What Do You Do if A Loved One Dies Due to a Car Accident?

Roads worldwide are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians, animals, taxis, and other travelers. Unfortunately, each year, vehicles are involved in crashes that are responsible for millions of deaths. 

After a loved one passes away due to a car accident, whether he or she immediately dies or eventually passes due to fatal injuries later on, family members of the deceased can be subjected to a great deal of stress. Grieving the loss of their loved one, handling funeral and burial arrangements, as well as dealing with medical bills are just a few major concerns families can be faced with. Whether the person who passed was responsible for the accident or not, there may also be legal concerns added on to the family members’ plates.

It can be overwhelming to know what to do after an event of such nature occurs. We put together this guide to help surviving family members and loved ones better understand how to navigate the situation in which a loved one dies due to a car accident. 

Motor Vehicle Fatalities Stats

The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates a crash happens at least once every minute of the day. While some accidents are minor, others may tragically result in fatal casualties.

Some victims die at the scene of a crash in what’s known as a sudden death accident. Other times, the victim may live long enough to reach a hospital. However, due to extensive physical damage, they may succumb to their injuries later on at the hospital. Road fatality victims also count amongst these deaths. 

According to the CDC

  • More than 38,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to a car accident. 
  • Around 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world each year. 
  • Almost 3,700 people globally die every day in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. 
  • Fatal injuries from car accidents are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for people aged 1-54 in the U.S. 

Common Causes of Car Accidents

From fender benders to totaling a car; there are numerous ways for a fatal car accident to occur. 

The most common causes are:

  • Reckless driving
  • Road rage
  • Distracted driving (i.e., texting while driving)
  • Speeding (even 5 miles over the posted limit can be deadly)
  • Drunk driving/driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol 
  • Driving while sleepy
  • Carelessness driving during poor weather conditions
  • Neglecting to obey traffic laws, road signs, speed limits, etc. 
  • Poorly designed roads or roads in need of repair
  • Inadequate vehicle maintenance
  • Defective parts on an automobile 

Accidents are unpredictable and capable of causing severe personal injury or death. The simplest of accidents may still cause an irreversible trauma, leading to the devastating loss of a loved one. 

Injuries That Cause Wrongful Death

A situation is characterized as wrongful death in which a person dies to someone else’s (a person’s, persons’, or company’s) negligence causing them injury, leading to an otherwise avoidable death. In the case of a car accident, death can occur at the scene of the accident or at the hospital sometime later due to severe and eventually, fatal injuries. 

Spinal cord injuries 

A spinal cord injury is defined as “damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal.” The trauma can cause permanent loss of strength, sensation, and other bodily functions below the injury site. A severe spinal cord injury can also lead to a person falling into a coma or dying upon impact. 

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a severe injury that disrupts the brain’s normal function “by a blow, bump or jolt to the head, the head suddenly and violently hitting an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.” Severe cases of a TBI may result in extended periods of unconsciousness, coma, or death.

Eligibility To File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Grieving the loss of a loved one while also trying to find justice can be hard to navigate through. Therefore, it’s essential to know what your options are and to be aware of the steps that you should take following such an incident.

If a family member or someone you love has died due to a car accident and you’re seeking justice and possible compensation on their behalf, the first thing you’ll have to do is find out if you’re eligible to file a lawsuit. 

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by a personal representative of the deceased’s estate, often the surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children of the person who passed. When the deceased is a minor, the lawsuit is filed by the parent or guardian of the child. If you are eligible to file, you’ll want to speak to an experienced, wrongful death lawyer

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

Your attorney will investigate your case by reviewing any liabilities, medical bills, and other costs that your loved one incurred before they died, as well as other forms of damages, like loss of their future earnings. 

After they complete their investigation, they will file a claim and send a settlement demand to the at-fault party’s insurance company. This settlement demand will be for an amount of compensation that your attorney believes the case is worth. The at-fault party’s insurance can negotiate until a settlement is achieved, or until your lawyer decides to take the case to trial.    

If your case does go to trial, both the insurance company and your attorney will move into a period of “discovery,” that refers to the time in which both sides are able to investigate further. This includes looking extensively into medical records, statements, reports, and any other important evidence. 

Eventually, in the event that your case does go to trial, the judge or jury will decide who was liable for the accident and determine the lawsuit’s outcome. 

Recovering Damages

What are the factors that are taken into account when deciding on potential compensation for a wrongful death action? Your lawyer will review the following to determine an amount of compensation to present to the at-fault insurance company. 

  • Medical expenses before death: If your loved one passed away after being transported to the hospital, they most likely accrued medical bills. Payment for those medical expenses is typically included as part of a wrongful death claim.
  • Expenses resulting from their death: Funeral and burial costs, and any other additional expenses related to a loved one’s death are usually covered in damages in the lawsuit. 
  • Pain and suffering before death: Injuries from a car accident can cause a tremendous amount of pain before they lead to the passing of the injured. If your loved one lived after the accident, then your attorney may seek damages for their pain and suffering.
  • Loss of income: Both the wages not earned due to the accident itself and future income lost that the deceased could have earned are factored into damages as part of the wrongful death action. 
  • Loss of their presence, support, and companionship: Whether the person you lost was a parent or a partner, this person is no longer here to provide their guidance, love, and companionship. While no amount of money can unfortunately replace this, your lawyer will most likely factor this into the figure of the lawsuit. 
  • Loss of the service: Perhaps your loved one didn’t work in a job outside the home but provided support to the family in other ways (i.e., provided child care, served as a caregiver for an elderly family member, cooked for the family, etc.). Losing them will most likely result in the need to hire or elect someone else to take on these services, causing a financial burden for you and your family. Therefore, the loss of these services are often factored into the wrongful death lawsuit as well. 

The Worth of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Compensation for your wrongful death lawsuit claim that you receive can heavily depend on the financial resources of the at-fault party. If the at-fault party was the other driver in the car accident for example, the compensation you file for can depend on the at-fault party’s insurance policy. 

Having an experienced lawyer on your side can make all the difference when it comes to the amount of potential compensation you can win. Your lawyer should always be willing to explore every corner to identify any other potential liabilities that may exist that can impact your claim. 

For example, if a drunk driver was responsible for the accident, did the bar where they became intoxicated serve them an excessive amount of alcohol? Determining other parties who may have been involved in the accident and therefore, directly or indirectly caused the incident can lead to an increased amount of potential compensation for you. 

Let Your Lawyer Handle the Insurance Companies

Insurance companies are always looking to make money, not lose money. Therefore, they will be interested in aiming to settle at the lowest amount possible or deny your claim altogether. 

After the accident, it is critical that you contact an expert car accident lawyer immediately. The insurance company may try to speak directly to you to get information to use against you and your claim or offer you a quick settlement. Defer all communication with them to your trusted attorney.

Contact a Qualified Wrongful Death Attorney

If someone you love has passed away because of a car accident, contacting a reliable and experienced law firm is imperative. The attorneys at Whittel & Milton are here to help you seek compensation and obtain the justice that you and your family deserve. We have years of experience working on wrongful death cases caused by car accidents and are ready to help you win the best settlement possible, for your case. 

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