Suddenly losing a loved one in a motor vehicle accident can leave family members overwhelmed. Friends and relatives often struggle to handle their grief while juggling police investigations, funeral arrangements, financial distress, and legal matters. If you’ve recently lost someone in a car accident, a local wrongful death attorney may guide you through the insurance claims, litigation, and estate process. Here’s what to expect if a careless or reckless driver killers someone in a car crash.
Local Police and Insurers Open an Investigation
Anytime someone dies in a motor vehicle accident, the police must generally open a death investigation. The insurance companies for both drivers will also privately investigate the accident to determine liability. Family members and friends could face questions about the decedent’s health, medications, vision, and driving habits as a normal part of the investigative process.
Police officers often impound the involved motor vehicles, take photographs of the scene, and ask the medical examiner to designate a cause of death and run a toxicology report. Police may also request blood samples from the other driver to check for drugs and alcohol. Following the investigation, officers could request local prosecutors to file vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges against the other driver. Officials often file criminal charges if a drunk, unlicensed, drowsy, or reckless driver killed your loved one.
Car Insurers Determine Liability and Pay Initial Benefits
During the investigative process, the insurance companies for both vehicles conduct an investigation. The adjusters will gather the police report, medical evidence, photographs, and witness statements before assigning liability. The claims process often takes time - weeks or months - depending on the case’s facts and if the companies disagree on liability.
The decedent’s insurance company normally pays a small death benefit, provides funding for vehicle repairs, and may cover emergency medical bills during this period. If you disagree with the ultimate liability determination, an attorney may help families appeal the decision or ask judges to determine fault during wrongful death litigation.
The State Appoints Someone to Administer the Estate
Before families can recover needed compensation, the court must appoint someone to represent the deceased’s estate. The decedent’s will may designate a preferred executor, or family members may agree on a representative. The local court will give the administrators letters of appointment, granting them the authority to file litigation and recover compensation on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
If the deceased died without a will, courts generally give administrative priority as follows:
- Adult children
- Adult grandchildren
- Close friends or other interested parties
- Professional executors
Any interested party may connect with an attorney regarding their options to request and recover compensation after a fatal motor vehicle accident. Families may simultaneously probate the will and file a lawsuit related to a loved one’s death, even if the state filed criminal charges against the other driver.
Contact a Local Wrongful Death Attorney
Families often benefit from contacting a local personal injury and wrongful death attorney immediately after a car accident death. Lawyers often help relatives file insurance paperwork, appeal adverse benefits denials, and request administration letters in local probate courts.
Once lawyers accept a case, adverse insurance companies, liable parties, and even debt collectors may only contact clients through the firm. The protections afforded by legal counsel often help families navigate this complicated process and obtain peace of mind during the grieving process.
When car accidents result in death, attorneys may conduct private investigations and recommend filing wrongful death lawsuits against negligent drivers. This civil cause of action allows eligible family members of the deceased (generally a spouse, minor children, or the parents of a deceased minor) to request compensation for personal injuries resulting in death.
Families May Recover Financial Compensation for a Loved One’s Wrongful Death
Many families, especially young families, struggle financially after a relative’s sudden death. Parents may wonder how to support their children, find a new career, and cover legal and medical costs. Lawyers may help dependents recover initial compensation from auto and life insurance policies before filing wrongful death litigation.
If investigators determine another driver or party (such as the airbag designer or property owner) caused or contributed to the fatal crash, the administrator might recover damages on behalf of the deceased’s estate and dependents in court. Plaintiff’s attorneys typically take these cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning they recover litigation costs and legal fees only from an eventual settlement/verdict.
Every state has different rules governing the types of damages recoverable by relatives in such cases. Generally, the administrator requests damages on behalf of the deceased for their pain, suffering, and direct losses contributed to the accident. This amount differs based on the injuries suffered. Any such recovery goes into the decedent’s estate and passes directly to their designated beneficiaries. However, families often suffer the most significant financial and emotional losses when a loved one suddenly dies in a motor vehicle collision.
States also allow dependents to recover for their losses after a fatal crash.
These damages generally include:
- The value of the decedent’s lost lifetime wages, including compensation for fringe benefits such as employer-sponsored insurance and retirement contributions
- Loss of spousal companionship
- Loss of parental guidance (for minor children)
- Direct expenses incurred by family members due to the crash, such as funeral bills, counseling costs, or the spouse’s lost wages
- Emotional pain and mental anguish suffered by immediate family members
Only legal dependents and eligible relatives may typically recover financial damages after a fatal car accident. However, many states allow unrelated financial dependents to recover compensation for their losses under certain circumstances.
Speak With a Local Wrongful Death Attorney About Your Rights
Whether you need help making an insurance claim, understanding your rights, or filing litigation, consider connecting with a wrongful death lawyer. Legal counsel can often help ease families’ administrative burden after a loved one’s sudden death without any upfront costs. If a negligent driver caused or contributed to a deadly car accident, you may step in and fight for justice on behalf of the one you lost.