Utah Wrongful Death Lawyers
The pain, confusion, and trauma that come after a loved one is taken from us can be overwhelming—especially if their death is caused by another’s carelessness or negligence. Let our Utah wrongful death lawyers help you with your wrongful death claim.
While nothing can compensate for the loss of a loved one, our Utah wrongful death lawyers can help you hold those responsible accountable for their actions and get the financial compensation you need to begin rebuilding your life.
Start Your Claim for a Fair Wrongful Death Settlement
A fatal accident creates overwhelming feelings and reactions. Some help us heal; others hold us back. When you’re still in the thick of the trauma, it’s important not to move too quickly. On the one hand, the 2-year statute of limitations is not as long as it sounds. It is good to take action! But on the other hand, there are many pitfalls if you’re unprepared. Filing a claim must not be procrastinated, but don’t rush too quickly, either.
3 Reasons Not to Rush After a Fatal Accident
- You don’t know what you’re rushing into. A wrongful death claim is a complicated process. If you don’t know the ropes, it’s like a maze: you know that you need to go in a certain direction to get from Point A to Point B but don’t know which turns to take in order to get there as quickly as possible. After a fatal accident, you might know that you need to obtain a death certificate, contact your insurance company, and file a claim. But there are many steps and judgments to make to ultimately receive a fair settlement. Start the process promptly, but don’t run so fast that you trip over your own feet.
- You’ll make mistakes. By rushing through your wrongful death claim, you’re unlikely to attain your objective quickly. Plus, you may actually end up damaging your case and chances for suitable compensation if you make a wrong move. Making a claim is a science and, as such, requires concrete evidence to back every statement. It is also an art that requires skillful negotiations and informed case presentation. A settlement made too early will almost certainly not account for all expenses. A recorded statement for the wrongdoer’s insurance company could serve to incriminate you later. An improperly filed claim could be denied completely. Wrongful death is a delicate situation. The claim value is typically high. For this reason, the claimant can expect to meet fierce opposition. The precision needed to succeed cannot be achieved in a hurry.
- You have other things to do. The wrongful death process can be time-consuming under the best of circumstances. It depends upon the workings of a bureaucratic machine, not just the speed of the claimant. Even the wait can be emotionally taxing if there is an emotional investment in speed.
Instead of rushing into a settlement, the survivors of a wrongful death should be allowed to focus on their own psychiatric recovery. If your wrongful death case is like most, it will run smoothly with an attorney to represent your interests. Grief, stress, and legal inexperience do not have to sabotage your claim if you have the right advocates for wrongful death on your side.
To learn more about your options following a wrongful death in Utah, call the compassionate attorneys at Christensen & Hymas for a free initial consultation at (801) 506-0800.
Talking to Your Own Insurance Company About Wrongful Death
Once you have a timeline of what happened and your documentation in order, it’s time to give your insurance company a call to inform them of your claim. But keep one thing in mind – insurance companies are not your friend. You may think that they’re there to help you. But the cold, hard truth is that they are a business that, like any business, is in business to make money.
The less they pay, the more they profit. This does not make them criminal or shady, but it means that you should conduct yourself carefully when making a claim. Luckily, you are not at the mercy of your insurance company. If you act prudently and you know your rights, you should be treated fairly. In addition to the information here, we’ve also written a resource guide on how to file an insurance claim. You should consult with legal counsel because each case is different.
Things to Do When Dealing with Your Insurance Company
- Beware of “juggling.” The practice of “juggling” is assigning the separate tasks of dealing with a claim to multiple agents in order to put you on a wild goose chase to get anything done. Hopefully, this is not a practice employed by your insurance provider; however, you should be prepared.
- Go above your agent’s head when necessary. If you’re not getting anywhere, talking to your agent’s superiors might spur a change in behavior. Although insurance companies are not technically on your side, they are businesses whose success depends in part on customer satisfaction. If this fails, you can also go to your state’s insurance department to report mistreatment.
- Have your documentation in order. You want to have as much documentation on hand as possible before you begin conferring with your insurance providers. Keep a list of the names and contact information of the drivers, witnesses, and emergency respondents involved in the accident, the make and model of the vehicles involved, injuries, damages, and objective facts on hand. This will make your calls go more smoothly and reduce the risks of misspeaking.
- Keep yourself in check. Watch what you say: The most casual statement can be used against you. Stick to the facts of the case without straying from relevant information or offering commentary.
- Get your own damage estimates. Whether to prepare for a denial of your claim or to determine whether the settlement you are being offered is adequate for your needs, you should know how much you should recover financially from a wrongful death.
- Get an attorney. Because a wrongful death obliges an insurance company to pay a significant sum to the insured, you need a wrongful death attorney to negotiate directly. This saves you the trouble of working through the knots on your own and increases your chances of getting a better settlement.
Things Not to Do When Dealing with Your Insurance Company
- Give a recorded statement. Unless you’re required, you should avoid making a statement at all costs— anything you say in a recorded statement can be used against you. Even when a reasonable person could see what you meant, in a wrongful death case, minutiae matter. When you must give a recorded statement, speak to an attorney first—they can help you avoid the pitfalls of recorded statements.
- Sign a medical release. Your medical records are private. They should be kept that way. If you release them to an insurance company, they can use unrelated events of a person’s medical history to downplay the seriousness of their injuries or the degree to which the accident contributed to their harm. All your insurance company needs to know is what harm was sustained because of the accident. Giving them extra information only leaves them with loopholes.
- Use the wrong buzzwords. Insure.com warns against using words like “experimental,” “investigational,” and “clinical trial” in reference to medical treatment. They may come across as unnecessary luxury expenses and may not be covered on that basis. “In my opinion” is also a forbidden phrase. When filing a claim, you should state only objective facts and state them with certainty. Lastly, “sorry” should be avoided at all costs.
- Incriminate yourself. Even a reflexive apology when offering condolences can be read as admissions of fault. Giving any hint that you (or the deceased) were even partially at fault or could have prevented the accident by behaving differently is a serious mistake. Don’t undermine your own case by implying fault or offering apologies.
- Offer guesstimates. If you’re not sure, don’t guess. Say that you don’t know or that you will get back to them. Don’t give information that could be incorrect. If the information you give them is wrong, an insurance company could deny your claim.
- Make small talk. Small talk is one way for insurance agents to make their clients feel comfortable enough to slip up. While building a rapport with your insurer is important, this should not be done when you are in the midst of a high-cost claims process. Stay on-topic.
- Settle right away. At the beginning of the claims process, you may or may not know just how much the accident costs. You can make projections based on the information you have, but more may arise later. If your insurance company offers you a settlement quickly, there is probably more to your case than meets the eye. Weigh your options, look at your case from every angle, and talk to a wrongful death attorney. Whatever you do, don’t make any snap decisions.
Contact Our Attorneys for Help With Your Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases are complex. Settlement amounts are often high because of the extreme devastation that has occurred. Funeral expenses are high, laws surrounding these claims are complex, and reputations are on the line.
A wrongful death places more than a monetary burden on the shoulders of the defendant and their insurance provider. Cases can be high conflict. When conditions become truly distressing, an experienced legal representative is poised to negotiate directly with insurance companies. They can remove much of the hardship of a wrongful death case.
4 Signs that You Should Retain a Wrongful Death Attorney
You should retain a wrongful death attorney if any of the following signs are present:
- The fatal accident involved an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Approximately 8% of Utah drivers are uninsured, according to the Insurance Information Institute. This creates the possibility that anyone harmed by their negligence will face serious difficulties in obtaining enough compensation for recovery. The victims of an uninsured or underinsured motorist accident may be led to believe that their chances for recovery are slim, but this often is not the case. When an insurer insists that there is no other option, an attorney can tell you whether this is really so, and they can fight for your rights.
- The deceased accrued substantial medical expenses before death. The greater the cost of a fatal accident, the more an insurance company will hunt for ways to whittle down its settlement offer. They may attempt to settle quickly before the dust has settled and the true price of the accident is clear. If you feel you are being rushed through a settlement, there’s probably more to it than meets the eye.
- There is a dispute over fault. Finger-pointing is an uncanny way of slowing down the settlement process—no one wants to make an offer when the wind could change. An experienced lawyer for wrongful death who knows how to interpret the evidence and argue convincingly for their client can tip the scales in favor of survivors when negotiations come to a standstill.
- Your claim is being held up. When the bills start pouring in, few things are more frustrating than a snail’s-pace claim. If your insurance adjuster takes so long to respond that you have concerns about the statute of limitations expiring, an experienced legal team can determine whether something is afoot.
Delaying a claim is not an uncommon way for insurance companies to short their clients; don’t let it happen to you. Whether your experiences dealing with insurance providers have convinced you that you need legal representation or you would simply like to learn more, Christensen & Hymas grants free interviews to the survivors of wrongful deaths. To explore your options, call (801) 506-0800.
Wrongful Death Laws
Here at Christensen & Hymas, we know that some of you have lost loved ones because of the poor actions of others. We offer our condolences and our best wishes. But we also want to offer you help. Utah wrongful death laws are here to help you.
We want to make sure that you not only understand your rights but also what will be expected of you as you pursue your case. While we cannot help with specifics regarding your case unless we have agreed to take it, we want to give you free information to help you avoid making any big mistakes in an already difficult time.
What Is Legally Considered a “Wrongful Death?”
Utah law specifies that what is legally considered a wrongful death is a death caused by the “wrongful act or neglect of another.” The law says that a claim for compensation can be pursued in court by the deceased’s heirs against the party responsible (Utah Code 78B-3-105). Someone may pursue a wrongful death claim because of:
- medical malpractice (Utah Code 78B-3-403)
- illegal drugs (Utah Code 78B-3-801)
- auto accidents
- work-related accidents
- faulty products
- illegal exposure to dangerous materials
Who Can Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death lawsuit can only be pursued by legal heirs. Only one claim can be filed on behalf of all heirs (Utah Code 78B-3-106.5). Utah defines heirs as all immediate, surviving family members; this includes:
- Natural or adopted children
- Natural or adoptive parents; and
- Stepchildren who are under 18 years old and financially dependent upon the deceased person (Utah Code 78B-3-105).
Without any of these surviving relatives, then heirs include any blood relatives. The person who leads the suit is the “presumptive personal representative,” which falls upon a:
- Adult Child
- Parent (Utah Code 78B-3-106.5).
The “presumptive personal representative” starts with the spouse but can move down that list as each person is disqualified by being nonexistent, incapacitated, or allegedly responsible for the death of the deceased individual. The family can also choose their own personal representative. A guardian of the deceased person may pursue a claim, but only for the benefit of the heirs, not for their personal benefit (Moreno v. Board of Education). Also, parents may pursue a claim on behalf of their unborn child (Carranza v. United States).
What Time Limits Should I Know Regarding Wrongful Death Claims?
The heirs must file the wrongful death claim within two years of the death (Utah Code 78B-2-304) or one year if they file against the government (Utah Code 63G-7-402). Each case is different, but all have a limitation on how long the family has to file a claim against the wrongdoer (Jensen v. IHC Hospitals).
The representative must wait 45 days until they can present a claim by affidavit to the insurance company for “up to $25,000 for liability and uninsured motorist (UM) claims and $10,000 for underinsured motorist (UIM) claims.” However, claims for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits do not have to wait 45 days. Pursuing a wrongful death case does not affect any other case an heir might have on their own behalf against the wrongdoer (Utah Code 78B-3-106.5).
If either the person injured or the person responsible for the injury dies before the settlement of any claims, the case does not die. It continues with representatives of the deceased person. They can also pursue damages for personal injury to the deceased before the death. The heirs can then pursue damages against the wrongdoer for the injuries sustained before death (Utah Code 78B-3-107).
However, if the injured person dies six months after the accident, then the heirs can only seek payment for damages indirectly and uniquely caused by the accident, not directly, unless they have given written notice before the six months elapses. Further, if before the injured person dies, they had settled a claim or failed to file it before the statute of limitations passed, then the heirs cannot file a wrongful death claim unless certain exceptions apply (see Jensen v. IHC Hospitals & Bybee v. Abdulla).
What Specifics Should I Know About How a Wrongful Death Case Is Handled?
You should know that wrongful death case handling requires the presentation of evidence and following proper legal procedure. There must be more evidence than the testimony of the injured person prior to his or her death (Utah Code 78B-3-107). Typically, there are four things that the heirs must prove:
- the death of their loved one
- a ‘wrongful act, neglect or default of the defendant’ that caused the deceased’s death
- the survival of heirs and the appointment of a personal representative for the deceased
Damages awarded to the heirs are based on several factors about the deceased:
- Expectation of life
- Business capacity
- Ability and disposition to earn money
The court will not consider emotional grief or sorrow.
How Is a Wrongful Death Settlement Distributed?
Upon settlement of a wrongful death claim, money will be distributed proportionately to each heir based upon the loss of the following factors:
- Financial support
- Affection, counsel, and advice
- Care and solicitude for the welfare of the family
- Comfort and pleasure the family would have received (Oxendine v. Overturf, et al.)
Distribution is based upon the heir’s standing at the time of death. It does not consider changes that occur later, including remarriage. The money goes directly to the heirs and only passes through the hands of the personal representative. The estate does not participate in this process, and the personal representative cannot distribute the money like the rest of the estate.
If a person that qualifies to be an heir is not included in the distribution of the settlement, the lawyer representing the heirs may be liable. The heir may obtain counsel and pursue a separate claim. This is the only exception to the rule that all heirs must pursue their claims in one case. Also, if any of the heirs are under 18, then no more than 50% of any benefits can be distributed until a court appoints a representative to handle the child’s benefits (Utah Code 78B-3-106.5).
What Can I Hope To Recover for Wrongful Death?
While no amount of money can bring back your loved one or ease the pain, you are entitled to recover some damages, including:
- Medical and funeral expenses
- Loss of anticipated earnings
- Pain and suffering of the surviving family members
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of medical benefits
- Loss of pension benefits
- Punitive damages
According to the Utah Constitution, there is no limitation on the amount of money that can be recovered unless specified by Utah law (Article 15, Section 5).
How Can I Deal With All Financial and Legal Problems From Wrongful Death?
When you have financial and legal problems from wrongful death, our attorneys are here to help. Seeking recovery for the loss of your loved one can become complicated and lengthy. We at Christensen & Hymas want to help make it easier for you. See how we have helped other people who have lost loved ones, and contact us to learn how we can help you pursue your legal claim.
Wrongful Death Statistics
Wrongful death statistics can shed light on the problem of death caused by the acts of others and the importance of a legal remedy for the families of victims.
Most Common Types of Wrongful Death
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic accidents account for more than 32,367 deaths each year. That’s 89 fatalities per day or one every 16 minutes.
- Thirty-seven percent of victims were in small passenger vehicles; 29% were in small trucks, 14% were on motorcycles, and 14% were pedestrians. Thirty-one percent of drivers involved in fatal accidents were over the legal limit at the time of the accident, meaning that an alcohol-impaired accident happens once every 53 minutes. In Utah, there are approximately 240 car accident deaths per year; 22% of them involved intoxicated drivers.
- According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 4,693 fatal work accidents in 2011; 24% of these were transportation-related. 10% were workplace homicides.
- According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 17% (over 700) of work fatalities were construction-related.
Slip, Trip, and Fall Accidents
- Serious slip, trip, and fall injuries are startlingly common occurrences, in spite of the common assumption that they are rarely serious. Approximately 25,000 deaths occur by fall in the United States each year. Many of the worst fall injuries are suffered by construction workers and others whose occupations involve working with dangerous equipment in precarious conditions.
- As many as 200,000 people are killed by medical malpractice each year. When medical malpractice causes a death, it may qualify as a wrongful death claim.
- According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, there are approximately 13,000 murders in the United States each year. Utah has about 50 each year. While murder is a criminal charge, civil charges may also be brought against the perpetrator.
Wrongful Death Resources
Wrongful death resources may assist you in your time of need. Although practical advice cannot take away the pain of bereavement, it can move the details along more quickly and help the victim’s family. It is our hope that anyone suffering in the wake of wrongful death will benefit from one of the following pages:
How to Find Wrongful Death Laws
Utah wrongful death law is complex. United States citizens looking for their state’s wrongful death laws can find them summarized nicely here—unless they live in Utah, which is the only state not covered in the US Legal database. For those with interest in pouring over the written law, Utah Judicial Code Title 78B, Sections 2-5 contain Utah’s wrongful death law. The Governmental Immunity Act and Workers’ Compensation Act encompass more specific information on wrongful death in certain contexts.
How to Find the Proper Forms
UTCourts.gov has forms and resources for wrongful death claims. Some forms are available online; other forms will be provided by the insurance company. Accuracy with forms and legal filings is extremely important in any wrongful death claim. But the process doesn’t have to be frustrating or confusing. An experienced attorney can help you handle your claim efficiently and precisely.
Many personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations to prospective clients, who often leave with valuable insights even if they don’t leave with a lawyer. To find out whether your situation calls for a lawyer, you can call Christensen & Hymas at (801) 506-0800.
How to Plan a Funeral
Funeral planning is difficult to think about, let alone execute. The sheer number of details to attend to is intimidating, and a heavy spirit impedes timely progress. You can visit Shared Sorrow’s time-of-loss checklist to find what must be done as well as helpful suggestions and cost estimates. Cost estimates can be determined by online funeral cost calculators. If these resources do not sufficiently ease the burden, professional funeral planners may be of service.
How to Obtain a Death Certificate
A death certificate is needed for the handling of the estate and accessing insurance. The death certificate is needed to execute the victim’s last will and testament and begin the wrongful death claim.
How to Find Grief Support Groups
Grief support groups provide families the opportunity to make connections with others in difficult circumstances. You can remember your loved one, share emotions of loss and share coping skills. Judi’s House.org offers a list of grieving centers throughout Utah to provide free support for those individuals and families who need support and a chance to express the most.
Wrongful Death Claims FAQs
Our Utah wrongful death attorneys want you to be familiar with wrongful death and the claims process. Here are answers to your wrongful death frequently asked questions from our Utah personal injury attorney.
Who qualifies as an heir under Utah wrongful death laws?
According to Utah Code Section 78B-3-105, the spouse, children, parents (whether biological or adoptive), and dependent stepchildren of the decedent may file a wrongful death claim in Utah. Other surviving blood relatives may file in the unlikely event that there are no other living relatives. Each heir can have a claim, but only one lawsuit can be brought on behalf of all legal heirs.
When can I file a wrongful death claim in Utah?
With the exception of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits, which can be claimed at any time, you must wait 45 days to claim relief for wrongful death. The statute of limitations for wrongful death in Utah is 2 years. However, there are times when extensions may be granted. An example is when the claimant is not of legal age when the death occurs or when it could not reasonably have been discovered that the death was caused by negligence until after the fact.
If you are not sure whether your case warrants an extension, you only have to gain by consulting with a personal injury attorney for wrongful death. It is also important to note that in some circumstances, like in cases involving government agencies or medical malpractice, a formal notice of claim must be filed with the proper agency within 1 year.
How do I begin a Utah wrongful death claim?
To start your claim, you notify your insurer. Then, gather all the necessary documentation — death certificate, any evidence of negligence, etc. In some cases, there may be a personal injury claim already in motion that you will be able to join. Otherwise, you and any other heirs can start the claim. The compensation award will be shared among the heirs, so filing jointly could be beneficial.
What types of damages can I be compensated for in wrongful death?
The damages you can be compensated for in wrongful death include medical costs, lost wages and/or earning capacity, pain and suffering, attorney fees, and any costs that are the direct consequence of the wrongful death. You may claim compensation for all categories that apply. The amount of a claim may vary.
Can heirs file their wrongful death claims separately?
Yes, heirs can file their wrongful death claims separately. But there is little reason for them to do so. The presumptive personal representative represents the interests of all the decedent’s heirs. The allotment of damages is not likely to favor the person who files a separate claim. Even minor heirs who cannot legally file a claim may be included in joint claims. However, the court approves the distribution of proceeds and appoints a conservator for the minor heirs. No more than 50% of the award may be disseminated.
Who can I hold responsible for wrongful death?
Depending on the situation, many parties can be held responsible for wrongful death. In a car accident, another driver may be held to account for reckless driving, the city for failure to maintain the road or an automobile manufacturer for a faulty product. In workplace accidents, an employer may be liable. Plus, your own insurance coverage may be sufficient to cover accident costs. Your Utah wrongful death lawyers can help you pursue all sources of compensation.
How is the amount of compensation calculated in a wrongful death case?
The compensation to be awarded in a wrongful death case varies from case to case. The family totals the allowable categories of losses, including final medical bills, lost financial and emotional contributions to the family, and pain and suffering. There may also be other factors that impact the value of the case, like the strength of the legal case and the nature of the wrongful conduct that resulted in the accident. The best way to find how much you can expect from a wrongful death claim is to talk to a personal injury attorney.
Is the amount of compensation awarded for wrongful death on public record?
Whether the amount of compensation awarded for wrongful death is public record depends on how the claim is resolved. If the claim is settled or arbitrated, the amount awarded for compensation can remain private. However, if the case goes to court and is settled by litigation, it becomes part of the state record.
What happens if the wrongdoer dies during the course of a wrongful death claim?
The claim survives if the wrongdoer dies during the course of a wrongful death claim. Personal representatives of either the wrongdoer or the victims may continue the case between estates. The victims of wrongful death are not deprived of compensation by the death of the at-fault party.
Is there a difference between murder and wrongful death?
Yes, there are differences between murder and wrongful death, although the two sometimes share some common ground. A murder is a criminal act, whereas death caused by the negligence or wrongful acts of another is not necessarily motivated by malice or greed. Civil damages may be awarded to the heirs of the decedent in either case, although negligent acts do not usually call for criminal charges unless they amount to murder or manslaughter.