor) of the decedent’s estate or one of the heirs:

  • If there is a surviving spouse, they will usually file the claim.
  • If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s children (including adopted children) may file a claim.
  • Surviving parents (including adoptive parents) sometimes file a claim if the decedent wasn’t survived by a spouse or children.
  • Stepchildren might have a claim only if they are minors and the deceased was financially supporting them.
  • If none of the above relatives survived the decedent, other blood relatives may have a claim.

If you have questions or concerns about whether you’re eligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, a wrongful death lawyer can help you find answers.

How Do You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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Before beginning the process, your lawyer will review the circumstances of the death and examine any evidence. In some cases, we may conduct our own investigation to clarify some of this information or learn more about what happened.

The reason we take these steps is to determine if we have enough evidence of negligence to successfully argue your case.

Here are the elements of negligence that we look for when reviewing a potential wrongful death:

  • Did the defendant have a duty of care toward the victim? This depends on the circumstances of the death, but generally speaking, people are expected to put forth a reasonable effort to avoid hurting others. For instance, if you’re operating a boat on one of Utah’s lakes, you have a duty to follow safe boating guidelines and take reasonable precautions to avoid colliding with other boaters, swimmers, waterskiers, etc.
  • Did the defendant breach their duty of care? Once we’ve established the duty of care, we’ll look for evidence of failure. In our boating example, we might consider if the boater ignored commonsense safety measures like watching where they were going when driving the boat. Were they checking their phone instead of keeping an eye out for others on the lake? If so, they might have breached the duty of care.
  • Did the breached duty of care lead to the death in question? In this crucial part of our investigation, we must connect the first two points with the death. Showing that the defendant drove their boat while distracted isn’t enough; we need to demonstrate how the act of texting while boating caused the death.
  • Did the plaintiff suffer damages as a result? Once we’ve established that the defendant’s breached duty of care resulted in your loved one’s death, it is usually not difficult to show that you suffered damages. For economic damages, we may use invoices or bills to show final medical and burial expenses, tax returns to indicate a loss of income from the deceased, and other financial losses. You can also seek non-economic damages for your own pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, and more.

Once we establish that there is enough evidence to meet the above criteria, we may continue investigating your claim with the goal of collecting as much evidence as possible to support your case.

Next, we’ll prepare what’s called a complaint. This is a document explaining the details of your case, how the defendant (the party you’re suing) negligently caused the death, and the damages you’re seeking.

Your attorney will review the information in the complaint with you and then file it with the appropriate court, at which point the other party will have a period of time in which to respond (usually 21 to 30 days, depending on the defendant’s location).

What Happens Next in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Utah?

The next few months are usually filled with filing or responding to motions in pre-trial proceedings. The defendant will often ask the court to dismiss your claim on various grounds, and we will argue against a dismissal.

In most cases, attempts to get the case dismissed are unsuccessful, and eventually, we reach the discovery phase, where both parties exchange evidence. If the other party hasn’t made an effort to negotiate a deal already, they may do so after seeing the kind of evidence we have.

If we can’t reach an agreement, we’ll eventually argue your case in a trial. However, most cases end in a settlement before then.

We work hard to prepare and build a solid case to present in a trial if necessary, and this is also helpful in the negotiation process. In many situations, the defendant doesn’t want to potentially risk receiving a judgment for an even larger amount of money in a trial, and they will agree to a reasonable amount for damages.

Does That Mean You Don’t Have to Testify in a Trial?

If your case settles out of court, then there is no need for you to testify. If you go to trial, it will be up to you whether you want to take the stand or not, but we often encourage it.

Sometimes, the best way for the jury to understand your story is to hear it directly from you. In the event that you decide to testify, we will provide all the support you need to prepare.

In some cases, we may ask you to give a deposition, which is a sworn testimony given outside of court, usually in the discovery phase. Generally, the only people present are the person being deposed, attorneys for both sides, an official who administers oaths, and sometimes a stenographer.

If you were present for the incident that caused your family member’s death, we may ask you to give testimony on those events in a deposition. On the other hand, if you don’t have any direct knowledge related to the death or how it occurred, it’s unlikely you will be deposed.

How Long Does It Take to Settle a Wrongful Death Claim?

We’d love to give you an exact answer, but it’s highly variable. Most cases take at least a year, although a few may settle earlier than that.

Some cases can take two or three years to reach a resolution. We’ll do our best to complete the process as quickly as possible, but often, the other side slows the process down.

If they are willing to negotiate and eager to settle things, we may be able to reach an agreement more quickly, but if they are stubborn about certain damages or not paying above a particular amount, the process is more time-consuming.

We know that people often ask this question because their loved one’s passing has left them with financial difficulties. You might be drowning in bills for final medical expenses or burial costs, while at the same time, you may have lost some or all of your family’s income.

There could be bill collectors harassing you or threatening to put you into collections. 

If you’re dealing with these issues, please let us know. While we can’t force the other party to pay your claim immediately, we may be able to help in other ways.

Bill collectors will often back off after getting a letter from your lawyer. They don’t want to talk to lawyers because we’re familiar with their high-pressure tactics, and we don’t respond to them.

Additionally, once we start asking our clients questions about their creditors, we sometimes learn these bill collectors have committed multiple violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

For example, they might be calling late at night or more than seven times in a seven-day period.

Most creditors understand that we know how to report these violations to the proper authorities, and they would rather avoid the legal headaches that might follow if they continue pestering you. As a result, they might agree to set up a payment plan you can afford or accept that they will be paid once your case is settled.

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Utah allows two years from the date of the death to file a claim, but we recommend contacting a lawyer as soon as possible. Remember that we need time to investigate and collect evidence before we file the claim.

How Can You Get Help With Your Wrongful Death Claim in Utah?

If you have questions or concerns, or if you wonder whether your loved one’s death was wrongful or simply an accident, please contact Valley Law Accident and Injury Lawyers for a free, confidential consultation. We’ll review the details of the death, answer your questions, and lay out your options should you wish to move forward.

If we take your case, you won’t owe us anything until we win or settle it, so there’s no need to worry about upfront fees.

Valley Law was founded by attorney Brigham Richards, who is dedicated to helping injured people and their families get justice. He believes responsibility is key to any successful law practice and works tirelessly to ensure his clients get the help they need.

Mr. Richards is also fluent in English and Spanish. Work with his expert team of attorneys at Valley Law by calling 801-810-9999 today.

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