When a devastating car accident claims the life of a loved one, the tragic loss is particularly difficult to accept when the accident, and the resulting fatality, could have been avoided. In addition to the emotional impact that an untimely death can have on the grieving family, it can cause significant financial hardships as well if the deceased family member was the main breadwinner for the family. Although nothing can bring the loved one back, if the fatal car accident was caused by the negligence of another motorist, the surviving family members may seek financial compensation for their loss by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. A catastrophic injury lawyer will examine the details of the case and assist the family with every step of the claims process.
According to the opens in a new windowNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2019 was one of the best years for highway safety since 2014. However, preliminary data from 2020 suggests that there has been an increase in fatal car accidents because of risky driving behavior, including speeding, a lack of seat belt use, and an increase in drunk or drugged driving. The NHTSA deputy administrator said that many of these unsafe driving trends coincided with the stay-at-home orders related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Since mid-March of 2020, more drivers had alcohol in their systems, were driving at excessive speeds, and were not wearing their seat belts, which significantly increases the risk of serious or fatal injuries.
What Do I Need to Know About Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
A wrongful death is a fatality that is caused by the negligence of another person. When pursuing a wrongful death case, families need to understand that they are civil cases, as opposed to a criminal case. That means that the lawsuit is brought to the court by the surviving family members or a representative of the deceased’s estate. Fault is expressed in terms of financial damages, which the defendant is ordered to pay to the deceased’s family members. In a criminal case, the claim is brought by the state, and the guilty party is penalized with probation, jail or prison time, or other methods of punishment. In California, even if a criminal case has been filed against a motorist who caused a fatal accident, the surviving family may also bring a civil wrongful death claim against the driver.
To have a successful wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must be able to prove the following:
- A fatality occurred.
- The fatality was caused by another motorist’s negligence or an intent to cause harm.
- The surviving family members will suffer financially because of the loved one’s death.
- A representative for the decedent’s estate has been appointed.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Only certain individuals may file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state of California, including the following:
- The deceased person’s surviving spouse
- The deceased person’s surviving domestic partner
- The deceased person’s surviving children
- Anyone who is entitled to the deceased’s property by intestate succession, including his or her parents or siblings
- The deceased’s parents, stepchildren, putative spouse, and children of the putative spouse if it can be proven that they were financially dependent on the deceased person
Who can be Held Liable for a Wrongful Death from a Car Accident?
For a fatality caused by a car accident to be considered a wrongful death, it must be proved that the at-fault driver was negligent. Examples of driver negligence include speeding, distracted driving, drunk driving, drowsy driving, tailgating, failing to yield, and poor vehicle maintenance. The following individuals may be held liable for a fatal car accident:
- The negligent driver
- The negligent driver’s employer if the driver was on the job at the time of the accident
- The owner if the vehicle if another person was driving the car at the time of the accident
- The individual or establishment who served alcohol to an intoxicated driver who is under the age of 21
In some cases, defective vehicle parts can cause a fatal car accident. These defects include design defects, manufacturing defects, and a failure to warn consumers about possible dangers associated with the product. When a product defect causes a fatality, the auto manufacturer, or the company responsible for designing and marketing the equipment may be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit. The following are example of common auto defects:
- Defective brakes
- Defective tires
- Steering malfunctions
- Defective airbags
- Unstable vehicle design
- Explosions or fire hazards
Poorly designed roads, as well as roadways that are negligently maintained, can also cause fatal car accidents. However, because most roadways are designed and maintained by public agencies, the claims process can be a bit more complicated. The legal doctrine known as “sovereign immunity” protects the government from lawsuits except to the extent to which it has consented to being sued. The following are example of unsafe road conditions that can cause serious car accidents:
- Large cracks or potholes in the road
- Road signs that have fallen or are no longer visible because of overgrown foliage
- Roadway paint markings that have faded
- Inadequate guardrails on curves and overpasses
- Lack of rumble strips on highways
- Lack of effective traffic control in construction zones
- Construction materials and utility poles situated in a way that obstructs motorists’ vision
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death claims are similar to personal injury lawsuits in that they must be filed within a specific period. This is known as the statute of limitations. In California, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of the loved one’s death. If a government entity is involved, the statute of limitations is much shorter. If the case is not filed within that deadline, the surviving family members will likely lose the right to seek financial compensation. A catastrophic injury lawyer will assist the family with each step of the claims process and ensure that the claim is filed within the statute of limitations.
What Damages can I Receive?
The tragic and untimely death of a loved one is a devastating loss, both emotionally and financially. The surviving family is entitled to the following financial damages, which can relieve some of the stress associated with the sudden loss.
Economic damages. Economic damages include the following:
- Financial loss of household services that had been provided by the deceased
- Anticipated loss of financial support to each claimant
- Loss of insurance benefits
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
Non-economic damages. Victims can receive compensation for these non-economic damages:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of affection
- Loss of guidance
- Loss of sexual relations
What is the Average Settlement Amount in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Every wrongful death case is unique, so there is no average settlement amount that the surviving family member can expect to receive. In California, claimants may receive settlements arranging from $10,000 to six- or even seven-figure trial verdicts. The compensation amount will depend on a range of factors, including the following:
- Age of the deceased
- Earning capacity of the deceased
- Deceased’s income at the time of his or her death
- Total medical costs incurred
- Funeral costs
- Total value of the deceased’s benefits, including health insurance or pension
- Education and training of the deceased
If the family of the deceased reaches a positive outcome for the wrongful death claim, the insurance company will either offer a lump-sum payment of a structured settlement. The lump-sum option provides a single payment, which can be used to pay the loved one’s expenses as well as other costs associated with the accident. Although this is a more common form of payment, it is crucial that the family does not accept a settlement offer that is too low. A catastrophic injury lawyer can closely review the offer and negotiate a better offer if the initial offer is too low.
A structured settlement is paid in increments over time by the insurance company. These payments can be used over time to pay for long-term losses impacted by the significant reduction in household earnings. Federal law states that financial compensation obtained from a wrongful death claim is nontaxable, unless the deceased loved one’s accident-related medical expenses were listed as a deduction when filing taxes. If this is the case, the claimant will have to pay taxes on the medical portion of the wrongful death settlement. It is also important to understand that once a settlement has been accepted, changes cannot be made. This is another reason why it is important to consult with a catastrophic injury lawyer.
Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyers at ACTS Law Assist Clients with Wrongful Death Claims
If you lost a loved one in a tragic car accident, do not hesitate to contact the dedicated and compassionate Los Angeles car accident lawyers at ACTS Law. We understand how devastating it is to lose a loved one so suddenly, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive the financial compensation you deserve. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAWopens phone dialer or contact us online.
With offices located in Los Angeles and San Diego, we serve clients throughout Southern California.