Being involved in a crash with a large truck is always a shock, but when a loved one dies from the accident, the shock and trauma are far greater. Knowing that your loved one died because of someone’s negligence only adds to the emotional burden.
In one recent year, 5,005 people died in crashes involving large trucks, and 71 percent of those killed occupied other vehicles or were pedestrians. In Florida, there were 340 fatal truck crashes. These numbers represent lives ended, perhaps unnecessarily, and grieving families left behind.
Any death resulting from negligence or an intentional act is usually considered wrongful death. In the past, the injured person could not file a claim because they were deceased, and the claim died with them. As a result, the families faced mounting bills and lost income without the love and financial support their loved ones provided. However, in a wrongful death claim, another party can bring the claim on their behalf.
Elements of a wrongful death lawsuit
A wrongful death action can arise from another person’s negligence, such as a truck accident or an intentional act.
To bring a successful wrongful death cause of action, your case must show:
- A person’s death
- caused by another person’s negligent or intentional act
- Surviving family members suffered financial injury as a result of the death
- The appointment of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate
Under the Florida wrongful death statute, if a deceased victim of an accident due to negligence or intentional misconduct could sue, their surviving family can sue on their behalf.
How does a wrongful death lawsuit work?
The deceased’s personal representative may file a lawsuit. The personal representative is the person appointed to oversee the administration of the decedent’s estate.
The decedent’s will indicates who will serve as the personal representative. However, the court appoints a personal representative if they die without a will. Even though the personal representative brings the lawsuit, the surviving family and the deceased’s estate benefit from any compensation received.
The case starts when the personal representative files a complaint. This document identifies all the parties who will benefit from the wrongful death damages and their relationships with the deceased.
In Florida, the family members who can recover damages in a wrongful death case include:
- The spouse, children, or parents
- Adult children when there’s no spouse
- The parents of minors
- Adoptive siblings
- Blood relatives
What is the difference between a survival action and a wrongful death claim?
In contrast to a wrongful death claim, a survival action does not benefit the surviving family members. Instead, it is an action brought on behalf of the deceased person’s estate to compensate the person who died.
Despite the severity of most truck accident injuries, not all passengers and occupants die immediately. Many injuries happen due to the enormous size of the truck, but in addition, some trucks haul hazardous materials that can harm those involved in the accident. Some victims suffer a severe injury and then subsequently die because of the injury.
A Florida survival action depends upon the legal claims of the person who died. A surviving injured victim could have filed a claim for medical expenses, other financial losses, and pain and suffering. However, in a survival action, the claims survive the injured person’s death, and the estate’s personal representative files these claims.
In a survival action for a decedent’s conscious pain and suffering, the judge or jury must determine the damages based on factors such as:
- The degree of consciousness
- The severity of pain
- The duration of the suffering
- The apprehension of impending death
Common causes of fatal truck accidents
Like other motor vehicle accidents, many factors may contribute to a truck accident. Surprisingly, most truck accidents happen between noon and 3 p.m. However, a commercial truck is a massive vehicle, challenging to drive and maneuver. Therefore, even a small mistake can leave disastrous consequences.
Driver error is ten times more likely to cause a crash than any other factor. The most prevalent cause of all truck-related accidents is tire defects.
Other frequent causes of truck crashes that lead to wrongful death claims include:
- Inadequate truck driver training or supervision
- Distracted truck drivers
- Drowsy truckers
- Substance abuse
- Poor truck maintenance
- Improperly loaded or secured cargo
- Truck drivers failing to check their no-zone blind spots
- Unrealistic company expectations
Who may be liable for trucking accidents?
Accident lawsuits involving large commercial trucks often involve multiple defendants, such as:
- Trucking company
- Truck driver
- Truck owner
- The manufacturer or cargo loader
- Those in charge of truck maintenance and repair
Evidence supporting a wrongful death claim
Truck accidents often require several detailed investigations. Typically, these investigations reveal critical evidence that helps the family prove their case and secure a full and fair settlement. You need a lawyer immediately, evidence will quickly disappear after a truck accident. Valuable evidence that lays blame on the trucking company will vanish.
The law requires that trucking companies preserve and maintain these records for a set time. Your attorney may send an evidence preservation letter to ensure that the evidence is not altered or destroyed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truckers to keep and maintain a daily log and daily inspection reports.
The lawyer may seek preservation of:
- Event data recorders (EDRs) and electronic control modules (ECMs). Together, these components are the black box, and they can provide a great deal of crucial information about events leading up to and including the accident, such as speed, braking, and location.
- Dispatch records for the driver, tractor, and trailer are vital documents. The company must retain them for no less than six months. The information they contain must coincide with the electronic data.
- Bills of lading and manifests
- Fleet management communication records
- Driver expense receipts for lodging, meals, fuel, and other related expenses.
- Maintenance records for the trailer and tractor involved
- Lease or ownership records for the tractor and trailer, as they sometimes differ
What compensation may be available to families?
The damages from a wrongful death lawsuit include a variety of damages the deceased would have been able to claim had they survived, plus damages the family faces. For example, the deceased’s estate can also receive damages for lost income, future loss of services, interest, and other financial benefits between the injury and death, which add to their estate.
The court distributes these damages according to the deceased’s will, or as provided by Florida law if they left no will. If a surviving family member paid medical or funeral expenses, the damages reimburse them for these expenses.
The deceased person’s spouse may get compensation for loss of consortium, which means the loss of companionship and protection. A spouse can also claim compensation for mental anguish, pain, and suffering.
A minor child and, in some cases, adult children (aged 25 or older) may recover:
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance
- Mental pain and suffering from the date of the decedent’s (parent) injury; and
- Value of lost support and services from the date of the accident into the future.
In addition, in Florida, if the child’s parents are unmarried, the child may be entitled to compensation after their mother’s wrongful death. However, in the case of an unmarried father, this is only true if the father had an obligation to support the child and formally recognized the child as his own.
Parents of a deceased minor may recover compensation for mental pain and suffering caused by the loss. In addition, the parents of an adult child may recover damages if the adult child has no other survivors.
Any blood relatives or adoptive brothers or sisters of the deceased dependent on the victim for financial support or services may collect damages.
The deceased’s personal representative may also recover funeral and medical expenses charged against the estate or paid by or on behalf of the decedent. The personal representative may also recover the deceased’s lost earnings and expected net accumulations of the estate.
Determining the amount of the damages
At first, determining the damages amount may seem straightforward, but it often becomes very complicated. The measure of damages is actual pecuniary loss. The court may consider the decedent’s life expectancy, earning capacity, age, and health.
For example, what if the accident victim was an adult with an income and had one or more minor children? The loss of income and loss of parental guidance are factors the court may take under consideration. The jury may base loss of income on the victim’s earnings when they died, last known earnings if the victim was unemployed, and potential future income.
If the victim was a homemaker not employed outside the home, the jury may consider how much it would cost to provide the services they contributed to the household.
Placing a monetary value on considerations such as loss of companionship or parental guidance becomes complex. Your attorney may arrange for testimony from economists, actuaries, and other experts to establish the value of the losses.
What can family members do after a truck accident?
After a fatal truck accident, family members often feel helpless, but they are not. If they were present at the time of the accident, they could collect as much evidence as possible at the scene. This information helps prove who was at fault for the accident and how the accident led to their loved one’s death.
Always call for help. Police reports and medical records are valuable evidence. Accident scenes are often chaotic, but family members can gather witness contact information. Sometimes witnesses are difficult to locate after the accident. Take pictures or videos of the accident scene, damaged vehicles, and injuries. However, avoid posting photos or comments about the accident on social media as these may damage a future lawsuit.
Instead, write down a detailed account of what happened when the accident occurred. If your loved one did not die immediately, keep notes on their injuries and suffering.
Even if not present at the accident, family members can locate and organize information that may assist a lawyer in an upcoming lawsuit.
How can a wrongful death attorney help you?
Truck crashes tend to be more devastating than typical car accidents. They often involve more defendants and more complex issues.
A skilled truck accident attorney will know all the trucking industry rules and regulations and will identify the relevant violations or negligence that led to the accident. They have the knowledge and resources to investigate the accident, gather evidence, handle insurance companies and settlement negotiations, and represent the family in court if the case goes to trial.
The statute of limitations for wrongful death is within two years of the date of death for most cases, so consult an attorney as soon as possible after the accident.
Significant truck accidents often lead to catastrophic injuries and, in some cases, tragic losses. Along with these losses are overwhelming personal and financial hardships. After a trucking accident fatality, families experience trauma, grief, and a sense of unreality.
When a death occurs due to someone’s negligence or intentional harm, the family may be shocked and angry. No amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, but compensation can help a family meet the challenges they face in the future. If you lost a family member in a fatal truck accident, contact an experienced, dedicated truck accident attorney for more information and a free claim evaluation.