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How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?

Posted on September 12, 2023

When an individual loses their life due to the negligent actions of others, their family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court to recover compensation. However, these types of claims are not something individuals deal with on a regular basis, and family members may be confused about how long this process will take. Here, we want to discuss the various factors that can affect the length of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Time Limit for Filing the Claim

One of the most important aspects of a wrongful death claim is ensuring the case gets filed on time. In Illinois, the wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from the date of the person’s death. However, if an individual loses their life as a result of “violent intentional conduct,” then the lawsuit must be filed within five years from the date of death.

Initial Negotiations

There may be some settlement talks and negotiations before a lawsuit even gets filed. In many cases, an insurance claim is filed before a lawsuit. We strongly encourage you to work with an attorney at every step of the way, even if you do not anticipate filing a lawsuit. Often, insurance carriers or at-fault parties refuse to offer a fair settlement, and they may try to delay the negotiations as long as possible to try to run out the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit.

Initial negotiations could take weeks or months, or possibly even more than a year. However, delaying the filing of a lawsuit could be detrimental.

The Discovery Process and Evidence

After a lawsuit gets filed in civil court, the discovery process starts. During this phase, attorneys for both sides will exchange all evidence and information related to the case. Attorneys may also take depositions of witnesses and those who will likely testify at trial.

The discovery process could last months or more than a year. Often, negotiations continue during this phase, particularly if additional evidence comes to light to push one side or the other toward a settlement or towards dropping the case.

Possible Mediation

Both sides may be asked to go through mediation before the trial gets scheduled. During the mediation phase, a third-party neutral mediator hears information and evidence from both sides. This is a more informal hearing, and the results of the mediation are not binding if an agreement cannot be reached. If an agreement is reached during the mediation process, then the case is over.

Going to Trial

In the event the parties involved cannot reach an agreement, the case will have to go forward to a jury trial. It could take years after a person’s death for a case to finally reach the trial phase.

As you are beginning the stages of planning a wrongful death claim, we encourage you to establish strong communication with your attorney. Your attorney is your advocate throughout this entire process, and they can help you or the deceased’s personal representative make the best decisions about moving forward with the claim.

Importantly, an attorney will likely be able to help you understand the time frame surrounding each part of the wrongful death claim.