Trauma and grief often prevent you from moving forward when you lose a loved one in a car accident. Such a profound, unexpected loss disrupts your life with unimaginable sadness. You must continue your day-to-day activities while taking on new emotional, financial, and legal challenges.
Even if you feel overwhelmed, never let an insurance company determine your legal or financial rights. When filing a wrongful death claim after a car accident, you need a wrongful death lawyer working on your behalf.
When a negligent driver fatally injures your loved one, insurers try to determine your right to financial compensation, usually without your input. They conduct investigations, decide liability, and make critical legal decisions that affect your future. This often happens when you don’t have a seasoned attorney working on your behalf.
Insurers have a role in making post-accident claim decisions, but you need someone overseeing their decision-making process. Your own auto insurer evaluates and pays covered accident-related claims. They must also investigate whether your loved one caused or contributed to the accident.
The other driver’s liability carrier makes critical decisions about paying your family’s wrongful death claims. When you work with a legal professional, they intervene when necessary and take steps to protect your interests from day one.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
The process is often complicated, even if you believe you have a right to recover damages after your loved one’s wrongful death. When you present your wrongful death claim to a liability insurer, they determine if their insured’s auto policy has liability coverage.
They also consider your ability to produce evidence that answers these questions:
- Did their insured driver cause or contribute to your loved one’s fatal accident?
- Do you have a legal right to recover wrongful death damages on behalf of your deceased loved one?
You Must Prove The Other Driver Was at Fault
By the time you begin the process of filing a wrongful death claim after a car accident, liability insurers will likely have decided their position. When they receive a fatal car accident report, they often prioritize their investigation. They determine fault based on relevant negligence issues and legal concepts.
Claim investigators follow the same procedures as with other serious car accidents. They talk to the drivers and witnesses. They conduct a site investigation and obtain police and other formal reports. When a case involves a wrongful death, they sometimes hire an accident reconstructionist for expert causation analysis.
Ultimately, insurers assess liability based on a simple negligence formula
- Duty Owed: Did the other driver have a duty to drive safely?
- Duty Breached: Did they fail to meet that duty?
- Proximate Cause: Was their failure the proximate cause of the car accident?
- Damages: Did the decedent sustain fatal injuries because of these actions?
Other Entities Sometimes Share Responsibility For an Accident
Other people or entities sometimes share the driver’s liability when a fatal accident occurs. This sometimes benefits a decedent’s survivors as it potentially adds additional contributors to a wrongful death settlement. Proving another party’s contribution to an accident requires that the involved parties recognize and investigate the issues.
Private Passenger Vehicles
A driver is responsible for their negligent actions. A car or truck owner must also take responsibility for damages that involve their vehicle. Sometimes, vehicle owners have a separate negligent entrustment exposure. This often occurs when the owner gives someone permission to drive their vehicle when they knew or should have known about their bad driving history.
Commercial vehicle accidents often involve larger vehicles and more complex legal issues. When a negligent driver works on their employer’s behalf, the employer assumes responsibility for their actions. Businesses sometimes have a separate negligent entrustment exposure. This occurs when a bad driver/employee operates their commercial vehicle, and they knew or should have known about their bad driving record.
Safety is a critical aspect of a transport company’s operations. Title 49 federal transportation regulations explain a commercial trucking company’s safety requirements. Regulation §382, Controlled Substance and Alcohol Use Testing, requires that company employers monitor and randomly test truckers for drug and alcohol use. If they detect a problem, they must suspend their driving privileges and keep them off the road.
Sometimes other parties participate in creating conditions that later cause a commercial accident. When a truck driver loses their load, jackknifes, or overturns, the incident often occurs due to improper loading. Although a trucker is responsible for following Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Cargo Securement rules, shippers, loaders, or other entities often share that responsibility when they perform loading tasks.
Vehicle and Other Defects
When a vehicle, vehicle component, repair, or maintenance defect contributes to an auto or truck accident, the responsible parties share the liability exposure. A governmental entity may also share the legal responsibility if a poorly maintained or defective driving surface contributes to an accident.
You Must Prove Your Wrongful Death Damages
When filing a wrongful death claim after an accident, attorneys seek recoverable damages based on state wrongful death statutes. Even if insurers and attorneys agree on the liability issues, you must still prove that your relationship with a decedent gives you the right to recover damages.
State statutes list a hierarchy of survivors entitled to recover specific wrongful death damages.
- Surviving spouse
- Minor children
- All children
- A deceased minor child’s parents
- A deceased adult child’s parents
- A decedent’s personal representative
Wrongful death statutes also establish damage categories according to a survivor’s relationship with the decedent.
Settlements often include financial compensation for these and other ongoing losses.
- Financial support and services
- Companionship and counsel
- Guidance and instruction
- Grief and sorrow from the injury date
- Mental pain and suffering from the injury date
- Emotional distress and suffering from the injury date
You Must Document Damages Incurred During Treatment and Recovery
As a survivor, you may have recovery rights for damages your loved one incurred after the injury and before their death. As with other claims, you must prove the economic damages and negotiate the non-economic damages. If another party paid any of the expenses, your attorney includes them as plaintiffs in any wrongful death lawsuit.
When reaching a settlement, negotiators assess the same types of economic and non-economic damages as in bodily injury liability settlements.
- Hospital and doctor expenses
- Surgical costs
- Therapy and rehabilitation services
- Diminished spousal relationship
- Diminished family relationships
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Losses to bodily function
- The decedent’s pain and suffering
- Funeral and burial costs
A qualified survivor’s individual recovery considers their relationship with the deceased. A financial expert helps determine recoverable damages. They calculate current losses and project future losses, then reduce them to present-day value.
Settlements evaluate multiple factors.
- A beneficiary’s existing and potential future relationships with the decedent
- The decedent’s potential future income
- The value of support and services the decedent would have provided
- The decedent’s and beneficiaries’ life expectancies
- A child’s remaining years as a minor
A fatal car accident has inherent liability issues, primarily because a fatally-injured driver can’t speak up for themselves. Without the decedent’s accident version, insurers make liability decisions without the answers to some of the most critical questions. When liability investigators have no impartial witnesses, they rely on their insured’s version, police reports, and any available physical evidence.
If liability remains questionable after an insurer completes its investigation, they often deny liability and put the case on hold. Some insurers take further action only if the decedent’s estate files a wrongful death suit.
Insurers won’t consider settlement activity when an accident involves a wrongful death until survivors comply with probate court rules. The court must formalize the decedent’s estate. It also appoints or approves the decedent’s personal representative. When a minor child is entitled to wrongful death compensation, additional probate issues often arise.
Settlements involving minors or incapacitated adults often require court approval. This is usually the case when a potential settlement exceeds $15,000. Parents or natural guardians can petition the courts for control over minor settlements of less than $15,000.
Courts need assurances that parents or natural guardians can handle financial matters in ways that advance a minor child’s best interests. Financial problems sometimes occur with divorced or separated parents, when a court terminates a parent’s rights, or when other problematic custody issues exist. Whether a court deems a parent or natural guardian reliable or not, it sometimes appoints a guardian ad litem when a minor receives a high-dollar settlement. Courts give guardians broad authority to decide on a minor child’s behalf.
Dealing With Your Own Insurance Carrier
If your loved one’s auto policy shows you as an insured or named insured, you must fulfill your contractual obligations. While you don’t have to deal directly with a liability insurer, your personal auto policy is a contract that mandates your cooperation.
You must report the accident as soon as possible. They need access to your damaged vehicle, and expect compliance with any other accident-related requests. When you comply with your insurer’s policy requirements, you eliminate any justification for delaying their investigation or not paying covered claims.
At some point, you must resolve any covered first-party claims with your own insurer. You must submit a claim for collision damage to your insured vehicle. You may also recover at least $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection benefits for your loved one’s covered expenses.
PIP benefits pay medical and rehabilitation bills, wage losses, and other services. Your insurer has no subrogation right when they pay PIP benefits. They can’t ask a responsible party to reimburse any benefits they paid.
Uninsured Motorists Claims
Your loved one’s fatal injuries automatically meet the PIP tort threshold. This gives you the right to sue the responsible parties for damages. As Florida residents don’t have a liability coverage requirement, there’s a chance that a negligent driver didn’t have liability insurance. When the other driver has no coverage, your insurer must establish a “liability” claim under your uninsured motorist coverage.
Florida doesn’t require vehicle owners to buy uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. An insurer must offer liability, UM, and UIM coverages, but drivers may reject them.
If you have UM coverage, it pays injury damages when a negligent driver doesn’t have liability insurance. UM and UIM coverages apply under certain circumstances.
- The responsible driver has no liability insurance or bond.
- A driver hits someone and leaves the scene unidentified.
- The responsible party’s insurance or bond is lower than the value of the bodily injury damages they cause.
- The other driver’s insurer declines coverage, or the insurer becomes insolvent.
While you must respond to your insurer’s requests for claim documentation, a lawyer provides the guidance you need. They work to eliminate issues that potentially jeopardize your coverage. They evaluate your coverage, ensure that you meet key deadlines, and assist you in complying with your policy terms.
Do You Need Legal Help When Filing a Wrongful Death After a Car Accident?
County Probate Courts usually offer a simple disposition process if your deceased loved one leaves minimal assets. As a layman, you could potentially handle these simple details independently. After filing a wrongful death case after a car accident, the potential for settlement increases the estate’s value. Disposition requires a process that is far more complicated.
A loved one’s wrongful death complicates both the liability and probate issues. The difficulties end only after all of the survivors, insurers, and attorneys negotiate pending liability claims and the court approves them. As a survivor, you should never try to handle these issues alone. You need the active involvement and legal oversight a legal professional provides.
When you establish a relationship with a wrongful death lawyer, you work with a seasoned legal team. When appropriate, they intervene with responsible parties and their insurance carriers. They assess liability, evaluate damages, engage experts on your behalf, and present your demands. Attorneys minimize your stress by managing the legal details that disrupt your life.
Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer Near You
A personal injury lawyer can meet all of your most challenging legal demands. They work to resolve issues on your behalf while you spend time with your family.
When you reach out to a lawyer, they arrange a complimentary consultation. A legal professional asks questions about your loved one’s accident, explains the legal issues, and determines whether they can help you.