Wrongful Death Cases: Accelerating Payment of attorneys for their Services

It is noteworthy that in a wrongful death lawsuit a claim falls appropriate when someone caused an accident or an injury to another person that led to the victim’s death and usually such claims are brought forward by the close relatives of the deceased such as spouse. However, there are many legal procedures before the wrongful death cases reach its finality.

Wrongful death actions usually involve a two-step process. First, the trial court handles the wrongful death action itself, and then secondly the Surrogate’s Court, who administers the decedent’s estate and deals with the allocation of the settlement among the decedent’s beneficiaries along with approval of any legal fees.

The role of Surrogate Court comes to play when after completion of the litigation process compensation either through a settlement or a jury verdict is obtained then there is requirement to apply at the Surrogate Court for permission to distribute the money to the family members. This is done through a procedure known as a wrongful death compromise order.

Estate Power & Trust Laws (EPTL) 5-4.6 addresses the application to the Surrogate’s Court to approve a compromise order. The Surrogate’s Court can either approve or disapprove the application, including the approval of attorney’s fees and other payable expenses although approval by a trial court is conclusive evidence of the adequacy of any compromise under EPTL 5-4.6(d); this process may take a long times say a few months or even a year.

However, EPTL Section 5-4.26 encourages attorneys to ask the Supreme Court to expedite this process. Once the Supreme Court approves the amount, an attorney can, upon meeting certain conditions, take their fee while holding the distributees’ settlement monies in an escrow account until the surrogate court approves the death compromise order. Thereby, protecting the interests of attorneys and releasing the amount due soon after a settlement is reached.

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