​Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Wrongful death claim form next to a stethoscope on a table
​Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

The last thing we expect when we leave for work in the morning is to receive a call from a hospital informing us that our partner or spouse has been involved in a car accident. However, every single day, hundreds of people get these types of phone calls. Often, families learn that their loved one is seriously injured, but they are expected to recover fully. Sadly, in too many cases, a family is informed that the injuries may be fatal.

It is important to remember that not every car accident death occurs immediately. Some people survive the initial accident and succumb to injuries days, weeks, and in some cases, months later. This makes the loss even more challenging for the family.

Families must not only recover emotionally from their loss, but they are faced with an entirely new set of issues. Learning that a loved one has died from injuries suffered in an accident that could have been prevented can cause additional emotional stress on family members. This is the time when a wrongful death attorney may be able to offer some guidance.

Car Accident Statistics and the Devastating Outcomes

Car accident statistics across the United States are staggering. In one recent year, more than 30,000 people lost their lives in more than 50,000 car accidents on U. S. roadways. Some of these accidents are preventable, but this is of little consolation to a family member who has lost a loved one. We all understand the unexpected death of a loved one is an emotional event for everyone in the family. Unfortunately, it can also be a financially devastating event.

Laws Regarding Wrongful Death

In most states and municipalities, some statutes are specifically called wrongful death statutes. These state-by-state rules generally dictate what defines a wrongful death and what options a family has open to them upon learning another party was responsible for the loss of their loved one.

While each state has its own rules, car accidents occur as a result of:

  • Substance intoxication: A driver who is operating impaired and causes an accident may face charges in criminal court due to their behavior.
  • Reckless driving: Actions such as unsafe lane changes, running a red light, or tailgating, which result in an accident costing someone their life, can result in criminal charges.
  • Speeding/Racing: A driver driving too fast for the road conditions or deliberately ignoring speed limits can cause fatal injuries to other drivers, passengers in their vehicle or other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcycle operators.

In general, if a person were to survive an accident, they could file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident. If this is the case, either the deceased’s estate or their loved ones can file a wrongful death claim.

Civil Cases Versus Criminal Cases

Some families believe that before a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed, any pending criminal charges must be resolved. This is a misunderstanding. Criminal charges may be filed after a car accident resulting in someone’s death, but this has nothing to do with a wrongful death claim.

Wrongful death claims are civil actions. The level of evidence that a person was operating a vehicle negligently is different in a civil case than it is in a criminal case. One must only show that it was more likely than not that the accident resulted in someone’s death and that there were losses associated with the death.

This is a lower level of proof than what would be required for criminal charges. While a guilty plea or finding in a criminal case would strengthen a civil wrongful death claim, it is not a requirement for filing a wrongful death suit.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Most states allow a surviving spouse, parents, or children to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent. In some states, there is a requirement the suit be filed by a representative or executor of the estate of the decedent. These types of lawsuits can be complicated. Anyone who has lost a loved one should consider contacting a wrongful death lawyer for guidance.

While a monetary settlement can never make up for the loss of a loved one, a family should not suffer financially after losing a loved one. This is particularly true when the behavior of another causes death. An attorney can help a family determine if they should file a claim with the responsible driver’s insurance company and help them through the process.

Compensation Potential in Wrongful Death Cases

There is no guarantee of a certain dollar amount in any civil lawsuit. Wrongful death claims are no different.

However, there are specific categories of compensation which a family may seek to obtain a settlement, including:

  • Medical costs: Any medical expenses which the decedent incurred up through the time of their death. This may include ambulance transportation, hospitalization costs, tests and scans administered while the victim was alive, and the costs associated with surgery, medication, or other expenses.
  • Earning capacity: In many cases, it is possible to include not only the wages which were lost while the victim was alive, but it may also be possible to get compensated for future loss of wages.
  • Unexpected expenses: Costs associated with funeral and burial expenses may also be included in a wrongful death claim.
  • Non-economic damages: Pain and suffering, and mental anguish suffered by the decedent before death may be included in the claim. A wrongful death claim may also include claims for loss of companionship, guidance, and support.
  • Punitive damages: In some cases, there may be a reason to include punitive damages in a wrongful death claim. In some states, this is not allowed. This should be discussed with the attorney handling the claim.

A wrongful death claim cannot make up for the loss of a loved one. However, such a claim can help a family recover financially and provide the basis for a stable financial future without their loved one. Compensation for the financial losses a family faces may also act as a deterrent to others who recklessly drive their vehicle.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

The decision to file a wrongful death claim may seem difficult. However, holding someone financially responsible for the financial losses a family faces can help a family recover financially and help provide the groundwork for a more solid financial future without the financial support of the decedent.

When a family contacts an attorney with experience dealing with these types of claims, they can help review the claim, determine the financial losses a family will suffer, and make a settlement demand to the right insurance company. They can also help with negotiations and other issues that a family would otherwise have to deal with on their own.

Insurance and Wrongful Death Claims

It is important to understand when someone dies in a car accident, the first step is to file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company.

In states with no-fault insurance statutes, the family may recover certain benefits from PIP coverage, including:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses for care before death
  • Some economic losses

Even in no-fault states, the family may file a claim against the driver who caused the wrongful death. While it may be clear that there was someone else at fault, this does not mean that the claims process will go smoothly. For a grieving family, the process of filing a claim and settling with an insurer is fraught with difficulties. This is why it is recommended a family reach out to a wrongful death lawyer when they have lost a loved one in a car accident.

Why Contacting an Attorney Helps After a Car Accident

Most of us have, at one time or another, had to file a claim with our insurance company. Typically, small claims are processed relatively quickly and do not require much negotiation. However, a wrongful death claim is complicated, and insurers are reluctant to pay out larger claims.

You can expect an attorney to assist a family who has lost a loved one by:

  • Negotiating with the insurance company: Insurance company adjusters are in place to negotiate on behalf of the insurer. However, when an adjuster is aware that someone is negotiating without legal counsel, they may attempt to offer a settlement that is lower than what a family can expect. Having a lawyer who can help evaluate a claim and determine the value of the claim can help ensure the family has a better chance of recovering financially.
  • Document review: Just because all evidence shows that someone else was at fault for a car accident that resulted in someone’s death does not mean the insurance company will pay the claim when submitted. Chances are they will send multiple sets of documents for signature and ask for certain documents to process a claim. By having all documents reviewed before signing them, a family can help ensure they do not forfeit any of their legal rights.
  • Minimizing stress: The last thing a family needs when grieving the loss of a loved one is constant telephone calls from insurance adjusters. A wrongful death attorney can handle all calls and correspondence regarding their claim.

Insurance company adjusters are trained to find ways to minimize claims. While a family may pay monthly premiums for years to help them recover from a financial loss, that does not mean the insurance company will pay a claim without trying to minimize their loss from paying the claim. Families often find that working on a claim is more complicated than anticipated, which is why many turn to an experienced wrongful death lawyer for help.


Expenses in Wrongful Death Claims

There is little doubt that a family is facing financial instability when they lose a loved one. For some, this makes them hesitant to seek guidance from an attorney who can help them with their claim.

Here are some of the facts that everyone should know when contacting a wrongful death lawyer.

  • Consultations are free: Contact a lawyer and ask for a free consultation. This will allow a family to find out what legal options are open to them and provide the information they need to make the right decision for their family.
  • No legal fees unless successful: Wrongful death lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that unless and until there is a final settlement, there are no legal fees due. There may be other fees for documents or filings, but there are no fees for legal services.

Many cases do not wind up in court. Most cases are settled outside of court once an attorney can demonstrate the full extent of a family’s losses and the insurer knows the attorney is advocating on behalf of their client. Insurers have attorneys working on their behalf, and victims should have an aggressive advocate.

While there is nothing an attorney can do to help ease the emotional pain and suffering a family feels while grieving a loved one, it is important to reach out and ask for advice. Working with an experienced attorney to handle a wrongful death claim is important. If you have lost a loved one in a car accident, contact a personal injury lawyer today to fully understand the available legal remedies.