State or Federal Court for a Wrongful Death Claim?
When a person dies because of the negligence or willful act of another entity or person, the surviving family members may be able to bring a civil lawsuit, often through a representative of the deceased person’s estate. This type of lawsuit is called a wrongful death claim and its purpose is to recover damages for pain and suffering, lost income, care and companionship, medical and funeral expenses, etc. The rules for wrongful death claims vary from state to state, where the vast majority of wrongful death claims are made.
There are some circumstances, though, where wrongful death claims end up in federal court. Often, this is when a defendant requests that the case be moved from the state-level to the federal judicial system.
Note that most lawsuits are resolved through pre-trial settlement agreements, but there are cases that can only be resolved by going to trial.
Why it matters whether a wrongful death claim is heard in state or federal court
The first and most basic reason that it matters whether a wrongful death claim is made in federal or state court is that if the wrong court is chosen, the defendant may ask to move the claim to another court. In the worst-case scenario, a judge can dismiss a claim that is filed in the wrong jurisdiction, though the plaintiff is entitled to file the claim again in the correct jurisdiction. The major concern here is that a claim nearing its statute of limitations could come dangerously close to or pass the expiration date if there is a need to file again.
Many defense attorneys believe that federal juries will be less biased than local juries and will therefore push to have the case heard in federal court. For wrongful death defense attorneys who take on a lot of large corporate clients, they tend to prefer federal courts because they are simply more familiar with them and because they want to avoid large jury settlements from state jurists. The reason that both defense and plaintiff attorneys may prefer federal court is that it does tend to move faster than state courts, which can mean less time and money for both sides. Federal courts also have less stringent discovery rules.
What types of wrongful death cases fall under federal court jurisdiction?
There are specific circumstances where wrongful death actions should be brought in federal court, including:
- The defendant is from another state or another country
- The defendant is a police officer who is being accused of violating the decedent’s civil rights
- The defendant is a large corporation that is being accused of violating certain federal laws
Seek the help of a wrongful death attorney
If you lost a loved one due to a preventable medical error or the reckless/negligent behavior of another, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced wrongful death attorney fight for justice on your behalf. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a wrongful death lawyer. Call the most experienced practicing wrongful death attorneys Bellingham has at Tario & Associates, P.S. today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing grieving family members in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!