​Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Jason Hutzler January 4, 2023

The unforeseen loss of a loved one because of a car accident is a difficult and tragic situation. The pain and loss that a victim’s family must endure following their loved one’s death are unimaginable. Your life can change in an instant. You no longer have their emotional guidance and may have lost a considerable contribution to the family unit regarding personal support and financial assistance. The future after losing a loved one in a Phoenix car accident due to wrongful death can be uncertain and worrisome.

As a family member of a car accident victim, you may be considering whether there is something you can do to seek justice with a car accident lawyer for the death and loss of your loved one. A claim for wrongful death may be possible in your case.

When Is a Death from a Car Accident a Wrongful Death?

About 40,000 people lose their lives in car accidents across the U.S. each year. Not all deaths in a motor vehicle accident are wrongful deaths as defined by the laws. A wrongful death is any death that occurs due to another’s negligent behaviors or actions. Then the death of that victim may qualify as a wrongful death under the law.

Wrongful death laws vary from state to state, including the elements necessary to prove a wrongful death case and the parties eligible to make a claim. In most cases, for a party to file a claim or suit for wrongful death damages, they will need to show that the wrongful death occurred due to the actions or inaction of another party. Additionally, a claimant must show that the wrongful death resulted from those actions.

Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths from Car Accidents

​Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Car accidents can happen for several reasons. For example, victims of a car accident might include a vehicle occupant, a pedestrian, another driver, a bicyclist, or a bystander. The actions that lead to the events causing an accident and, subsequently, the death of a victim often are negligent by one or more parties. If the negligence of another ultimately led to the death of your loved one, you may file a wrongful death claim.

Examples of negligent actions that can lead to a victim’s wrongful death in a car crash:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Reckless driving
  • Failure to follow traffic signals
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The parties who may file a wrongful death claim can differ depending on where the accident occurs. Each state has its own laws that delineate who may bring a suit for compensation following the wrongful death of a loved one. In many states, the parties eligible to take legal action following a wrongful death in a car accident are certain loved ones of the decedent. However, other states may require a personal representative of the estate by the party that files the wrongful death action on behalf of the family.

What Family Members Are Eligible to File Wrongful Death Actions?

While family can mean many things, in terms of wrongful death claims and lawsuits, the family usually relates to close family members of the victim. Your right to file a claim for your family member’s wrongful death will depend on your relationship with the individual and what other surviving family members have a potential interest in the claim.

In many states, the family members that could file a wrongful death claim include:

  • A spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

Are Family Members the Only Parties That Can Bring a Wrongful Death Action?

Some state statutes require or allow a victim’s estate to file a wrongful death claim and outline the necessary elements a case needs to proceed in this case.

How Do You Prove Your Loved One’s Car Accident Death Was a Wrongful Death?

You may not be certain that your loved one’s death after a car accident is a wrongful death, but you may suspect that another’s party’s actions led to their fatal injuries. It is not enough to make a claim a death is wrongful. As a surviving family filing a claim, you must prove it. Proving a wrongful death from a car accident is similar to how a victim would prove they suffered injuries at the hands of a negligent driver.

Unfortunately, in the case of a wrongful death car accident, you may not have the victim’s perspective of how the accident occurred or what occurred if they died at the crash scene or shortly after due to their life-threatening injuries. This, however, does not preclude your family from taking action. Proving liability and fault in a wrongful death car accident takes many pieces of evidence into account.

Evidence that can help prove that another party is responsible for your loved one’s death includes:

  • A police report
  • Witness testimony
  • The victim’s testimony, if they initially survived the accident
  • Photos and videos of the accident of the aftermath at the scene
  • Expert testimony

What Compensation Is Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Beyond proving who is to blame for your loved one’s avoidable death, you must also prove the damages in the case as the party filing a wrongful death claim. Damages in a wrongful death case can differ greatly from damages in a personal injury matter. Furthermore, state laws guide what type of compensation a family can pursue following a wrongful death car accident.

While some states may allow various types of damages, others may restrict recovery to only a few categories of losses. Additionally, some states allow a victim’s estate to file a survivor action.

What legal remedies are available to you and the best options for your situation is something you should discuss with your wrongful death attorney. A car accident wrongful death lawyer can help you decide the best path forward in your case.

Common damages available in many wrongful death cases can include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses. The costs of making after-death arrangements for your loved one are recoverable in a wrongful death claim.
  • Medical expenses of the victim. The costs of emergency medical treatment, transport, or hospitalization immediately following an accident and preceding your loved one’s death can be a part of your claim or lawsuit.
  • The loss of a victim’s income. The income your loved one would have earned in their lifetime and contributed to the family unit may be recoverable.
  • The loss of a loved one’s emotional support. Losing a loved one can also cause an enormous loss of support and guidance throughout your life.
  • The loss of the victim’s companionship and contribution. Beyond the financial contributions lost by the family, after a wrongful death, a family can also lose the companionship and day-to-day responsibilities fulfilled by their lost loved one.
  • The pain and suffering of the surviving family members. In some states, the family that survives the death of a loved one in a car accident can recover money for their personal suffering and emotional and mental distress caused by the sudden death caused by a negligent party.
  • The pain and suffering of a victim in some circumstances. Although a victim of a wrongful death car accident might die instantaneously or at the scene of a crash, it is possible that a victim survives for some time before succumbing to their grave injuries. If your loved one survived for any amount of time after the accident, you might have grounds to claim damages for their own pain and suffering after the crash.
  • Punitive damages. You might recover punitive damages in car accident cases if egregious conduct, such as drunk driving, led to your loved one’s death. A wrongful death car accident attorney can discuss whether you can seek these damages.

Who Can You Hold Liable for Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim Arising From a Car Accident?

Car accidents are chaotic and can involve multiple parties. Some parties may be at the crash scene and have been directly involved in the car accident, while others’ involvement may not be apparent in the immediate aftermath.

Figuring out you can hold liable for the wrongful death of your loved one can take an investigation and a close look at the evidence available following a motor vehicle accident. A wrongful death attorney will use the resources accessible to them to sort through the chaos of the crash and pinpoint vital information that could help to uncover the party or parties responsible for your loved one’s sudden passing because of a car accident.

Insurance Companies

In many cases, vehicle liability insurance is in effect at the time of a car accident. When a victim dies in a crash caused by another, the aggrieved family can pursue compensation through an insurance claim. Depending on the laws of the state where the crash occurs, the wrongful death claim can go through the at-fault party’s insurance, the victim’s insurance, or other insurance coverage applicable to the crash.

Other Parties

While your attorney may first attempt to resolve your case through an insurance claim, insurance is often not enough to meet the damages following the wrongful death of a loved one.

When insurance coverage is insufficient to compensate a surviving family for the losses related to their loved one’s death after a car accident, a family can seek compensation from the party directly responsible for the harm to their loved one.

Liability for car accidents can be challenging, particularly when there are other drivers involved or if the party at fault was operating a commercial vehicle at the time of the deadly car accident. Your lawyer will look at all aspects of the car accident and all potential parties to narrow down those most likely responsible and hold them accountable.

Parties you can hold liable after a wrongful death car accident include:

  • An at-fault driver
  • An employer of the at-fault driver
  • Another third party

Does a Statute of Limitations Apply to Motor Vehicle Accident Wrongful Death Cases?

Yes, wrongful death cases trigger the statute of limitations in the state where the accident takes place. As a family that is considering taking legal action against the parties responsible for your loved one’s death, you are bound by the laws that set a time limit on when you can file a suit.

A statute of limitations controls how long a family has to initiate a lawsuit in court against an insurance company or other party liable for their loved one’s death. To avoid any potential statute of limitations issue, it is always best to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after the death of a loved one from a car accident.

Do You Need a Wrongful Death Lawyer to Help Your Family After a Car Accident?

The resources and knowledge that a wrongful death lawyer can help your family with after a deadly car accident is invaluable. A lawyer can help you manage the overwhelming and difficult aftermath of a car accident resulting in the death of a loved one. The last thing a family wants to do while they are grieving after the sudden death of a loved one is deal with insurance companies and other parties.

Contact Phoenix’s attorney to help your family following a fatal car accident.