Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident
If your loved one died in a car accident, your family faces a large void in many respects. Nothing can replace your family member and the unique role that they played in your family. Under the law, justice can only come in the form of the check you may receive when someone else was at fault for their death.
While compensation cannot bring your loved one back, it can put your family in a more financially secure situation for the future. You might also have a greater sense of closure knowing the responsible parties were accountable.
The process of filing a wrongful death claim is not easy, however, and your family should not try to navigate the process alone. Instead, you should hire a wrongful death attorney
to handle your case and protect your family’s rights and the memory of your loved one. The right lawyer can give you peace of mind during the claims process.
You Must Engage With the Law Even When You Do Not Want To
While money and the legal process are the last things that you may want to think about during this difficult time, they are something that you must pay attention to if you want financial compensation. As much as you do not want to deal with it, you must take steps to start the legal process because it can take a long time to recover compensation, even when your family deserves it.
When you hire a car accident attorney
, you can hand the case to your lawyer to handle the details. They will lead the fight for financial compensation on your behalf, keeping you from having to deal with the insurance company. You have enough on your plate without getting involved in the unpleasantness of day-to-day dealings with an insurance company that does not care about your family’s well-being.
When you bring a wrongful death claim
on behalf of your family as your own personal injury case, you are not necessarily seeking compensation for the deceased person’s damages (although you can recover these damages in a survival action). Here, the personal injury your family suffered is losing a loved one.
How Wrongful Death Cases Work After a Car Accident
Each state has its own wrongful death laws that dictate the details of claims.
For example, here are the Texas rules
about who can file a wrongful death claim when a loved one dies:
- The deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents have the right to file a lawsuit against the responsible party.
- If these people do not file a lawsuit within 90 days after the wrongful death, the estate representative may file a wrongful death claim.
- The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death.
Usually, siblings and grandparents do not have the legal right to file a wrongful death claim.
Negligence Is the Key to a Wrongful Death Case
Like any personal injury case, the root of your claim is that someone did something wrong that caused your loved one to die. Not every death in a car accident case is wrongful. Sometimes, the driver who passed was at fault, or you cannot prove that someone else was to blame.
The legal standard in a wrongful death case is negligence
. This term describes a situation where the other driver did not act as a reasonable driver would under the circumstances. You will need to take what the driver involved in the crash did (or did not do) and compare it to what the hypothetical reasonable driver would have done. This standard is the same one that will govern a lawsuit that the deceased might have filed for their own injuries had they survived the accident.
The Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Case Is on the Claimant
As the claimant or plaintiff, you will have the burden of proof to show what happened. You must prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower standard of proof than a criminal case, where the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Your family can recover substantial financial compensation with the proper evidence.
The issue is that you must prove exactly what the driver did, which is difficult for you to do when you may not have even been in the crash. You are coming in after the fact and attempting to demonstrate what happened in a manner that will be sufficient to persuade a jury. You will not be legally entitled to financial compensation without the necessary proof.
A wrongful death attorney can help by investigating the accident to learn exactly what happened. They can gather the evidence you need to show that someone else was negligent. Without that, you may be unable to recover financial compensation for losing your loved one.
Common Examples of Driver Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case
Here are some examples of negligence in a fatal car accident that can entitle your family to compensation:
- A distracted driver veers out of their lane and strikes a car in a head-on collision
- A motorist runs a red light and strikes your loved one in a t-bone collision
- A speeding driver loses control of their car and collides with another driver
- A driver does not correctly factor in the weather conditions and goes unreasonably fast, hitting another car
- The motorist does not properly maintain their car, and the brakes fail at a high speed
Any departure from the standard of care expected of drivers will be enough to merit financial compensation, assuming you can prove what the driver did.
Your loved one may have died at the hands of a reckless driver. One example is a drunk driving accident. Roughly 30 percent of drunk driving fatalities in the United States involve alcohol. Another example is when a driver is excessively speeding. In general, instances of reckless driving have increased in recent years as drivers show less concern for traffic laws and the safety of others.
The Insurance Company Does Not Want to Pay What They Owe You
Once you can prove that someone else was responsible for your loved one’s death, it is time to discuss actual financial compensation. If you have filed an insurance claim, the insurance company will make you a settlement offer. Do not get your hopes up that the initial settlement offer will even come close to paying your family what it deserves.
Often, the initial settlement offer is either a placeholder for future negotiations or an early attempt by the insurance company to catch your family unaware of the value of your case. The insurance company represents their policyholder, and their legal obligation exists up to the maximum value of the policy.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
In a wrongful death case, your family can receive compensation for its damages. When a loved one dies, nothing can fill the hole left by that death. Your loved one played an essential part in the family in many respects. In addition, your family is struggling with the grief that comes from losing a loved one suddenly and in a tragic manner. The wrongful death claim compensates your family for your own losses.
These losses may include:
- Your loved one’s earnings, both since the accident and in the future (this money is considered a loss for your family)
- Your own grief and emotional trauma that was caused by losing a loved one tragically
- The guidance, love, and support that your family member gave as part of their role in the family
- The loving relationship that you had with your family member (which means that you can be paid wrongful death damages for the loss of a child in a car accident)
- The physical relationship that you had with the deceased person
- Funeral and burial costs
These damages can be considerable. The lost wages element of wrongful death damages alone can be worth a significant amount of money. How much your family deserves precisely depends on your unique relationship with your deceased loved one. A wrongful death case comes down to the value of a life - the contributions, support and love that the deceased person provided to you and your family.
In addition, the estate can also file a survival action against the responsible driver if the deceased person suffered damages between the time of the accident and their death. This claim may be substantial if the deceased person did not die instantly in the crash. At a minimum, a survival claim will seek to recover the funeral expenses and medical costs of treating your family member before their death.
You May Also Need to File a Claim Against the Deceased Person’s Insurance
Hopefully, the responsible driver followed the law and had car insurance to pay for accident damages. Even if they had more than the minimum coverage, chances are it will not be enough to compensate your family for a wrongful death. Therefore, you will likely need to file a claim against your loved one’s insurance policy to compensate for the shortfall if they had underinsured motorist coverage.
Don’t assume that your insurance company will be any more reasonable than the other driver’s. Any insurance company hates to write large checks, even when the recipient has been a loyal customer for years.
You can also file a lawsuit against a driver in court. If the insurance coverage is not enough to pay for the damages, your family will obtain a judgment against the responsible driver, and you may go after their personal assets. However, it is not always easy to collect a judgment, and many drivers do not have the assets to pay what they owe you, especially when they can shield things like their home from a judgment. Most wrongful death cases settle
at some point without needing a full wrongful death trial.
Why You Need to Start the Wrongful Death Process Now
You should begin the legal process now. First, you may lose some of the necessary evidence to prove negligence the longer you wait to file a claim. Second, the legal process takes time to work through. The insurance company usually delays paying you quickly because they know they can wear you down over time.
They may even take months to respond to your initial claim and begin the negotiation process. Even if you wait to file a lawsuit, you should hire a lawyer at the soonest possible chance. An opportunistic insurance company might look to catch your family unaware and try to coerce you into a below-value settlement.
Although nothing says you must have an attorney for a wrongful death case, you should not attempt to handle this serious legal matter alone. The insurance company wants you to approach them without an attorney because they will have a significant advantage over you. On the other hand, an informed client is one who an insurance company cannot push around. An experienced attorney will stand up for your family’s legal rights and keep you from dealing with complicated details during a challenging time. Calling a wrongful death attorney is the first step towards justice and accountability when your loved one dies because of someone else’s wrongful actions.
Do Not Worry About Costs When Hiring a Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you are worried about the cost of a wrongful death lawyer, you can rest easy knowing that an attorney will not ask you to put up any money for your case. Instead, they will only expect you to pay them if and when you win your case. They will receive a percentage of your settlement or jury award. Your lawyer will not get paid for their time if you do not win your case.
Times are tough for your family, and the finances of hiring a personal injury attorney
are one thing that you do not need to stress over for a minute. An attorney will get to work on your case as soon as you sign the representation agreement that makes them your lawyer.