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How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?

Law Office of Stephen C. Buser, Ltd.  June 5, 2024

Losing a loved one is an unimaginably painful experience, especially when their death is caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing. When faced with such a loss, families often seek justice and compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.  

Understandably, one of the pressing questions is: how long does a wrongful death lawsuit take? Every case is different, so depending on your circumstances, you may be looking at anywhere from several months to multiple years before your case is resolved.  

While that seems like a long time, it's important to remember that your loved one's justice is worth fighting for. It'll be difficult, but with the right support and guidance, you can secure the compensation and closure you deserve. 

To receive a more accurate answer regarding your case's timeline, get in touch with a reputable personal injury attorney in your area, preferably one with a solid track record of handling wrongful death cases. An experienced lawyer will have the insights and compassion to guide you through the legal process and help you pursue justice for your loved one. 

If you're in Southern Illinois or the St. Louis Metro Area, contact the Law Office of Stephen C. Buser, Ltd. in Columbia, Illinois, to get set up with a free consultation. Read on to learn about the timeline and factors influencing the duration of a wrongful death case so you can prepare yourself for the road ahead. 

Illinois Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death 

First, it's crucial to understand that wrongful death lawsuits come with a statute of limitations, which refers to the legal time limit for filing the lawsuit.  

In Illinois, this time limit is typically two years from the date of the deceased person's death. Failing to file within this timeframe could result in your case being dismissed, and you will lose the opportunity to seek justice for your loved one through a lawsuit. 

However, there can be exceptions to this rule depending on the circumstances of your case. For example, if criminal charges are being pursued against the responsible party, then you may have an extended timeframe to file your wrongful death lawsuit. 

You may be curious—why would someone need two years to file a lawsuit after their loved one's passing? The answer is that the legal process of gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and building a strong case can take time. It's essential to have an attorney by your side who can handle these tasks and keep the legal proceedings on track. 

An Overview of the Legal Process 

Once you understand the deadline you're working with, it's helpful to know what typically happens throughout the legal process of a wrongful death lawsuit: 

Initial Consultation  

The first step in filing a wrongful death lawsuit is to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney. During the initial consultation, which could take a few days or weeks to schedule, your attorney will review the details of your case, explain your options, and provide an overview of the legal process. This is the moment to ask questions and understand the potential challenges and outcomes of your case. 

Investigation and Case Evaluation  

Once you've retained an attorney, they will begin an in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding your loved one's death. This phase can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months. The process includes gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, obtaining medical records, and consulting with experts. The goal is to build a robust case that demonstrates the negligence or wrongdoing that led to the untimely death. 

Filing the Lawsuit 

After the evaluation, the next step is to file the wrongful death lawsuit with the court. This could take a few days to a couple of weeks. Your attorney will draft the necessary legal documents, known as the complaint, which outlines the facts of the case, the alleged wrongful acts, and the compensation sought. Once filed, the defendants will be officially notified of the lawsuit. 

Discovery Phase  

The discovery phase is a critical part of the legal process and can last anywhere from a few months to a year. During this time, both parties exchange information through written questions (interrogatories), requests for documents, and depositions. Each side will gather and examine evidence to support their claims and defenses.  

Mediation and Settlement Negotiations  

Before going to trial, many wrongful death cases go through mediation or settlement negotiations, which can last 1-2 months. Mediation is a structured process where both parties attempt to reach a mutually agreeable settlement with the help of a neutral third party, the mediator.  

Settlement negotiations can also occur informally between the attorneys. Successful mediation or negotiation can result in a quicker resolution without the need for a trial. 

Trial Preparation  

If mediation and negotiations do not lead to a settlement, the case will proceed to trial. Trial preparation can take a couple of months, during which your attorney will finalize their strategy, prepare witnesses, and organize evidence. This phase is crucial for ensuring that all aspects of the case are thoroughly covered and ready for presentation in court. 


The trial itself can vary significantly in length, from 1 week to multiple months, depending on the complexity of the case and the court's schedule. During the trial, both sides will present their arguments, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and submit evidence. After hearing from both parties, the judge or jury will deliberate and deliver a verdict. 

Post-Trial Motions and Appeals  

Following the trial, there may be post-trial motions and potential appeals, which can extend the overall timeline by 1 month to several years. If either party is dissatisfied with the verdict, they may file an appeal, challenging the court's decision. Appeals are complex and can prolong the final resolution of the case. 

By understanding each step and the timeframes associated with them, you can better prepare for the realities of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. While the process can be lengthy and emotionally taxing, having a skilled attorney by your side can make a significant difference in achieving justice for your loved one. 

Factors That Could Prolong the Process 

Several factors can contribute to the length of a wrongful death lawsuit, making the timeline longer than initially anticipated. Understanding these factors can help you and your attorney prepare for potential delays: 

  1. Complexity of the case: Cases involving complicated circumstances or events may require extensive investigation and evidence collection. If the cause of death is not straightforward or involves multiple parties, the investigation phase may take longer. Expert witnesses may need to be consulted to provide testimony on technical aspects, which can further extend the duration. 

  1. Availability of evidence: The availability and accessibility of crucial evidence can significantly impact the timeline. If critical documents, such as medical records or accident reports, are missing or difficult to obtain, this can delay the discovery phase. Similarly, locating and interviewing witnesses can add additional time if they are uncooperative or hard to reach. 

  1. Court schedules: Court schedules and backlogs can also affect the timing of a wrongful death lawsuit. Courts deal with many cases, and finding available dates for hearings, depositions, and trials can be challenging. In some instances, courts may experience delays due to high caseloads or limited resources. 

  1. Negotiation and settlement attempts: The willingness of both parties to negotiate and reach a settlement can significantly influence the timeline. If the parties are open to mediation and can find common ground quickly, the case may be resolved sooner. However, if settlement negotiations are contentious and drawn out, this can prolong the process. 

  1. Changes in legal representation: Changes in legal representation during the case can cause delays. New attorneys will need time to thoroughly review the case, understand its complexities, and develop a strategy. This transition period can set the timeline back, especially if it occurs at a critical stage in the legal process. 

  1. Appeals: As mentioned earlier, appeals can prolong the overall duration of a wrongful death lawsuit. The appeal process involves filing paperwork, presenting arguments, and waiting for a decision from the appellate court. While they may add more time to the process, appeals can also lead to a more fair and favorable resolution without the need for another trial. 

By being aware of these potential factors, you and your attorney can proactively address them and work towards minimizing delays. While some aspects may be beyond control, effective communication and diligent case management can help streamline the process. Never underestimate the value of a skilled attorney.  

Contact the Law Office of Stephen C. Buser, Ltd. 

Navigating a wrongful death lawsuit can be challenging, but you don't have to do it alone. The Law Office of Stephen C. Buser, Ltd. is here to help. With extensive experience in handling wrongful death cases, Attorney Stephen C. Buser provides compassionate and dedicated legal representation.  

Contact his firm for a free initial consultation to discuss your concerns and explore your legal options. Attorney Stephen C. Buser handles cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you won't owe him any fees unless he wins your case. 

Seek justice for your loved one and take action today. Attorney Stephen C. Buser serves clients throughout Columbia, Waterloo, Millstadt, Belleville, Fairview Heights, St. Louis City, South County, Mehlville, Oakville, Arnold, and beyond.