Wrongful death touches the lives of every American. 20%-40% of Americans who die before they turn 75 die from preventable causes such as accidents and acts of medical malpractice. That statistic accounts for hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.
If your loved one dies due to someone else’s actions, you should consider filing wrongful death claims. Yet there is no guarantee that your claim will be successful. In order to win your case, you need to have strong evidence that meets the elements for wrongful death.
What documents must you obtain to develop your wrongful death lawsuit? How can you prove someone else is to blame for your loved one’s death? How can you overcome the weaknesses in your claim?
Answer these questions and you can use wrongful death law to achieve justice for your loved one. Here is your comprehensive guide.
Medical records are the most important pieces of evidence for your case. They can show what injuries your loved one sustained and how the defendant was negligent.
Get as many documents related to your loved one’s medical treatment as possible. You can use doctor’s notes and reports from check-ups to show your loved one did not have a pre-existing condition that led to their death.
Get documents about prescriptions, test results, and surgeries. You may need to talk to the hospital in order to gather these documents.
Several events may have led to your loved one’s death. A doctor may have misdiagnosed them, and a surgeon may have performed the wrong surgery. You should file lawsuits against every individual involved in the case.
Your wrongful death attorney should understand these documents and be able to put the findings in their own words. Before you hire someone, you should schedule an appointment with them and give them documents. Ask them what they think happened and how they would explain difficult concepts to the jury.
You have two years to file your wrongful death claim. Take your time to gather evidence and spend time recovering from your loss.
A medical examiner performs an autopsy to determine someone’s cause of death. Their autopsy report will go into detail about each organ, and the examiner will offer their thoughts on how each one may have contributed to the death. Many examiners write in plain English, making their documents easy to understand.
This makes an autopsy report an essential document to prove wrongful death. You can point to what led to your loved one’s death and exclude other potential causes.
Some states require an autopsy for individuals who die from homicide or an unexpected cause. But you can schedule an autopsy after any death, including accidents or deaths from apparent old age.
Try to schedule one as soon as possible. You can receive the report within a few days and give it to your attorney.
If you have cultural or religious concerns about an autopsy, you can have your loved one’s body scanned. A medical examiner will use a CT scan to survey the organs without making any incisions. They can also capture images that you can use as part of your case.
A death certificate describes the cause of death and indicates when and where your loved one died. The coroner or medical examiner can verify the death certificate, making it a good piece of evidence to corroborate the autopsy report. You can also use the death certificate to close your loved one’s accounts.
The person in charge of your loved one’s remains will prepare and file a death certificate. They may gather information from the doctor in charge of your loved one or a medical examiner. The document will then go to the city or county clerk’s office, where you can obtain it.
Keep in mind that a death certificate may contain inaccurate details. Your loved one’s doctor may tell the person filing the certificate a different cause of death to deflect blame from themselves. Prioritize medical documents that go into detail about your loved one’s injury over the certificate.
A police report describes the circumstances of an accident, murder, or another event reported to the police. It will contain details about people who saw the event and what the first responders observed. This makes it a good document to obtain if you don’t know who the witnesses to your loved one’s death were.
Each law enforcement agency has its own protocols for writing and obtaining police reports. You may need to get multiple documents in order to understand the police investigation.
Most police stations require you to make a visit in order to obtain a copy of the report. Read your police department’s policies online so you know what you need to do.
Most acts of medical malpractice do not result in police reports. The police will only write a report after a crime has been reported to them, so some accidents may not create reports as well.
Eyewitnesses to your loved one’s accident can provide many relevant details. They can describe what your loved one and the defendant were doing. They can mention any details that may have contributed to the accident, like weather and road conditions.
Even someone who did not see the accident directly can be helpful. They can tell you what the defendant was doing before the event. They may have seen the defendant drinking alcohol or driving recklessly.
Some eyewitnesses may approach you or a family member with their testimonies. Ask if you can record their testimonies on tape or take notes of them.
You can find other eyewitnesses through the police report. If you’re struggling to find people, you can ask your lawyer to investigate. They can canvass local businesses and homes and see if anyone has observed anything.
Eyewitness testimonies are not perfect. Memories can fade over time, and some people may not understand what they saw. Use testimonies that you can corroborate with other pieces of evidence.
Expert Witness Statements
Expert witnesses can talk about complicated information during the trial. You can get a doctor to describe medical procedures that are hard to understand. If your loved one died in a car accident, you can hire a mechanic to discuss the vehicles involved in the crash.
Your attorney may find expert witnesses during their investigation of the case. They can depose them or ask them to file documents strengthening your case. You can also hire someone to explain things to you if you’re having trouble understanding concepts.
The rules of evidence impose limitations on expert witnesses. Other evidence in the case must corroborate what the witness is saying. Your expert cannot discuss legal matters like proximate cause or fault.
You do not need to hire expert witnesses if the facts in your case seem clear. If you are preparing to settle with the defendant, you can focus your time on finding other pieces of evidence.
Photographs and Videos
Photographs and videos can provide clearer details than eyewitness testimonies. You can see for yourself what happened to your loved one and if anything else contributed to their wrongful death.
Some police reports contain photographs of the accident scene or crime scene. You can also obtain photographs and videos from eyewitnesses.
You or your lawyer may need to contact businesses to obtain their surveillance footage. To get footage from traffic cameras or CCTV technology, you may need to contact the local government.
Keep in mind that photographs and videos can be misleading. Something may have happened before the camera started and after it stopped. You need to use other pieces of evidence to create a timeline for your claim.
Recordings are best when you have timestamps on them. If your photos don’t have timestamps, look at your images’ EXIF data.
The EXIF format can record when and where your photographs were made. Talk to a camera technician about how you can convert your files. If the photos were made on a smartphone, you can look at the phone’s metadata.
Recordings of 911 Calls
Recordings of 911 calls can also help with your case. They can document when an accident or death occurred and who the first responders were. If the defendant made the call, they may have said something that contradicts their later statements.
You can obtain 911 calls from your local police station. Try to get all of the calls related to your case, including ones from eyewitnesses.
As with videos, you should keep in mind that 911 calls only supply limited information. Someone may have arrived at the scene after the wrongful death took place. Try to use 911 calls to build a timeline for yourself, and use more authoritative evidence to close gaps.
You can use many different pieces of physical evidence. If your loved one was in a car accident, you can use their car. You can point out dents, scratches, and other features that show how an accident took place.
You can also use items found on the road. Scorch marks and tire tracks can show how your loved one’s car moved before and during the accident. Items that fell out of their pockets can also show where they went and how they sustained injuries.
Foreign objects in your loved one’s body can show how your loved one died. A surgeon may have implanted a stent in the wrong place. A surgical tool may have broken off and caused organ damage or internal bleeding.
Some pieces of evidence are clear while others require explanation. You can hire an expert witness to explain the significance of a skid mark or an improper stent.
A wrongful death case is a civil case. If you win the case, you claim monetary damages from the defendant. This means that you must attach your loved one’s death to a dollar figure.
An easy way to do this is to use expense documents. You can use insurance forms, hospital bills, and receipts from your loved one’s doctor to show how much money you spent on your loved one’s treatment.
You can claim your loved one’s lost earnings. If they were in the hospital for a long period of time, you can use pay stubs and tax returns to show how much money they lost while they were alive. You can then use those documents to estimate how much money they would have earned.
If your loved one’s property was damaged, you can receive money that covers the cost of the damages. You can get an estimate from a car repair shop about how much your loved one’s car was worth. You can also use receipts to claim the money for their clothes, accessories, and other personal items.
It is possible to obtain money for your pain and suffering, but it is difficult. If you have received therapy since your loved one’s death, you can use your own medical bills and ask for the cost of your therapy.
Georgia allows only the immediate family members of the deceased to file a wrongful death claim. This means that business associates and clients of your loved one cannot file a claim, even if they lost money from the death.
What You Need to Prove Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims require medical evidence, death certificates, and financial evidence. You can gather documents with the help of a wrongful death lawyer and investigators.
To flesh out your case, you can use eyewitness testimonies, videotapes, and physical evidence. These pieces of evidence can be selective, so make sure your medical documents back them up. Try creating a timeline that outlines how each action from the defendant led to your loved one’s death.
The best claims have the best lawyers to argue them. Wells and McElwee, P.C. serves Athens residents and their families. Contact us today.