Losing a loved one in a car accident is one of the most devastating experiences a person can go through. The grief and emotional trauma can be overwhelming, and the financial impact can be a heavy burden on top of everything else. If someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing caused the accident, surviving family members may have the right to file a wrongful death claim to seek justice and compensation for their losses.

Let’s review what a wrongful death claim is, who can file one, and what the process involves. We’ll also discuss the types of damages that may be available and how an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you through this difficult time and fight for the compensation your family deserves.

Click for free case review

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

You can bring a wrongful death claim when someone dies due to the fault of another person or entity. In the context of a car accident, you may bring a wrongful death claim if factors like the following contribute to the crash:

  • Negligent or reckless driving (e.g., speeding, running red lights, distracted driving)
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Defective vehicle parts or maintenance issues
  • Dangerous road conditions due to lack of proper maintenance or signage

Essentially, if another party’s wrongful actions or inaction were directly responsible for the death, you might consider filing a wrongful death claim.

A wrongful death claim is a civil matter, separate from any criminal charges that authorities might file regarding the accident. Even if the at-fault driver faces criminal prosecution, surviving family members can still pursue a wrongful death claim to seek monetary damages.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In most states, there are specific laws that dictate who has the right to file a wrongful death claim after a car accident. Typically, this includes the following individuals:

The Surviving Spouse of the Deceased

In most states, the surviving spouse primarily has the right to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their deceased partner. This recognizes the unique bond and partnership shared between married couples and the profound loss experienced when a spouse dies.

As the closest family member to the deceased, the surviving spouse may recover damages for a wide range of losses, including:

If the surviving spouse and the deceased were legally separated or in the process of divorcing at the time of death, it may impact their ability to file a claim. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help navigate these situations and determine the spouse’s eligibility for compensation.

The Surviving Children of the Deceased (Including Adopted Children)

When there is no surviving spouse, or in addition to the spouse’s claim, the children of the deceased may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. This includes both biological and legally adopted children.

A guardian or personal representative may need to file the claim when the children are minors. Adult children can typically file their claims.

Surviving children can recover damages for losses such as:

  • Loss of financial support and inheritance they will have received from the deceased
  • Loss of parental guidance, nurturing, and emotional support
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress resulting from the loss of their parent

If the deceased had children from multiple relationships or marriages, each child may have the right to file a lawsuit. In some cases, the division of awarded damages among the children may depend on their age and relationship with the deceased.

The Surviving Parents of the Deceased (If There Is No Spouse or Children)

In situations where the deceased was not married and had no children, their surviving parents may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. This acknowledges the bond between parents and children and the devastating impact of losing a child.

Surviving parents can recover damages for losses such as:

  • Loss of financial support and services the deceased will have provided
  • Loss of companionship, care, and affection
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress suffered as a result of the loss

In some cases, the parent-child relationship may be a factor in determining eligibility for filing a claim. For example, if the parents were estranged from the deceased or had not been financially dependent on them, it may impact their ability to recover damages.

The Personal Representative of the Deceased’s Estate (On Behalf of the Surviving Family Members)

Man distressed by a car accident, sitting beside a wrecked vehicle with his head in his hands.

In some situations, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the surviving family members. This is often the case when there are multiple eligible family members, such as a spouse and children, or when the deceased had a will or trust that named a personal representative.

The personal representative is typically appointed by the court and has a legal duty to act in the estate’s best interests and its beneficiaries. Their responsibilities in a wrongful death claim may include:

  • Investigating the circumstances of the death and gathering evidence to support the claim
  • Identifying and notifying all eligible beneficiaries of the claim
  • Filing the necessary legal documents and representing the estate in court proceedings
  • Negotiating with insurance companies and other parties on behalf of the beneficiaries
  • Distributing any settlement or award funds to the beneficiaries according to state law or the terms of the deceased’s will or trust

The specific rules and procedures for filing a wrongful death claim through a personal representative can vary by state. You should always work with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that the rights of all eligible beneficiaries are protected.

In some cases, other family members, such as siblings or grandparents, can file a claim if they show they were financially dependent on the deceased.

Consult a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer to determine who has the legal standing to file a claim in your situation. A lawyer can also explain the deadlines and requirements for action, as each state has its statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.

What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?

The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to compensate surviving family members for the losses they have suffered as a result of their loved one’s untimely death. While no amount of money can compensate for such a profound loss, the damages awarded in a successful claim can help ease the financial burden and provide a sense of justice and accountability.

Some of the types of damages that may be available in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Medical bills related to the deceased’s final injury or illness
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost income and benefits the deceased will have earned had they lived
  • Loss of inheritance due to the untimely death
  • Pain and suffering of the deceased before they died
  • Loss of care, companionship, guidance, and nurturing the deceased will have provided to their family members
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress of the surviving family members

The specific damages that can be recovered will depend on each case’s unique circumstances. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you assess the full extent of your losses and build a strong case for maximum compensation.

The Wrongful Death Claim Process

Filing a wrongful death claim after a car accident can be an emotionally challenging process. You should understand what to expect and how an attorney can guide you through each step.

Investigation and Evidence Gathering

The first step in pursuing a wrongful death claim is to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the accident and gather evidence to support your case. This may involve:

  • Obtaining police reports and accident scene photos
  • Interviewing witnesses and obtaining their statements
  • Reviewing medical records and autopsy reports
  • Consulting with accident reconstructionists
  • Identifying all potentially liable parties (e.g., other drivers, vehicle manufacturers, and government entities responsible for road maintenance)

Your attorney will handle this investigation process and build a strong foundation for your claim.

Notification and Insurance Claims

Once your attorney identifies the liable parties, they will send formal notification of your intent to file a wrongful death claim. This notice will outline the basis for your claim and the damages you seek.

In many cases, the at-fault party’s insurance company will be the primary source of compensation. Your attorney will communicate with the insurance company and work to negotiate a fair settlement.

Litigation and Trial

If negotiations fail to yield a satisfactory settlement, your attorney may recommend filing a lawsuit and taking your case to court. This involves:

  • Drafting and filing a complaint with the court
  • Engaging in the discovery process (exchanging evidence and information with the opposing side)
  • Attending pre-trial hearings and mediation sessions
  • Presenting your case at trial before a judge and jury

Throughout this process, your attorney will be your advocate, fighting for your rights and working to secure the best possible outcome for your family.

The Importance of Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney

Insurance agent writing on clipboard in front of a damaged car, assessing vehicle damage for an insurance claim.

Dealing with the aftermath of a fatal car accident is an overwhelming experience, and the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim can be difficult. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced wrongful death lawyer on your side.

Your attorney can:

  • Provide compassionate guidance and support during this difficult time
  • Handle all aspects of your claim, allowing you to focus on grieving and healing
  • Thoroughly investigate your case and gather the evidence needed to build a strong claim
  • Identify all potential sources of compensation and work to maximize your recovery
  • Negotiate with insurance companies and other parties on your behalf
  • Fight for your rights in court, if necessary
  • Guide you through your legal options and ensure you make informed decisions about your case.

Choosing the Right Wrongful Death Attorney

When selecting a wrongful death lawyer to handle your case, choosing someone with the right combination of experience, skills, and resources is important. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Experience: Look for an attorney with extensive experience handling wrongful death claims related to car accidents. They should have a track record of successfully securing favorable settlements and verdicts for their clients.
  • Resources: Investigating and pursuing a wrongful death claim can be costly, requiring expert witnesses, accident reconstruction, and other expenses. Make sure your attorney has the financial resources necessary to build a strong case on your behalf.
  • Communication: Your attorney should be responsive to your needs and keep you informed about the progress of your case. Look for someone who communicates clearly and regularly and makes you feel heard and supported.
  • Compassion: Losing a loved one is a deeply emotional experience, and your attorney should approach your case with empathy and understanding. They should be sensitive to your needs and work to alleviate your stress and anxiety throughout the process.

Taking the First Step

If you have lost a loved one in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, taking action to protect your rights and hold the responsible parties accountable is important. The first step is to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney who can evaluate your case and advise you on the best path forward.

During your initial consultation, your attorney will listen to your story, ask questions about the accident and your losses, and provide an honest assessment of your legal options. A lawyer can also explain the process of filing a wrongful death claim and what you can expect regarding timelines and potential outcomes.

While taking legal action may feel overwhelming amid your grief, remember that you have the right to seek justice and compensation for your losses. A wrongful death claim can secure the financial resources needed to move forward and provide a sense of closure and accountability.

If you’re ready to take the first step, don’t hesitate to contact a compassionate and experienced personal injury lawyer today.

Click for free case review