Knowing when an accident could be a wrongful death can change your financial future forever
A truck accident is almost always serious. If you’re able to walk away with minor cuts and bruises, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.
Maybe the truck accident that changed your life wasn’t your accident, at all. Losing a loved one in an accident is traumatic, shocking, and devastating. It can be especially worrisome if you relied on that person for financial support. You might be wondering what to do, where to turn, and how you’re going to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, no amount of money will bring your loved one back. But compensation can help maintain your financial responsibilities, and provide closure and justice.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
A wrongful death claim can be filed by an individual who represents the deceased person’s estate. In most cases, a case can be filed by these people:
- Spouse or partner
- Other financially dependent person
Each state has its own laws for who can represent a deceased person in a wrongful death claim. Most states follow one of two legal systems:
- Lord Campbell’s Act: This law sounds archaic, but it’s a British legal principle that remains in several states today. It says that only a designated beneficiary can bring a wrongful death claim. The beneficiary would be eligible based on their relationship to the deceased, and will usually begin with the spouse or children. If there are no survivors who meet the state’s legal criteria, the right to sue would be passed to the next category of survivors. If there are no survivors at all, there is no right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Loss-to-estate system: In states that follow this system, the only people who could file a wrongful death claim are those who are representatives of the deceased person’s estate. Any damage award would become part of the estate as a special trust and would be dispersed among the deceased person’s beneficiaries.
When you file a wrongful death claim, you’re essentially acting on behalf of the deceased person. Your role is to be the plaintiff in their absence since they can’t represent themselves.
When can you file a wrongful death claim?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a way to file a claim for someone who would have a personal injury lawsuit if they’d survived. In other words, there needs to be a defendant who caused the person’s death because of negligent or intentionally harmful actions.
In a wrongful death action resulting from a truck accident, you need to prove that someone involved in the accident was negligent.
There can be several defendants in a truck accident:
- Truck driver
- Truck driver’s employer
- Trucking company
- Cargo shipper
- Truck or truck parts manufacturer
If the accident was the result of negligence on the part of one or more of the involved parties, and that negligence was the cause of your loved one’s death, you can bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Damages in a truck accident wrongful death claim
In any civil lawsuit, the only remedy is to recover “damages” in the form of money.
YOU cannot charge someone with a crime. Only the government (federal, state, or local) can charge a person with a crime. If convicted, they could be sentenced to pay a fine, community service, probation, or jail time.
Continue reading about the differences between criminal and civil cases.
The damages you can recover in a truck accident civil lawsuit are divided into these 3 categories:
- Economic, which covers costs for medical treatment prior to death, loss of financial support, and funeral and burial expenses. It can also cover expenses like loss of future expected earnings, loss of benefits like pension plans or medical insurance, loss of inheritance because of untimely death, and the value of goods and services that the deceased person would have provided to the family if they’d lived (like childcare, house cleaning, etc.).
- Non-economic, which includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
- Punitive, which is a damage award that’s for the purpose of punishing the defendant. This would only be in cases where the defendant’s behavior is found to be especially harmful or reckless.
Hiring a truck accident lawyer for a wrongful death lawsuit
If you’ve recently experienced the shock and sadness of the death of a family member, your mind is probably swirling and you’re just trying to take things day by day. However, hiring a lawyer quickly can help your case.
Your truck accident lawyer will act immediately to preserve evidence from the trucking company. They’ll do the following:
- Send a spoliation letter. This document is a memo to the trucking company that requires it to preserve evidence from the collision.
- Inspect the truck. Your lawyer will hire an expert who can determine if there were maintenance issues that could’ve caused or contributed to the accident.
- Obtain documents from the trucking company. Driver logs, maintenance records, and other documentation is important for building a case and determining who’s at fault.
- Interview witnesses. The longer you wait to interview a witness, the more facts are lost or forgotten. We’ve all had a situation where we’ve rolled something around in our brains enough times that we’re no longer sure that something happened exactly the way we originally thought. Your witnesses are a valuable aspect to the case, and it’s important to take a statement while the memory is fresh.
- Hire accident reconstruction experts. These people can be engineers, mechanics, or anyone who specializes in accident forensics. They’ll evaluate the road conditions and other factors in order to determine what happened.
Each of these actions should be taken soon after a truck accident so you can gather all of the relevant information before it’s gone for good. YOU shouldn’t have to worry about any of this — this is your lawyer’s job. You focus on handling your grief and putting your life back together to move forward.
One more thing to keep in mind:
A fatal accident is newsworthy and might be covered on your local news stations or in the paper. Lawyers might contact you to offer their services because they know that you’ve lost someone in the crash. It’s always best to find a lawyer based on your own research and their reputation. It’ll be tempting to hire the first person who calls because it saves you the time of calling around. But that person might not be the best qualified or most experienced to take your case. They’re also not allowed to reach out to you to solicit business.
Consider using the Enjuris Personal Injury Law Firm Directory as one source for finding the wrongful death lawyer who’ll handle your case with skill and compassion.
Bentley Law holds guilty drivers financially accountable for the minor children of parents whose lives have been cut short. Currently enacted in Texas, Maine, Kentucky, and Tennessee, there's hope that soon it will be law in every state.