According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), road traffic injuries are the primary cause of mortality among individuals aged five to 29. Vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, account for over 50% of all road traffic fatalities and are also the leading cause of death for healthy American travelers abroad.
Apart from the emotional toll of fatalities, car accident deaths also result in significant financial losses for individuals, families, and entire nations.
If you lost a loved one in an auto accident, it’s normal to have questions about what that means for your family. If your deceased loved one was the victim of another driver’s negligence and carelessness, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against that person or their insurance company. However, there are some things you should know before filing a wrongful death claim.
In this article, we’ll go over some common questions people have about wrongful death claims after auto accidents and talk about how they can help grieving families move forward with their lives after losing someone they love deeply.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a type of legal action brought by the surviving family members or the estate of an individual who has died as a result of another party’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing.
Unlike other types of personal injury claims, which are typically filed by the injured party seeking compensation for their losses, wrongful death claims seek to compensate the family members and/or estate of the deceased individual for their losses.
Additionally, wrongful death claims may involve different legal standards and procedures than other types of personal injury claims.
Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In most states, anyone who has a close relationship with the deceased person may file a wrongful death claim. This includes:
- The surviving spouse (or domestic partner)
- Children of deceased parents who are under 18 years old at the time of death and dependent on their parents for support
- Adult children of deceased parents who lived with them for at least two years before their deaths and were dependent on them for support
- Parents of deceased children under 18 years old that were dependent on them financially
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?
The following types of damages may be recovered in a wrongful death claim:
- Loss of companionship. This type of damage compensates for the loss of love, affection, care, and comfort that would have been provided by the deceased had he or she survived. The amount of this type of damage is determined by the court based on the evidence presented by both sides during the trial.
- Loss of financial support. This type of damage compensates for any income that would have been earned by the deceased had he or she lived until retirement age (age 65). The amount awarded will depend on how long ago your loved one died and what kind of work experience they had at that time.
How Is Fault Determined in a Wrongful Death Claim After an Auto Accident?
Fox News recently reported a fatal car accident in St. Louis, Missouri, that left four people dead and four others injured. The accident happened after an SUV carrying eight individuals was hit by a car that ran a red light, causing it to plummet off an overpass and overturn onto its roof.
Sadly, four of the occupants, a woman and three men, passed away at the site of the accident. The remaining four survivors, consisting of three men aged 18 and 19 and an 18-year-old woman, sustained critical injuries.
While the responsibility was clear in this specific automobile collision, it may not be so straightforward in every instance. Fault in a wrongful death claim after an auto accident is determined by examining the evidence related to the accident.
Typically, this involves investigating the circumstances of the accident, reviewing police reports and witness statements, and gathering any available physical or forensic evidence. The goal is to determine who was responsible for the accident and to what extent their actions contributed to the victim’s death.
In some cases, a fault may be attributed to multiple parties, such as the driver of the other vehicle, a pedestrian or bicyclist, or even the deceased individual themselves. Ultimately, fault will be determined by the court or jury by applicable laws and legal principles.
Do You Need to Have an Attorney to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
You do not need to have an attorney to file a wrongful death claim, but it is highly recommended. An experienced personal injury lawyer will help you navigate the legal process and maximize your chances of getting compensation for your family.
It is crucial to hire a local lawyer for a wrongful accident lawsuit as they possess knowledge of the local laws and regulations, the local court system, and the community.
In the case of the St. Louis accident that killed four people, a St. Louis personal injury lawyer would be familiar with the specific legal procedures and have established relationships with local judges and other legal professionals.
Personal injury law firms in St. Louis, Missouri, like TorHoerman Law, LLC (THL), offer clients the option of a contingency fee arrangement when taking on their cases. Clients in this arrangement can rest assured that they will not have to pay the law firm if the case is not won.
What Evidence Is Needed to Support a Wrongful Death Claim?
To prove your wrongful death claim, you will need to show that the driver was negligent in causing the accident. You should also be able to provide evidence that:
- The victim suffered injuries as a result of the accident.
- The victim died from those injuries at some point after being treated by medical professionals or law enforcement officers for those injuries.
How Is Compensation Calculated in a Wrongful Death Claim?
When you file a wrongful death claim, compensation is calculated based on the loss suffered by your family. This includes things like:
- Loss of companionship (the emotional pain of being without someone close to you).
- Loss of services (any financial support that would have been provided to others).
- Future earnings (what they would have earned had they lived).
How Long Does It Take to Resolve a Wrongful Death Claim After an Auto Accident?
According to Forbes Advisor, the duration for resolving a wrongful death lawsuit may differ significantly. While some cases can be settled in a few months, others may require several years to resolve.
This is due to the extensive time required to conduct a comprehensive investigation and accumulate evidence. As a plaintiff, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the facts and responsible parties before accepting any settlement.
Negotiations are a crucial aspect of wrongful death settlements, and the insurance company may propose a particular amount. However, your legal counsel may disagree and argue for a higher amount, which requires time to resolve through discussion and compromise.
While it may be hard to think about financial compensation when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s important to remember that wrongful death claims can help you recover some of the costs associated with your loss. You should also know that there are time limits on filing these claims and that they must be filed in the state where the accident occurred.
If you have questions about wrongful death claims or need help filing one on behalf of someone who was killed in an auto accident, contact an experienced attorney.