Car accidents are traumatic, especially when someone loses their life. In fact, car crashes have become the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is perhaps not surprising given that the U.S. sees over 33,000 fatal car crashes most years. Any traffic collision that causes the loss of life can seem unfair or “wrong,” but wrongful death is a legal term related to the cause of a fatality.
All deaths caused by car crashes may cause trauma and shock to surviving family members, but the cause of the accident determines whether it is possible to seek car accident wrongful death settlements. A wrongful death in a car accident is an unexpected fatality caused by someone’s negligence. For example, if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and because of their inebriation they cause a fatal car collision, certain members of the family of the deceased may have a wrongful death claim.
How is Wrongful Death Determined in an Accident?
In car accidents, wrongful death claims usually occur when a driver breaks the rules of the road or behaves in a reckless or negligent way. Wrongful death may be determined if a driver causes an accident due to:
- Drunk driving
- Distracted driving
- Driving with a suspended license or driving without a valid license
- Failure to yield
- Street racing or doing stunts
- Failure to stop at a red light or stop sign
- Intentionally trying to go off the road or attempting to hit anyone or anything with the car
In car accident wrongful death settlements, how an accident was caused can be investigated by police. In some cases, criminal charges may be filed against a reckless driver. Whether or not such charges are filed, a wrongful death claim may be filed if negligence caused the fatal collision.
If a police investigation or police report fails to establish negligence, it is still possible to gather evidence of negligent or reckless driving. Accident reconstruction experts and investigators can analyze the scene of a collision, the vehicles involved, and witness testimony to determine whether negligence played a role in the crash.
Certain members of the surviving family of someone killed in a collision can file a wrongful death claim if they meet the requirements for the civil suit. These plaintiffs must be able to show after a car collision that:
- A fatal car accident took place
- The at-fault driver or other liable party had and breached their duty of care to others on the road by violating traffic laws
- The collision was caused by the liable party’s breach of duty of care
To establish all of this, plaintiffs often work with a car accident wrongful death lawyer. Attorneys who have worked with car accident claims before have access to investigators and other professionals who may be able to seek evidence in the case and attorneys have been trained on how to present compelling evidence in a claim.
What Can the Family of the Deceased Do?
Certain family members who have lost a loved one in a car accident will generally need to speak with police and with the hospital or emergency room involved in the investigation and care of the deceased. The family will need to arrange burial or funeral arrangements and will need to focus on healing from the loss.
Family can work with police and may be able to follow any criminal case which emerges from the accident. Regardless of the criminal proceedings and the outcome of any criminal trial, families may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. This can allow them to seek compensation for some of their losses and allows them to hold the at-fault driver responsible. For some families, pursuing a claim and ensuring the at-fault driver must answer for their actions in some way is part of the healing process.
Before proceeding with a claim, however, it’s important to determine whether a family is eligible to file a claim. Wrongful death claims must be filed by the immediate family of the person who has died. In most car accident wrongful death settlements, claims are filed by:
- The children of the deceased
In Texas, siblings cannot file a wrongful death claim, but a personal representative, such as the estate executor or administrator, may be able to file a survivorship claim. In most cases, family members have a three-month window to file a wrongful death claim, but a personal representative may have up to two years if no family files a claim. If you’re not unsure whether you are eligible to file a wrongful death claim, contact a car accident wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible after the collision.
What Kind of Relief is Available?
Losing a loved one is devastating emotionally, but it can also cause financial distress to families. Families may need to pay for final medical bills, legal costs associated with probate, towing expenses of the car, car repairs or replacement, funeral and medical bills, counseling or therapy, and other costs. If the loved one lost in the car accident was an income earner, the family may also lose a source of income. Car accident wrongful death and survival settlements address some of these costs and allow families to recover for:
- Final medical treatments
- Pain and suffering
- Burial and funeral or memorial costs
- The loss of care and relationships
- The loss of services the deceased person would have provided
- The loss of love, consortium, and companionship
- The expected loss of inheritance
In Texas, families can also seek punitive damages or exemplary claims, which are meant to offer possible punishment to the responsible party if their conduct is grossly negligent. In theory, such damages can encourage the liable party to not break the law again.
In addition to seeking car accident wrongful death settlements, families may also have other options. There may be life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and other policies which help to defray the costs after a loss. To find out whether you may have a claim or to work with an attorney if you are having trouble with an insurance provider, contact a car accident wrongful death lawyer for a consultation to review the specifics of your situation.
How Can Johnson Garcia Help?
Nothing will bring back a loved one whose life was cut short in a car collision. However, if you are facing bills, loss of income, and other losses as a result of losing an immediate family member in a car accident, there may be relief available. Consult with a car accident wrongful death lawyer at Johnson Garcia to find out whether you have a claim. Our legal team has 25 years of combined experience helping the survivors and surviving families of fatal car accidents in Texas.