What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?
When a car accident unexpectedly takes the life of a loved one, surviving family members experience one of life’s most stressful events. The impacts of traumatic accidents are far-reaching and can be overwhelming for those left behind. When a car accident takes a life, family members may be entitled to compensation to relieve some of the physical, emotional, and financial stress of their loss. If you have lost a loved one due to a car accident, contact a San Antonio car accident lawyer today to get all your legal questions answered.
It happens a lot in Texas, if a little less often. In recent years, the annual number of miles traveled increased by 3.31 percent. However, the number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents declined 2.36 percent during the same period, from 3,727 deaths to 3,639.
Wrongful Death Litigation
Who can file a wrongful death claim varies by state. Under Texas law, for example, the surviving parents, spouse, or children of the decedent may be entitled to bring a wrongful death action against responsible parties. Of course, the other driver may be partially or fully liable for causing the accident. However, additional parties may have contributed to the accident in some way, thus implicating their responsibility for compensating accident-related injuries.
If surviving family members fail to bring a wrongful death claim within three months of their loved one’s death, the executor of the decedent’s estate may initiate an action. Unless the executor is instructed to refrain from filing a claim, he or she can bring the action on behalf of surviving families.
What if the At-Fault Driver Faces Criminal Charges?
When a car accident results from a driver’s failure to comply with motor vehicle laws, frequently, the driver will face criminal charges. However, any criminal proceedings against an at-fault driver do not affect family members’ ability to file a wrongful death claim, which is a civil action. Even if the other driver faces criminal charges, families may still engage in settlement negotiations with insurance companies or initiate litigation against the appropriate parties.
A civil claim for damages will be independent of any criminal case. Additionally, the outcome of criminal proceedings will not negatively impact the outcome of a wrongful death claim. However, if the at-fault party violated motor vehicle laws when causing the accident, the criminal case may provide a basis for seeking exemplary damages. Exemplary damages are appropriate when the responsible parties committed particularly egregious or grossly negligent actions.
Damages You Can Claim After Losing a Loved One in a Car Accident
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, surviving family members may be entitled to recover damages on behalf of their loved one, including:
- Medical costs, including emergency transportation, doctors’ expenses, hospital expenses, and other medical expenses related to the accident.
- Loss of companionship, comfort, and/or loss of consortium.
- Lost wages and benefits, including insurance benefits and other benefits provided to your loved one through his employment.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Inconvenience costs, which include the costs of housekeeping, child care, or household maintenance.
- Pain and suffering experienced by the decedent during the time between the accident and his or her death.
Obviously, no amount of compensation can replace the life of a loved one. However, recovering damages from responsible parties can help ease the financial burden and worry that families suffer from the loss of their loved one’s income.
Who Is Liable?
In many motor vehicle accidents, fault, and consequently, liability, may be placed on the driver who caused the accident. However, in some cases, other parties may also be responsible for the accident. Accidents can happen for a wide range of reasons, even when drivers are abiding by traffic laws. At times, other parties may contribute to the accident.
- If more than one vehicle crashes at the same time, Vehicle A could hit Vehicle B, causing Vehicle B to hit your loved one’s vehicle. In this situation, family members may be entitled to file a claim against the drivers of both Vehicle A and Vehicle B. Additionally, if you only have a claim against Vehicle B, Vehicle B may have a claim against the driver of Vehicle A.
- A pedestrian or a bicyclist walking or riding erratically or unexpectedly moving into the path of the car that hit you may share liability for the accident. Even though the other party was not directly involved, if their actions caused a driver to collide with your vehicle, they may be responsible.
- The state or county agencies responsible for road maintenance may be liable for an accident caused by inadequate road conditions.
- An establishment that serves alcohol may be implicated if they over-served a customer who’s impairment caused an accident.
- Employers that “encourage” drivers to make deliveries in unreasonable amounts of time or ignore hours of service regulations may share responsibility for accidents caused by their employees.
- Vehicle manufacturers, auto techs, parts manufacturers, and dispatchers, especially in accidents involving commercial vehicles, may share in the liability for the accident.
In many cases, an attorney may have to retain experts to help investigate a car accident case. Investigation is especially important when the police report alleges that the driver was not the only party at fault.
Litigating Months After the Accident
In some cases, a loved one may suffer from long-term injuries after an accident. If accident-injuries eventually lead to the death of a loved one, even months later, family members may be entitled to bring a wrongful death claim. If treatment care providers do not expect an accident victim to survive long-term, their family should not hesitate to contact an attorney.
Preparing for Settlement or Litigation After You Lose a Loved One in a Car Accident
When you are ready to file a claim, you will need to gather a wealth of information and evidence. The sooner family members can collect information, the sooner an experienced attorney can begin strengthening their claim. Required information may include insurance policies, the other driver’s insurance information, medical records, medical invoices, the police report, and other documents relating to the accident.
To ensure an attorney can adequately evaluate the case, family members should bring copies of any documents that may be helpful to their free consultation. Be sure to save the originals for your own records. If you do not have access to a copy machine or printer, an attorney can make copies for you. A car accident lawyer will keep you advised of any information they may need to move the case forward.
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, contact a wrongful death lawyer for a free consultation today.