Steven A. Bagen | October 15, 2023 | Car Accidents
Losing a loved one in a car accident is a devastating experience that leaves families in enormous grief and questioning what happened.
If someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional act led to the accident, you may file a wrongful death claim.
Compensation can never make up for losing a close relative, but it can offer families some financial relief and hold the responsible party accountable. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can empower grieving families to navigate this challenging time more effectively and provide strategic support at every step.
Damages Families Can Pursue After a Fatal Car Accident
When tragedy strikes due to preventable negligence, families grapple with a wide range of consequences over the short and long term.
- Medical bills: These include any medical treatment the deceased may have received before their passing.
- Funeral and burial costs: This covers the direct expenses for laying the deceased to rest, which can be a substantial burden.
- Loss of income: If the deceased was a breadwinner, families could seek compensation for the potential earnings they would have provided over an average lifespan.
- Loss of consortium: This compensation is for the loss of companionship, care, protection, and affection the deceased would have provided.
- Pain and suffering: This considers the emotional and psychological pain of grieving a loved one. This immense cost is impossible to quantify, but personal injury law allows families to seek compensation for this pain.
- Punitive damages: In cases of extreme recklessness or intentional harm, the court might award punitive damages to punish the offender and deter similar behavior in the future.
Wrongful death claims aren’t about trying to place a monetary value on someone’s life. They’re about holding the responsible party legally accountable and ensuring grieving families don’t bear the financial burden of someone else’s negligence or misconduct.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident?
When tragedy strikes in the form of a fatal car accident due to negligence or misconduct, immediate family members of the deceased may be eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim. The eligibility criteria for filing vary from state to state, but wrongful death laws are about reimbursing close relatives.
The common order for who can file a claim is:
- Spouses: They often have the first right to file, especially if they were financially dependent on the deceased.
- Children: Adult children can file if the deceased has no surviving spouse, but minor children usually need an adult guardian to file on their behalf.
- Parents: They can file for the wrongful death of minor children or an adult child with no spouse or children.
- Other Relatives: Eligibility can extend to siblings, grandparents, and legal guardians, often depending on whether the relative was financially dependent on the deceased.
Some states will also allow the executor of the deceased’s estate to file a claim on behalf of all the beneficiaries, which might include several close relatives. Eligibility for wrongful death can differ significantly from one jurisdiction to another, and the best approach will depend on your situation.
Call an experienced lawyer who handles these legal issues in your area and can protect your family’s best interests during this difficult time.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Fatal Car Accident
If you believe someone else’s recklessness caused your family member’s death on the road, you might have grounds for filing a wrongful death claim against the driver at fault or another responsible party.
Insurance companies play a significant role in this process because the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy is the most likely resource for compensating grieving family members.
These profit-driven companies try to minimize payouts, even for valid claims involving tragic circumstances. This makes the wrongful death claim process more contentious than it should be and underscores the need for a skilled lawyer.
What Can Your Wrongful Death Lawyer Do for You?
Taking legal action after a fatal car accident is a structured process to establish who was at fault and determine how much compensation beneficiaries may be eligible to recover.
Some of the essential steps a wrongful death lawyer can handle on your behalf include:
- Gather evidence: This involves collecting all pertinent information about the accident, such as accident reports, witness statements about what happened, and medical records detailing the cause of death.
- Determine the defendant: They can identify the party or parties responsible for the accident who you can hold liable. This could be a drunk driver, the manufacturer of a defective vehicle, or even a government entity if negligently poor road conditions contributed to the crash.
- Quantify damages: This entails putting a monetary value on the losses, including economic and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
- Notify the insurance company: Informing the at-fault party’s insurance company sets the formal legal process in motion.
- Negotiate: After the filing of the claim, the legal teams for each party will typically enter into a negotiation, which includes exchanging offers and counteroffers. Having an experienced wrongful death claim lawyer is invaluable at this stage.
- File a lawsuit, if necessary: If negotiations don’t lead to a fair settlement offer, it may be time to file a formal lawsuit against the at-fault party. This step is more intensive and may involve discovery, depositions, and a trial with a judge or jury determining liability.
Strategies Insurance Companies Use to Avoid Paying Wrongful Death Claims
Insurance companies have a well-established playbook for handling wrongful death claims, which involves reducing costs by paying families as little as possible.
Common tactics include:
- Disputing liability: Even when it seems clear-cut, insurers might challenge that their policyholder was responsible for the accident. They may even try to shift partial or full blame to the deceased, which could severely reduce compensation or completely nullify the claim.
- Making lowball offers: Initial settlement offers are often much less than your claim’s worth because insurers know families overwhelmed by grief and financial strain are more likely to accept, especially if they don’t have proper legal advice.
- Posing paperwork and procedural hurdles: Insurance companies may ask for excessive evidence, documents, and paperwork to make the claims process more overwhelming for the claimant. The goal is for claimants to either give up or make mistakes.
- Questioning damages: Insurers may contest medical treatments, funeral expenses, or other expenses, arguing that they’re excessive or unrelated to the accident.
When you’re coping with the grief and distress of losing a loved one under tragic circumstances, the legal hurdles thrown by insurance companies can feel insurmountable.
A skilled wrongful death lawyer can level the playing field by effectively protecting your best interests throughout the process and countering these strategies.
Whether gathering compelling evidence to establish fault or substantiating the true value of your claim, legal guidance and support can place your family in the strongest position possible to recover a settlement that reflects your loss.
Benefits of Hiring a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Losing a loved one suddenly due to a car accident is a shocking event with lifelong consequences. A wrongful death claim can hold the responsible party accountable and recover much-needed financial relief.
Most grieving families will struggle to take on the complexities of the legal system during such a vulnerable time, but that’s where a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death cases can make a meaningful difference.
Some of the ways a skilled legal team can significantly improve your chances of securing a fair outcome include:
- Handling paperwork and legal process: When grieving, the last thing you want to do is sift through mountains of paperwork and legal documents. A wrongful death lawyer takes care of all the paperwork, ensuring everything is accurate and on time to avoid any legal pitfalls.
- Demonstrating damages: Calculating damages in a wrongful death claim is complex and involves assessing much more than medical bills and funeral costs. Your lawyer has the resources to value your claim accurately, considering your immediate expenses and future financial losses and emotional suffering.
- Negotiating effectively: An experienced wrongful death lawyer will be well-versed in strategies insurers use to minimize payouts, and they can negotiate assertively on your behalf, using solid evidence and legal knowledge to maximize the compensation available.
- Representing your interests: While most wrongful death claims settle out of court, if a fair agreement isn’t possible through negotiation, having a skilled lawyer represent you in court can tip the scales in your favor. They can prepare and present a compelling case supported by the necessary evidence and testimony.
- Providing guidance and clarity: A good lawyer doesn’t just handle the legal paperwork. They also offer sound advice and emotional support, explain the legal process, and ensure you make informed decisions when it counts.
- Acting as an emotional buffer: Knowing a legal professional is handling your case can ease your burdens during a very emotional time. Your lawyer can act as a buffer against the insurance company, relieving you from the stress of dealing with them directly.
- Offering affordable services: Most wrongful death lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless you win compensation. This model reduces financial strain and makes legal representation accessible, allowing you to pursue justice without worrying about covering attorney fees upfront. Lawyers will outline their fee structure and additional costs in a very transparent way, ensuring there are no hidden surprises.
Dealing with the aftermath of a fatal car accident is undeniably one of the most challenging experiences any family can face. While no amount of money can compensate for this loss, skilled legal guidance can secure the resources to cover medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and many other damages resulting from the tragedy.
The legal process can also offer some solace in the form of closure and justice for your loved one.