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Can a Family Member Sue for Wrongful Death After a Car Accident?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 35,766 fatal crashes occurred across America in 2020. Additionally, nearly 39,000 people lost their lives in these crashes. Have you also lost a loved one in a fatal accident? You might be entitled to compensation. However, that depends on the details of the case and your relationship to the deceased person.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a legal term describing the loss of life due to careless actions. It could also be caused by an intentional act, such as murder or assault. That said, not all car accidents result from negligence and, in some cases, the negligent party could be the person who died.

For example, if a drunk driver crashes into a tree, the family might have little to no chance of presenting this as a wrongful death suit. Similarly, a successful wrongful death claim is unlikely if the person falls asleep and crashes into the back of a semi-truck.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In general, only family members who have suffered financially and emotionally can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person responsible for their loved one’s death. Typical plaintiffs in these cases include spouses, children of any age, parents and siblings. For example, if your son died in a car accident caused by someone else’s reckless driving, you might have the opportunity to file a wrongful death lawsuit and seek compensation.

States might also define familial relationships differently. For example, consider the case of a young, unmarried father who passed away in a crash due to someone else’s negligence. Even if he was the sole provider at home, his girlfriend is unlikely to have a claim for a wrongful suit. However, if they have a child together, she may have the option of filing a claim on the child’s behalf.

What Kind of Damages Are Available?

The damages you can claim in this type of case depend on your relationship to the deceased person. The plaintiff’s lawyer must provide evidence of loss, such as the victim’s salary or earning capacity and any medical expenses associated with their injuries. However, courts may also consider other factors when determining the amount you can recover.

Medical and Funeral Expenses

If you lost your spouse in a car accident and they received medical care before passing, you may be entitled to compensation for the deceased’s medical expenses. This includes any final hospital bill associated with their injuries and eventual death. You may also recover compensation for the cost of funeral services, cremations or burials.

Loss of Companionship

Courts also consider spouses or children who lost their loved one in an accident as having suffered great emotional pain. If your spouse died, you could receive compensation for the financial loss of your relationship, including the loss of companionship and familial support.

Loss of Income

Children’s parents play a vital role in providing for them. Even when they are no longer around to financially support their family, courts might compensate children for the loss of future financial contributions. The amount awarded will depend on the deceased person’s salary and estimated future earning potential.

Loss of Benefits

Some courts consider more than just the monetary compensation the individual earned. Additional work benefits could include disability insurance or access to medical benefits. For example, the courts might order the negligent party to compensate a widow for the loss of these benefits provided by her late husband’s career.

Property Damage

The household likely also lost personal property, including the car itself, in the crash. An attorney may request repairs for or replacement of the vehicle. Personal items inside or carried by the vehicle might also need to be replaced, such as expensive e-Bikes or utility trailers.

Emotional Distress

In some cases, children and spouses might also seek compensation for emotional distress. Damages awarded could include any counseling that helped them cope with their grief and the price of traveling to see a loved one in the hospital or court.

Punitive Damages

Some states might also award punitive damages for a wrongful death lawsuit. Courts only administer this at their discretion. These damages are meant to punish the negligent party’s actions, usually in cases where the victim died due to gross negligence. For example, the court might add millions to a hit-and-run drunk driver case.

How Much Can You Get for a Wrongful Death Case After a Car Cash?

Your loved one’s life is priceless. No dollar amount can replace the value they brought to your life. This can make it difficult for attorneys and courts to place a monetary value on the case. It’s important to remember that this does not represent the worth of that person’s life. Instead, it represents the economic loss balanced against the level of negligence committed by the at-fault party.

Not surprisingly, wrongful death suits tend to result in much higher settlements and verdicts than most other personal injury cases. Cases tend to range from roughly $500,000 to millions of dollars. Here are some of the factors that tend to affect the final number:

  • The annual income earned by the deceased person
  • Whether the person had dependents that he or she cared for
  • Whether gross negligence played a role in the accident
  • Whether the court awards punitive damages
  • The insurance limits of the negligent driver’s insurance policy
  • Whether the deceased person died at the scene or had costly medical bills

How Can an Attorney Help When Families Sue for a Wrongful Death?

A compassionate team at an experienced law firm may provide the solutions you need to move forward. Your attorney has the resources to investigate the accident thoroughly and collect more evidence to strengthen the case. The sooner you start this process, the more substantial the evidence. Waiting could result in witnesses moving away or failing to remember the exact details of what happened at the scene.

Experienced attorneys know firsthand how the court process works in your locality. They have seen what works in the courtroom and how some jurors or judges might rule. Sometimes, they might successfully avoid a trial altogether by successfully negotiating for high settlements. In fact, most of these cases typically end with private compensation.

When insurance companies and attorneys cannot agree, a trial is the most likely result. Your attorney can help prepare you for taking the stand. If you were also involved in the accident, you might need to share your experiences. Sometimes, family members who cared for the deceased person before death might also need to share how the injuries affected quality of life before he or she passed.

An experienced attorney can also help you set realistic expectations of what to expect from the case. When families know their rights from the start, it can reduce friction and the risk of in-fighting over how to proceed. For example, the attorney might determine which family members have the most substantial claim.

How Can You Find Experienced Attorneys?

When choosing wrongful death attorneys for your case, look for a company with a strong reputation, excellent record of success and personalized service. We bring this and much more to the table at Fielding Law. We have also successfully recovered millions of dollars for our clients and stand ready to fight for you. Contact us for a free case evaluation.