Overview of wrongful death lawsuits, including who can file, when you should file, and when you need an attorney
Hello, and thank you for joining me. Today, we're talking about when a car accident fatality could lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you're here because you lost a loved one in a traffic accident, I am very sorry for your loss and I hope that we can provide you with some of the answers you need in order to move forward, but not every traffic-related fatality gives rise to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Some car accident fatalities are single car accidents, for example. A driver might have been driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and drove off the road. They might have been distracted, for instance, texting. They might have fallen asleep at the wheel. They might have suffered a medical event that caused them to lose consciousness or any other type of accident that does not involve a second driver or another person.
However, if someone's death is caused by a driver who is negligent or should have reasonably anticipated or foreseen that their behavior could cause harm or injury, you might be able to receive financial compensation for expenses related to the accident and death.
You can file a wrongful death lawsuit if you are the deceased person's spouse, partner, child, sibling or someone who is financially dependent on the deceased for your own interests and select a court-appointed personal representative to represent the decedent's estate.
There are two types of wrongful death lawsuits. A wrongful death lawsuit is one where a survivor of a person who died because of a defendant's negligence can recover damages for their own financial losses.
For example, if a person dies and leaves behind a spouse and minor children, the family members could file a lawsuit to recover costs for wages the decedent would have earned during their lifetime if the accident hadn't happened, costs for child care and household maintenance and other expenses that the family would now need to pay for. The family can also make a claim for their own emotional distress, loss of companionship and affection and other non-economic damages.
A survival action is brought on behalf of the deceased for costs incurred between the time of the accident and the time of their death. In other words, if the person survived the accident in the immediate time afterward and had surgery or other intervening medical treatment but they then died as a result of their injuries, those costs would be included as part of a survival action. They are the damages that the decedent would have been able to claim for a personal injury lawsuit if they had survived. Damages for pain and suffering are permitted in some states.
You can recover the same types of damages for a wrongful death claim as you would for other types of personal injury lawsuits.
These include economic, which are the financial contributions the decedent would have made to the survivors had he or she lived, like expected earnings, loss of benefits like health insurance or a pension and loss of inheritance and you can also recover funeral and burial costs.
Non-economic damages are intangible and can't easily be quantified. For example, a loss of care, guidance, advice, love and companionship and nurturing and also mental anguish, pain and suffering. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant if the negligence was especially malicious or reckless or if the action was intentional. These are not available in some states or against some government agencies.
Here's something that's important to note: A wrongful death claim is a civil action. If a car or truck accident resulted in a fatality, it's possible that there could be criminal charges against the person who caused the collision. A criminal conviction can be worthwhile to the family of the deceased person because it can offer a sense of justice and closure.
However, in order to recover financial benefits, you need to file a civil claim. Rules for civil claims vary by state. You would likely start by making an insurance claim and you could file a lawsuit if the insurance policies – both the policy that covered the deceased person and the other party's policy – do not cover the full extent of damages.
Certainly, there are other types of wrongful death lawsuits that are not related to traffic accidents.
You might be interested in learning more about wrongful deaths from medical malpractice, defective products, a hazardous property condition, a birth injury, work related injury or any other personal injury accident.
The amount of time you have to file a claim depends on the state where you live. The best way to determine your options for a wrongful death lawsuit is to consult a personal injury lawyer.
These can be complex cases particularly because you'll likely need financial and actuarial experts to calculate the exact amount of lost future wages, benefits and so on, but you won't be sorry because that's the money you need to maintain your lifestyle.
Dealing with a loved one's sudden and tragic death is difficult enough and no amount of money can bring them back or replace what you've lost but at least your lawyer can help to ease the financial burden.
You're welcome to use the Enjuris law firm directory at enjuris.com/directory/ to find an attorney near you who is ready to help.