Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., resulting in more than 38,000 fatalities each year. The victims of these accidents include the occupants of passenger cars or buses, motorcycle riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. After a fatal accident, much focus goes into determining fault—whose careless or reckless actions caused the collision.
If someone you love has died in a car accident, let Frank and Jennifer Fernandez and the legal team at Fernandez Firm help you understand the process of obtaining compensation for the financial and psychological impacts you have incurred as a result of your loss. We have obtained the compensation that thousands of clients needed to move forward after a car accident.
Car Accidents: A Major Cause of Death
Each year on U.S. roadways, more than 25,000 vehicle occupants, 5,000 motorcyclists, and 7,000 bicyclists and pedestrians die in traffic accidents. The most common type of car accident to result in death is a side-angle (also known as broadside or T-bone) collision, which occurs when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another.
Other types of accidents that can result in fatalities include:
- Head-on collisions, which occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the front of another.
- Rear-end collisions, which occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the rear of another.
- Vehicle rollovers.
- Single-vehicle accidents, which can involve one vehicle running off the road or colliding with an object, or a single vehicle colliding with a pedestrian or bicyclist.
The Accident Investigation
While the requirements vary from state to state, all states in the U.S. require individuals in a car accident that results in a serious injury or death to render aid and report the accident to authorities. “Rendering aid” does not require you to perform lifesaving procedures at the scene. It does require you to call the police and for someone to remain on the scene with the injured until emergency workers arrive.
At the investigation, police officers on the scene will gather several types of information, including:
- The names and contact information of all drivers in the accident, as well as the make, model, and color of all vehicles involved, the driver’s license and license plate numbers of the drivers and vehicles, as well as proof of insurance.
- The accounts of all drivers as to how the accident occurred, and a list of any witnesses who saw the accident.
- Analysis of the scene, including the traffic present at the time the crash occurred, skid marks left on the roadway that indicate attempts by one or more drivers to avoid the collision, and all damage to the vehicles.
Once the officers have gathered the information necessary to make the report, they will write a narrative explaining, in their view, how the accident occurred. If any of the drivers committed a traffic infraction, police can issue citations at the scene or later on. Additionally, if alcohol impairment or other serious offenses factored into the accident, police can arrest a driver.
Why Fault Matters
The reason that fault matters in car accident investigations is that the person or entity found to be responsible for the accident occurring is required to pay for the expenses that others incurred because of injuries or fatalities that resulted from the accident. Generally, insurance policies compensate for these expenses.
When Someone Dies, Their Loved Ones Often Struggle
The death of an individual can cause tremendous financial and psychological costs for the loved ones they leave behind. The deceased may have accumulated medical expenses related to the treatment of injuries before dying. The family may have lost the support and services that the deceased provided. These family members are also generally suffering at the same time from the emotional impacts of losing the love, nurturing, companionship, and guidance of the deceased.
Seeking Compensation for the Losses Incurred
When someone dies because of someone else’s reckless driving, the family members of the deceased or the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate can seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
It is important to note that, in most states, the only family members who can benefit from a wrongful death claim are those who would likely be entitled to the deceased’s assets after death due to intestacy. Intestacy refers to a death that occurs when the decedent does not have a will.
Common beneficiaries include:
- The deceased’s spouse
- Children of the deceased, or grandchildren if the deceased’s children are also deceased
- The deceased’s parents, if the deceased was a child or the parents were dependent on the deceased for services and support
- Other individuals who count on the deceased for support, such as step-children or siblings
- The deceased’s estate, if there are no survivors to benefit from the claim
For a successful outcome to your wrongful death claim, you must prove that someone else’s carelessness or recklessness caused your loved one’s death.
To prove liability, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed a duty of care. The duty of care generally refers to the actions a reasonable person would take in a given set of circumstances to protect the safety and property of others. The duty owed by drivers to other roadway users is to operate their motor vehicles safely and legally.
- There was a breach in the duty of care when the at-fault party took actions that violated the duty to protect the safety and property of others. Examples of ways a driver could breach the duty of care include driving while alcohol-impaired, speeding, distracted driving, or failure to yield the right-of-way.
- The breach in the duty of care caused an accident that killed your loved one. The loss of the decedent caused your family to incur expenses and psychological impacts.
The Compensation Available Through a Wrongful Death Claim
Each state’s laws outline the compensation a wrongful death lawsuit can recover.
Usually, these types of compensation are available:
- Expenses related to the medical treatment of the deceased’s final injury, if paid for directly by a family member or by the deceased’s estate.
- Reasonable expenses related to funeral services and burial or cremation.
- Loss of services and support provided by the deceased to their family members.
- Loss of parental love, guidance, nurturing, and support that the deceased provided to their children.
- Loss of love, affection, companionship, and protection that the deceased provided to their spouse.
- Loss of earnings and benefits the deceased would have reasonably earned if they had survived their injuries.
- Loss of prospective net accumulations to the deceased’s estate.
Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in a No-Fault State?
Several states in the nation, including Florida, have a “no-fault” automobile insurance system. These states require drivers to prove that they have purchased personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy in addition to auto liability coverage when they register their car. PIP policies cover medical expenses and wage replacement up to the policy limits after an injury from a car accident, regardless of who caused the accident. These policies also provide a death benefit for the family members of individuals who died in an accident.
Fault still matters, even in no-fault states. If the expenses of your injuries exceed your PIP policy or your injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold, you can use the state’s civil court system to seek compensation. Injuries resulting in death meet this threshold, making it possible for the family members of the deceased to seek more compensation, including payment for the emotional losses the family incurred from the death.
The Wrongful Death Process
Family members or estate administrators, upon deciding to pursue compensation for their loss, typically begin the claims process by hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney to assist them.
With the assistance of the attorney:
- A demand package goes to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. This package contains details about the accident and death, documentation of expenses, and a demand for the full stated value of the claim.
- The insurance adjuster, upon receiving the demand package, can: 1) Admit to the liability of their insured and process the claim for payment; 2) Deny the claim and notify the claimant of their decision as well as provide them with a reason for the denial; or 3) Admit to liability but propose a settlement for an amount that is generally less than the value of the claim.
- If the insurance adjuster proposes a settlement, this will begin the settlement negotiation process. Your attorney will seek the highest amount of compensation for your family while helping you determine whether any settlements are fair.
- Settlement negotiations might stall. As the statute of limitations draws closer for filing your claim in court, you and your attorney will discuss whether this is a beneficial time to do so. Settlement negotiations can continue even after you file your claim, and even after your trial has begun, provided the court has not yet decided the matter. Most wrongful death claims resolve outside of the courtroom via settlements.
- Once you file your case in court, your attorney will organize the evidence and witness testimony to prove your claim in court.
- If you don’t settle when your scheduled trial date begins, your attorney will provide litigation services, examining witnesses, presenting evidence, and delivering opening and closing arguments.
- When your case resolves via a settlement agreement or court decision, your attorney will collect any compensation you recovered. Because of the contingent-fee billing method your attorney uses, you will not pay for their services unless they obtain a positive outcome in your claim.
Trust a Wrongful Death Lawyer Near You With Your Claim
No amount of compensation can bring back your loved one or take away the pain of their death. A wrongful death claim, however, can help you and your family find a way forward. Call a trusted lawyer near you for answers to your questions and a free case evaluation.