Putting The Family First In Seeking Justice For The Loss Of A Loved One

A Wrongful Death Claim

A wrongful death case is a legal claim against another person or business whose careless behavior resulted in someone's death.

Not every accidental death is a valid Oregon wrongful death case. We meet with surviving family members to discuss the option of a wrongful death claim, and the steps needed to move forward should a valid claim exists.

When to Act

Although Oregon law allows several months for a surviving family member to pursue a wrongful death claim, early investigation may be critical to proving legal responsibility.  This is obviously difficult when the the grief of loss is fresh.  Our firm has successfully handled these cases, sometimes working closely with expert witnesses, including economists, toxicologists, and even pathologists to prove the case.  Many times, experts require an early look at the evidence to provide an opinion.

What to Prove

To make a claim for wrongful death in Oregon, you must show that another person or a business was careless (negligent), and that the careless behavior is the reason the your family member died.  For example, a drunk driver, a trucking company that fails to take care of its equipment, or another contractor on a work site that creates a hazard for a worker are all potential parties in an Oregon wrongful death claim.

Examples of Wrongful Death Cases

Some other examples wrongful death cases include the:

  • Fatal car or truck collisions;
  • Medical malpractice or negligence;
  • Dangerous drugs;
  • Workplace accidents;
  • Defective products.

Our firm concentrates helping surviving family members with wrongful death claims involving truck and car collisions and workplace injuries. In cases involving defective products or medical negligence, we will work with other attorneys that routinely handle these cases at no extra cost to our client, or find the best attorney to handle the case to get the best results possible.  This includes situations where our surviving family member is in Oregon or Washington, but the claim is in another state.  When the court allows it, we will work with a local attorney, again with the goal of getting the best result possible for our client.

Like other negligence claims in Oregon, injured parties and surviving family members must follow the laws of comparative fault. In Oregon, if the deceased is more than 50% at fault in causing their own death, surviving family members cannot recover any compensation. If the deceased person was less than 50% at fault in causing their own death, any compensation is reduced by the relative percentage of the deceased person's fault.

Insurance companies consider comparative fault in evaluating, defending, or negotiating a case. If the case does not resolve by settlement, then a jury determines the relative fault of each party involved in the case.  If the surviving family member proves responsibility, the jury then determines compensation or the damages to the estate of the deceased.

What Needs To Be Done

Before a surviving family member can pursue a wrongful death case, they must file a petition with the court to open an estate and appoint a Personal Representative.  The Personal Representative is the legal representative of the estate, and pursues the wrongful death claim on behalf of the beneficiaries to the estate.  Our office will file all the required petitions to get the estate open, and notify all the potential beneficiaries of the claim.  We also contact and interview family members and friends to try as much as possible to "get to know" the lost family member and a get a sense of who this person was and why and how they were so special to the people they left behind.

To determine and prove fault and responsibility, we investigate the claim by contacting witnesses, or working with investigators.  We often seek expert opinions, depending on the facts of the case.  Examples include engineers that reconstruct how an accident occurred, and economists to determine the losses to the estate.

Sometimes, a claim must be filed in court, and this obviously a difficult but necessary journey.  We have guided clients through this difficult process before, and we offer that experience and knowledge.  Are we aggressive?  Sure, you can say that, but we prefer to describe our firm as tenacious and thorough.

The Process

A wrongful death case in Oregon is much like a personal injury case. Sometimes, the case is filed in court, and the defendant is notified of the pending lawsuit.

As the case moves forward, we request documents from the responsible party's attorneys, take depositions, prepare pleadings, and prepare our clients for depositions and other court proceedings.

Not all Oregon wrongful death claims go to trial, but if the claim goes to trial, we present evidence to the jury to prove legal responsibility or fault, and the losses the estate suffered as a result of that wrongful behavior. The other side, known as the "defendant," can also present evidence. After each side puts on their case, the trial court judge instructs the jury on how to apply the law to the evidence. The jury deliberates, and then renders their decision by completing a form known as a "verdict." If the jury decides that the other party was negligent, it will determine the amount of compensation that the defendant must pay to the family of the deceased.

In many cases, the verdict will set out different categories of compensation like the pecuniary loss to the estate, the loss of "society and companionship" to family members, burial and funeral costs, and medical expenses.

Our Approach:  We Have Been Here Before

To say we know how you feel would simply be dishonest, and worst, disrespectful, but we can say we have been here before.  We have sat across the table from grieving mothers, spouses, even children.  We know the value of listening, but also the importance of action.  This is your case, not ours, and we don't forget that part either.

When You Are Ready, We Are Here For You

When you are ready to think about pursuing a case, or at least look into whether you have a case at all, we are ready when you are to sit down, talk, and to listen.

Many clients come to us for different reasons. Sometimes, a surviving family member simply wants to know their options. Other times, surviving family members do not want to deal with insurance adjusters and paperwork. Our goal is to make sure that we document all parts of the case, and give you all the information you need to make an informed decision on how to move forward.  Contact us if you have questions, or would like to meet.

We also offer various articles, frequently asked questions, and our free consumer guide,  The Oregon Personal Injury Guide that provides helpful information about wrongful death claims.  We have also worked on cases where our client's family member suffered a fatal work injury that involves an Oregon Third Party Claim.  Check out our Navigating the Oregon Workers' Compensation book to get some basic information on these kinds of cases. 

Our consumer guides our free, there is no obligation, and your request is confidential.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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Top-rated Personal Injury Lawyer Helping Oregon and Washington Families