What Is a Car Accident Wrongful Death Claim?
Most plaintiffs in personal injury cases bring the lawsuit on behalf of themselves to receive compensation for the injuries they have suffered. When there is a death involved, there is still an injury that is suffered even though the person involved in the car accident has died. Here, the primary injury for the family is the loss of their loved one. A wrongful death claim is a hybrid type of claim where there are two things that merit compensation. The first is the loss to the family that is caused by the fact that their loved one is no longer here. The specifics of this loss will be described below. The second injury is the one suffered by the deceased. In the car accident that caused the person’s death, there was the possibility that there was pain and suffering involved and that can be compensated, even though the deceased is no longer here.
Who Can Bring a Car Accident Wrongful Death Claim?
The deceased who perished in the car accident will have an estate, and that estate will have a representative. Generally, it is the representative of the estate who would file the lawsuit on behalf of the estate. However, not every state requires that the lawsuit be filed on behalf of the estate. Laws between the states vary as to who may file this lawsuit. If the estate does not file a claim, the immediate family members will have the ability to file the claim. This could be the victim’s spouse, and if the deceased did not have a spouse, then other close family members may sue. Some states broaden the class of family members who may sue.
What Is Included in a Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
There are various losses that need to be compensated for in a car accident wrongful death claim. The pain and suffering that was experienced by the deceased and any medical bills related to the care of the deceased may be part of the claim. The primary injury in a wrongful death claim is that which has been suffered by the family. Those who are left behind suffer in numerous ways due to the loss that they have experienced. The following are some of the impacts that the family may feel:
- A loss of financial support that was provided by the deceased
- The void that a family experiences when they lose the support and comfort that the deceased provided
- For the spouse, a loss of companionship from the deceased
- Funeral and burial costs for the deceased
What Happens When a Loved One is Killed in a Car Accident?
To prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit as a result of a car accident, plaintiffs will have to file a claim like any other type of negligence case. In other words, success in the lawsuit hinges on whether the jury will find that the defendant was responsible for the accident that killed the deceased. In a car accident wrongful death lawsuit, all that will need to be proven is that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the accident and the injury. Plaintiffs do not specifically have to prove that the defendant caused the victim to die unless there was another intervening cause involved like a heart attack.
In order to prove legal responsibility for a car accident, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant was negligent. This is a four-part showing that includes proving each of the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. In a car accident wrongful death case, this means that drivers owe a duty of care to other drivers on the road.
- The defendant breached that duty of care by not acting as a reasonable driver would under the circumstances. For example, when a driver makes an illegal turn or drives at an excessive rate of speed, they are breaching the duty of care because reasonable drivers do not do these things.
- The plaintiff suffered an injury. With wrongful death claims the injury is twofold since it covers both the injury to the family and the death.
- The defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
Once the plaintiff shows that the defendant has been negligent, the jury will then address the issue of whether the deceased themselves contributed to the car accident in any way. For example, if the deceased was not wearing a seat belt, that could reduce or eliminate the recovery, depending on the law of the state where the case was heard. If the deceased did not contribute in any way to the accident, they will receive one hundred percent of the recovery.
After the jury has decided that the defendant is liable, they will calculate damages. Some of the factors in determining damages are the following:
- The age of the deceased
- The income that they provided to the family and their level of support
- Their involvement with their family
Liability in Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuit
There are many possible defendants in car accidents that can be liable for death, injury, or vehicle damage. The most common defendant in a fatal car crash is the driver of the other vehicle who caused the accident. However, if the cause of the accident was a defective vehicle or auto part, then the manufacturer or retailer of the car or part can also be found liable in a wrongful death claim. A car accident wrongful death lawsuit could also be against the driver of a car that struck a pedestrian. Even the family of a deceased passenger can sue the driver of the car or their estate.
Car Accident Wrongful Death Settlements
It is possible to receive a large recovery in a car accident wrongful death lawsuit. Below are some examples of cases where plaintiffs have received either a jury award or a settlement in a car accident wrongful death lawsuit.
$140,00 settlement in Arizona – A 77-year-old man attempted to cross a street where there had been a temporary crosswalk for a local festival and was then struck by two vehicles. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the man’s son on behalf of himself and his three siblings.
$400,000 settlement in Tennessee – A driver of a stolen vehicle crashed head-on into another car, killing the driver and seriously injuring the passenger. Families of the victims filed a lawsuit against the city of Memphis claiming that police unnecessarily pursued a high-speed car chase with the stolen vehicle which resulted in the accident.
$2.5 million settlement in Iowa – A driver of a pickup truck rear-ended a man on a tractor who was later pronounced dead when taken to Mercy Hospital in Oelwein. The driver fled the scene after calling 911 and was later arrested at his home.
$410,000 settlement in Ohio – An 86-year-old woman was struck and killed by a firetruck that did not activate its emergency horns and lights.
$5 million settlement in Virginia – Three people were killed after a driver who was attempting to avoid hitting a stopped vehicle veered left and struck the three victims who were outside their cars.
$2 million settlement in Georgia – A car hit a guardrail that pierced and killed the driver and passenger. The guardrail was known to be a safety hazard for years and GDOT was notified by federal agencies to replace it.
Common Causes of Car Accident Fatalities
The fact that you are a safe driver doesn’t mean that everybody around you on the roadway is a safe driver too. Here are some of the more common causes of car accidents that lead to fatalities and wrongful death lawsuits:
- Drunk Driving: As per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) 29 people die every day in drunk driving accidents. That is one death every 50 minutes and 28 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States.,
- Distracted Driving: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nine people per day die in distracted driving accidents. Distracted driving might consist of texting, talking on a phone, using a navigational device, eating or grooming while driving.
- Speeding: This driver behavior decreases stopping distances. Speeding not only consists of driving over the posted speed limit, it also involves driving too fast for weather or traffic conditions. As per the NHTSA, speeding is a factor in 26 percent of all traffic fatalities.
- Reckless and Aggressive Driving: This is defined by the NHTSA as when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.” The Insurance Information Institute details some typical reckless driving behaviors such as tailgating, erratic lane changes, failure to obey stop signs and traffic control devices, or racing.
Why a Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawyer Is Necessary
Car accident wrongful death lawsuits often involve expert testimony and the calculation of damages. These types of cases either settle right before trial or require a lengthy legal proceeding where there is testimony taken from numerous witnesses. This generally requires an effective and experienced car accident lawyer in order to guide plaintiffs through the legal system. The defendant will likely have counsel of their own given the stakes of the case since a high verdict or award is possible. Therefore, it is best to file this case with the help of an attorney.
Speak With Our Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawyers
The Eichholz Law Firm has many years of experience litigating wrongful death cases that result from car accidents. Our car accident wrongful death lawyers have the knowledge necessary to appropriately value the case and can assist plaintiffs from the beginning of the process all the way through litigation and a possible appeal.
We are gloves off litigators who can effectively negotiate a car accident wrongful death settlement. If a loved one has been killed in a car accident, call us today to discuss your case.
- David Gougen. “How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works”, AllLaw, https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/personal-injury/how-wrongful-death-lawsuit-works.html. Accessed August 2, 2019.
- FindLaw. “Wrongful Death in a Car Accident”, FindLaw, https://injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/wrongful-death-in-a-car-accident.html. Accessed August 2, 2019.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “General Statistics“, Highway Loss Data Institute, https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview. Accessed August 2, 2019.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Distracted Driving“, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/index.html. Accessed August 2, 2019.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Impaired Driving: Get the Facts“, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html. Accessed August 2, 2019.