Car accidents happen every single day, but the end result of an accident always differs. Some accidents leave victims unscathed, while others result in serious damage and severe injuries. In the unfortunate circumstance that an individual dies after suffering significant harm in a car accident, their family may have the opportunity to file a wrongful death claim.
If you’ve lost a loved one in a car accident, taking legal action can help better your financial situation and help you get justice for the wrong the liable party has committed. Continue reading to learn more about car accidents and wrongful death claims that may arise after a collision.
Car Accidents are Often Deadly
While not every car accident ends in death, thousands do every year. In a recent year alone, there were over 38,000 fatalities from motor vehicle accidents. The number of deadly collisions every year is astonishing, as the numbers, unfortunately, don’t fluctuate much.
One thing is true for many families of fatal car accident victims: they must deal with the consequences of someone else’s wrongdoing, fighting through the pain of losing a loved one.
What Causes Car Accidents?
Car accidents occur for many reasons. However, many of the most common types of car accidents can easily result in the death of a victim.
The following are some of the most common causes of car accidents:
- Distracted driving: It’s easy for drivers to get distracted, taking their full attention off the road. Distracted driving can be visual (taking eyes off the road), manual (taking hands off the wheel), or cognitive (taking the mind off driving).
- Aggressive driving: Aggressive driving encompasses many dangerous driving behaviors, including tailgating, improper lane changes, and failing to yield.
- Speeding: Speeding can also be a form of aggressive driving. When drivers speed, they’re putting themselves and others at risk. Speeding can result in a driver losing control of their vehicle and increases the severity of harm in an accident, among other things.
- Fatigued driving: Driving while tired or sleepy can easily lead to distracted driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
- Driving under the influence: When a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it is especially difficult to maintain full control of the vehicle and drive safely. Driving under the influence is one of the leading causes of accidents and fatalities.
- Product defect: It is not uncommon for vehicles or vehicle parts to suffer from some sort of product or design defect. Sometimes these defects are unknown, but they can easily lead to unexpected fatal accidents.
- Road defect: When roads are dangerous, either because of construction or failure to provide warning signs, it can cause collisions or fatal incidents.
Determining the cause of a car accident is critical to take legal action, as it also reveals who is at fault for the accident.
Injuries that Frequently Result from Collisions
Many fatal car accident victims do not pass away immediately after the car accident. In fact, many victims survive, forced to spend days or weeks dealing with the painful aftermath of their collision.
Car accidents can result in various injuries, but the following are some of the most common injuries that lead to death:
- Head trauma
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Crush injuries
- Penetrating injuries
- Internal injuries
Victims who sustain these injuries often need extensive medical care, surgeries, and hospital stays. Many of these injuries result in complications, which eventually cause the victim to pass away.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death is an unnecessary death caused by someone else’s wrongdoing. The victim would not have passed away without the liable party’s actions. A wrongful death claim is a civil claim allowing the victim’s family to pursue justice and compensation for the loss of their loved one. Wrongful death claims are a type of personal injury claim. Personal injury law exists to protect victims harmed by a third party and allow them to seek financial recovery for their injuries and losses.
Understanding the distinction between civil and criminal law is helpful, specifically concerning wrongful death claims after a car accident. The two areas of law are different, and depending on the cause of the accident, the at-fault party can potentially face both criminal charges and a civil case. This is particularly true for drunk driving cases, as driving under the influence is illegal.
While important for many situations, criminal charges do not provide the same result as a wrongful death claim. When a party is convicted, they face criminal penalties, such as jail time and fines. On the other hand, if you pursue a successful wrongful death claim, you may obtain monetary recovery, providing some financial relief.
While mentally and emotionally taxing, wrongful death claims can help you and your family heal and move on from a tragedy.
Not Just Anyone Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
Only specific individuals can file wrongful death claims, depending on state law.
In some states, the victim’s immediate family members or designated beneficiaries can bring forth a wrongful death claim, including spouses, children, and parents.
Other states only allow a victim’s executor to file the claim on behalf of the victim’s family. An executor, or personal representative, is the person in charge of handling the victim’s estate upon their passing. The victim themselves can appoint their executor in their will, but if the victim did not have a will, the probate court can appoint one. An executor is often a close relative or loved one.
Understanding the state’s requirements regarding wrongful death is important to decide who may bring the claim.
Liability for a Wrongful Death After a Car Accident
Liability for fatalities after car accidents can be tricky, especially depending on the cause of the accident. While the negligent driver is commonly held liable, there may also be other liable parties, including:
- The negligent driver’s employer
- The owner of the vehicle
- The party responsible for serving the negligent driver alcohol
- The vehicle or vehicle parts manufacturers or retailers
- The party responsible for vehicle maintenance
- The city or governmental entity
It is not uncommon for several parties to share liability, depending on the details of the collision.
Typically, wrongful death claims involve insurance companies with whom the at-fault parties have liability insurance. Communicating with insurance companies is known to be a difficult feat, but a wrongful death lawyer can communicate and negotiate with these insurers when needed.
Potential Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Claim
Damages compensate families for the loss of their loved ones and the financial struggles they face from the undue loss. The exact type and amount of damages you’re entitled to depend on the details of your case but can include:
- Medical expenses: As mentioned, many car accident victims do not pass away right after a car accident. This means they’ll likely require extensive medical treatment, surgeries, and hospital stays, which can mean serious financial strain for the victim’s family.
- Funeral and burial costs: Funerals and burials are quite pricey but necessary. A wrongful death claim can allow you to seek financial recovery for the expense of burying your loved one.
- Lost wages/Lost earning potential: You may have the opportunity to recover financially for the earnings your loved one lost out on and the future earnings they should have received. This is especially important for victims with dependent families.
- Pain and suffering: Watching a loved one hurt and losing them may cause you and your family to experience traumatic pain and suffering.
- Loss of companionship and emotional support: These damages are helpful for individuals who have lost a parent or spouse and will miss out on their companionship and support in the future.
- Loss of consortium: Loss of consortium may be available for spouses of fatal car accident victims.
Determining how much you may be entitled to receive in damages often depends on many factors, including:
- The age of the victim
- The victim’s occupation and earnings
- The decedent’s family situation
- The details of the accident and injuries that resulted in their death
- The total amount of economic losses
- Insurance policy limits
Calculating the value of your case and deciding how much your case is worth is one of the most difficult parts of a wrongful death case. You want to make sure you’re aware of how much compensation is fair to help ensure you get what you receive in the end.
Fortunately, wrongful death attorneys have the required experience to determine how much your case is worth and pursue financial recovery on your behalf.
Proving Wrongful Death
Proving your loved one’s death resulted from someone else’s wrongdoing is one of the major keys to building a successful claim. You’ll need to prove the responsible party’s negligence caused your loved one’s death. This involves satisfying the necessary elements of negligence, including the following:
- The party owed your loved one a duty of care
- The party breached their duty of care
- Their actions caused your loved one’s accident and death
- You’ve suffered damages as a result of your loss
Civil cases, like wrongful death cases, heavily rely on evidence, and you must have strong evidence to prove your case. Some of the best evidence in wrongful death claims includes:
- Medical records
- Doctor’s notes
- Medical bills
- Witness statements
- Police and accident reports
- Cellphone video and photos
- Surveillance or traffic cam footage
- A car’s black box data
A big part of a wrongful death attorney’s job is seeking out and obtaining relevant information and evidence to use for their case. It’s best to rely on a skilled wrongful death lawyer, as they know what your case needs to reach a beneficial outcome.
What to Expect from a Wrongful Death Claim
It’s okay to be unfamiliar with the wrongful death claims process and apprehensive about what to expect. What you can expect from your case highly depends on the details of your matter, the laws in your state, and cooperation from the opposing party, among other factors.
Your wrongful death lawyer may begin by sending the at-fault party’s insurance company a demand letter. Demand letters contain critical information, including how and why the negligent driver is at fault and details regarding the losses you’ve suffered. The letter will also contain a requested settlement amount to cover your damages.
Upon receipt of a demand letter, the insurance company can either agree to the amount, engage in settlement negotiations, or refuse to settle. If the insurance company does not wish to settle, or is only willing to settle for less than you deserve, your attorney can then file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The lawsuit process can take anywhere from several months to years. You may reach a settlement before the case ever goes to court, or your case may end up at trial before a judge.
While the process can seem intimidating, you can rest assured your case is in the right hands when you have a wrongful death lawyer. Your attorney can keep you updated on the status of your case as it moves along, as they do whatever is necessary to get you the compensation you so rightly deserve.
Time Restrictions for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Not all wrongful death claims end up in lawsuits, as the claim may settle before your lawyer ever has to file the lawsuit. However, if a lawsuit is necessary, it’s important to note the law provides time limits.
Statutes of limitations impose restrictions on a plaintiff’s ability to file a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you can lose the opportunity to ever seek justice and financial compensation for your loved one’s passing.
For this reason, you should always consult with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to get started on your case.
A Skilled Attorney Can Help You Navigate the Wrongful Death Claim Process
Money can do little to heal the brokenness of losing a loved one, but it can help ensure you don’t have to face financial ruin as a result of someone’s wrongdoings. When you’re ready, be sure to discuss your case with a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney.