Filing a Wrongful Death Claim after a Car Accident

June 5, 2024 | Steve Crandall
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim after a Car Accident

Fatal car accidents are usually the unfortunate consequence of reckless, distracted, or intoxicated driving. If you lost a loved one in a recent car crash due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important that you retain experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney in Cincinnati can investigate the circumstances surrounding the car crash, file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit on your behalf, and pursue the compensation and justice that you and your family deserve.

 

How do Fatal Car Accidents Frequently Happen?

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim after a Car Accident

Fatal car accidents often result from the negligence of other drivers. One major cause of fatal car accidents is distracted driving. This happens when drivers divert their attention from the road to other activities like texting, talking on the phone, eating, or adjusting the radio. Texting is particularly dangerous because it combines visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. A driver who is not fully focused on the road cannot react quickly to sudden changes, such as a pedestrian stepping onto the road or another vehicle stopping abruptly.

Another significant cause is drunk driving. Alcohol affects judgment, coordination, and reaction times, and drunk drivers often have difficulty staying in their lane, making proper turns, and maintaining appropriate speeds. These impairments greatly increase the likelihood of collisions. Despite stringent laws and penalties, drunk driving remains a leading cause of fatal car accidents.

Speeding is also a critical factor in fatal car crashes. When drivers exceed speed limits, they have less time to react to obstacles, and their vehicles require longer distances to stop. Speeding also reduces a driver’s ability to control their vehicle – especially around curves or during inclement weather. High-speed crashes often result in severe injuries or fatalities due to the increased force of impact.

Reckless driving, which includes behaviors like aggressive lane changing, tailgating, and running red lights, also contributes significantly to fatal car accidents. Drivers who exhibit reckless behavior are often impatient and take unnecessary risks. This endangers not only themselves but also other road users. Such behaviors can lead to catastrophic collisions – particularly at intersections or in heavy highway traffic.

Finally, drowsy driving is a less recognized but equally dangerous cause of fatal car collisions. Drivers who are fatigued have slower reaction times and are less aware of their surroundings. In severe cases, they may fall completely asleep at the wheel, leading to collisions. Drowsy driving is especially common among long-haul truck drivers and shift workers who have irregular sleep patterns.

If you recently lost a family member in one of these types of fatal car crashes, you are not alone. An experienced wrongful death attorney can promptly file a claim or lawsuit and pursue the compensation that you and your family need.

Who is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim from a Car Crash?

A wrongful death claim or lawsuit is a legal action taken when someone dies due to another person’s negligence or intentional harm. In the context of a car crash, this means the victim’s family may seek compensation for their loss. However, not everyone can file such a claim. The eligibility to file a wrongful death claim varies by state, but there are common rules that apply.

  • First, immediate family members are generally eligible. This includes the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents. The spouse is usually the first person eligible to file a claim, followed by the children if there is no spouse. If the deceased had no spouse or children, the parents can file the claim. These family members are directly affected by the loss and are considered the primary beneficiaries.
  • In some cases, extended family members may be eligible as well. This can include siblings or grandparents – particularly if they were financially dependent upon the deceased. However, the rules about extended family members vary significantly from state to state. Some states are more restrictive and may not allow extended family members to file unless there are no immediate family members.
  • Additionally, financial dependents or life partners who were not legally married to the deceased may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim in some states. These individuals must prove that they were financially dependent upon the deceased and that the death has caused them significant financial hardship.
  • Another category includes representatives of the deceased’s estate. If the deceased had a will, the executor named in the will can file the claim on behalf of the estate. If there is no will, the court may appoint an administrator who has the authority to file a claim. The compensation awarded in such cases usually goes to the estate and is distributed according to the deceased’s will or state laws of inheritance.

It’s important to note that wrongful death claims have specific time limits, known as statutes of limitations. These limits vary by state, typically ranging from one to three years after the accident victim’s death. Failing to file within this timeframe can result in the loss of one’s right to pursue compensation.

An experienced wrongful death attorney can file a timely claim or lawsuit in pursuit of the compensation you and your family deserve.

Proving a Wrongful Death Case

Proving a Wrongful Death Case

Proving a wrongful death case arising from a car accident involves establishing several key legal elements. These elements help demonstrate that the death resulted from another party’s negligence or wrongful act.

  • The first element is a duty of care. This means that the defendant (the person being sued) had a legal obligation to act in a way that would prevent harm to others. In the context of a car accident, every driver has a duty to drive safely and follow traffic laws. For example, drivers must obey speed limits, stop at red lights, and avoid distractions while driving.
  • The second element is a breach of duty. This occurs when the defendant fails to meet their duty of care. To prove a breach, you must show that the defendant acted negligently or recklessly. For instance, if the defendant was texting while driving, speeding, or driving under the influence of alcohol, they have breached their duty to drive safely.
  • The third element is causation. This means showing a direct link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the victim’s death. You must prove that the defendant’s actions were the primary cause of the fatal accident. For example, if a driver runs a red light and crashes into another vehicle, causing the driver of that vehicle to die, the breach (running the red light) directly causes the death.
  • The fourth element is damages. This involves demonstrating that the victim’s death directly resulted in quantifiable losses. These losses can include medical expenses incurred before death, funeral and burial costs, loss of income, loss of companionship, and emotional suffering that you and your family experienced. Evidence such as medical bills, financial records, and testimony from family members can help to establish these damages.
  • Finally, standing to sue must be established. This means proving that the person filing the wrongful death lawsuit has a legal right to do so. Typically, close family members – such as spouses, children, and parents – have standing. In some cases, other dependents or representatives of the deceased’s estate may also have the right to sue.

Settling or Litigating a Fatal Car Accident Case

Deciding whether to settle or litigate a fatal car accident case is a significant decision for the victim’s family. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and understanding these can help you make an informed choice.

Settling a case means reaching an agreement with the other party outside of court. One major advantage of settling is that it is typically faster and less stressful than going to trial. Legal proceedings can be lengthy and emotionally draining – especially for families grieving a loss. Settling can provide quicker financial compensation, which can help cover immediate expenses like funeral costs and medical bills.

Another benefit of settling is the certainty it offers. Trials can be unpredictable, and there is always a risk that the jury may not decide in your favor. With a settlement, both parties agree on a specific amount of compensation, removing the uncertainty of a trial outcome. Additionally, settlements are private, allowing families to avoid the public exposure and scrutiny that can come with a court case.

On the other hand, litigating a wrongful death case involves taking the dispute to court and having a judge or jury decide the outcome. One advantage of litigation is the potential for a higher compensation award. If the case is strong and the evidence compelling, a court may award more in damages than what the at-fault party’s insurance company may offer in a settlement. Litigation also allows for a sense of justice and closure, as the responsible party is publicly held accountable for their actions.

However, litigation has its downsides. The process can be lengthy, often taking months or even years to reach a conclusion. This extended period can also add to the emotional and financial strain on the family. Additionally, litigation is more costly due to legal fees, court costs, and other expenses.

The final decision to settle or litigate a wrongful death case depends upon various factors, including the strength of the case, the family’s financial needs, and their emotional readiness for a potentially prolonged legal battle. Consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney can provide valuable insights and help weigh the pros and cons of each option.

Each family must carefully consider their unique situation and seek legal advice to determine the best course of action for their wrongful death case.

Recovering Wrongful Death Damages after a Fatal Car Accident

Recovering Wrongful Death Damages after a Fatal Car Accident

In a wrongful death case involving a car crash, the victim’s family can seek various types of recoverable compensation. These damages are meant to cover the financial and emotional losses resulting from the untimely death of their loved one. Understanding these types of compensation can help families know what they are entitled to claim.

  • One major type of recoverable compensation is economic damages. These include tangible financial losses such as medical expenses incurred before the victim’s death, funeral and burial costs, and lost income. For example, if the deceased was hospitalized before passing away, the family can claim the costs of medical treatment. Additionally, the family may seek compensation for the future earnings the deceased would have provided. This is especially important if the deceased was the primary breadwinner of the family.
  • Non-economic damages are also a significant part of wrongful death claims. These cover the intangible losses that do not have a direct monetary value but significantly affect the family’s life. One of the primary non-economic damages is the loss of companionship and emotional support. Families can claim compensation for the pain and suffering resulting from the death of their loved one. This includes the loss of care, guidance, and nurturing the deceased would have provided.
  • Punitive damages may also be available in some wrongful death cases. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the family for a specific loss. Instead, they are intended to punish the at-fault party for particularly reckless or egregious behavior and to deter similar actions in the future. For instance, if the car crash resulted from another driver’s extreme recklessness, such as drunk driving or street racing, the court may award punitive damages.
  • Another type of compensation that can be claimed is loss of inheritance. This covers the potential inheritance the family members would have received if the deceased had lived a normal lifespan. It also considers the savings and assets the deceased would likely have accumulated and passed on to their heirs.
  • Loss of services is another type of recoverable compensation. This includes the value of household services the deceased provided, such as childcare, cooking, and maintenance. The family may need to hire someone to perform these tasks, and the cost of such services can be claimed.

Speak to an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney Today

If you recently lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, it's important that you speak with an experienced and compassionate wrongful death attorney in your jurisdiction as soon as possible. Your lawyer can promptly evaluate your legal options, determine your eligibility for filing a claim, and take the necessary steps on your behalf. Your personal injury lawyer will do everything possible to maximize your and your family’s compensation during this difficult time.

Steve Crandall Author Image

Steve Crandall

Attorney

With licenses to practice law in Kentucky, Ohio, and various Federal Courts, Steve Crandall has been a top trial lawyer for nearly 30 years. Steve’s goals are to first investigate your case to get you answers and then focus on holding those responsible for the mistakes that changed your life. Steve’s clients can attest to the fact that Steve is responsive, keeps them constantly updated and aggressively pursues their case. Steve also remains their lawyer for life.

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