Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Posted on December 24, 2023 in Wrongful Death

If you recently lost someone close to you in a fatal wreck, you might have grounds for a wrongful death claim. But pursuing a wrongful death claim isn’t easy, especially in the midst of overwhelming grief. A knowledgeable Phoenix wrongful death attorney can help you file this type of claim, hold the at-fault party accountable, and demand fair compensation for your loss.

How Often Do Car Accidents Turn Deadly?

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Car accidents turn deadly all too frequently in the U.S., especially as our vehicles get larger and heavier with bigger blind spots.

Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides a sobering look at the growing dangers of fatal car accidents on U.S. roadways:

  • In 2021, motor vehicle collisions caused 42,939 deaths on U.S. roadways, the highest crash fatality count since 2005.
  • This figure marks a significant 10 percent increase from 2020, with 3,932 additional crash fatalities in a single year.
  • This year-to-year fatality increase from 2020 to 2021 is the largest since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) began reporting in 1975.
  • The number of motorcyclist crash fatalities in 2021 was also the highest ever recorded since the inception of FARS.
  • Also in 2021, there was a 7.7 percent increase in motorcyclist fatalities, a 13 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities, and a 1.9 percent increase in bicyclist fatalities.
  • Passenger car occupant fatalities increased by 901 (7.1 percent) from 2020.
  • Fatalities among light truck occupants surged by 1,510, a 13 percent increase. In particular, there were significant increases in SUV occupant fatalities (16 percent), pickup occupant fatalities (9.8 percent), and van occupant fatalities (15 percent).
  • Large truck occupant fatalities escalated by 186, a notable 23 percent increase from 2020.
  • The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose from 1.11 in 2019 to 1.34 in 2020, marking a 21 percent increase. Then, in 2021, the rate increased another 2.2 percent to 1.37 fatalities per 100 million VMT.
  • Speeding-related fatalities grew by 7.9 percent in 2021, alcohol-related fatalities by 14 percent, and fatalities due to seat belt non-use by 8.1 percent.
  • Urban areas saw a 14 percent rise in crash fatalities in 2021, while rural areas experienced a 4.7 percent increase.
  • Fatalities in crashes involving large trucks increased by 17 percent.
  • Female fatalities increased by 12 percent, compared to a 9.2 percent increase in male fatalities.
  • Nighttime fatalities (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) went up by 11 percent, and daytime fatalities (6 a.m. to 5:59 p.m.) by 9.7 percent.
  • Forty-three states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all reported increases in the number of statewide crash fatalities in 2021.

Common Causes of Fatal Car Accidents

Fatal car accidents can result from numerous causes, almost all of which are preventable.

Here are some of the most frequent contributors to fatal car accidents:

  • Speeding: Speeding is one of the leading causes of fatal car accidents. When a driver exceeds the speed limit or drives too fast for the road conditions, their reaction time decreases significantly. This means they have less time to respond to unexpected situations, such as sudden traffic changes or obstacles on the road. High-speed collisions are often more severe due to the greater force of impact, leading to more serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
  • Distracted Driving: Distracted driving, including the use of mobile phones while driving, is a major cause of deadly accidents. When drivers are not paying full attention to the road ahead of them, they are more likely to miss crucial cues or changes in traffic patterns. Activities like texting, eating, or even talking to passengers can pose dangerous distractions, increasing the risk of a fatal collision.
  • Driving Under the Influence: Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a dangerous and often fatal decision. Impairment slows down a driver’s reaction time, compromises judgment, and reduces their ability to gauge distance and speed accurately. Even small amounts of alcohol or certain drugs can significantly affect driving ability, leading to preventable and possibly fatal accidents.
  • Reckless Driving: Reckless driving includes behaviors like tailgating, changing lanes abruptly, and ignoring traffic signs. These kinds of aggressive actions put the reckless driver and other road users at risk. Such behaviors can easily contribute to collisions, as other drivers often do not have enough time to react to unpredictable maneuvers.
  • Poor Weather Conditions: Bad weather, such as heavy rain, fog, snow, or ice, increases the risk of fatal car accidents. These conditions reduce visibility and make roads slippery and challenging, even for experienced drivers. However, drivers ultimately remain responsible for their behavior behind the wheel. When drivers fail to adjust their speed or driving style to these conditions, they are more likely to cause fatal accidents.
  • Poor Vehicle Maintenance: Neglecting regular vehicle maintenance can also lead to catastrophic accidents. Essential components like brakes, tires, lights, and steering systems require routine inspection and servicing. Worn-out brake pads can fail to stop a car effectively, and bald tires can cause a vehicle to lose traction, especially in wet or icy conditions. Proper maintenance ensures that a vehicle is safe to operate and significantly reduces the risk of fatal wrecks.
  • Running Red Lights and Stop Signs: Ignoring traffic signals and stop signs is another common cause of severe accidents. Drivers who run red lights or fail to stop at stop signs can collide with other vehicles that have the right of way. These types of accidents often occur at high speeds and at intersections, increasing the potential for fatalities.
  • Drowsy Driving: Driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Fatigue impairs a driver’s concentration, slows reaction times, and sometimes leads to falling asleep at the wheel. Long drives without breaks, driving during usual sleeping hours, and taking certain medications can all contribute to dangerous driver fatigue.
  • Vehicle Manufacturing Defects: Sometimes, we can trace the cause of a fatal accident back to a defect in the vehicle’s design or manufacturing history. This might include issues like faulty airbags, seat belts, or brakes. These defects can result in a loss of vehicle control or insufficient protection for the occupants in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of crash deaths.
  • Driver Inexperience: Inexperience behind the wheel is often a significant factor in fatal accidents. New drivers, especially teenagers, frequently lack the skills or judgment necessary to navigate complex traffic situations safely. Their lack of experience can lead to fatal errors in decision-making, like misjudging stopping distances or failing to recognize hazardous conditions.
  • Ignoring Traffic Laws: Besides running red lights and stop signs, other violations of traffic laws, such as failing to yield the right of way or illegal overtaking, can lead to fatal accidents. Traffic laws are in place to keep traffic flowing safely, and ignoring them increases the risk of collisions. Drivers who flout these rules put their lives and the lives of others at risk.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim

A wrongful death claim is a legal action that arises when someone dies due to another party’s negligent or intentional behavior. It allows the deceased’s family or close relatives to seek compensation for their loss.

Wrongful death claims are different from criminal charges, which the government brings to punish the wrongdoer. Instead, a wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. It aims to provide financial support to the family for the losses they face because of the death of their loved one.

In a wrongful death claim, the family often seeks money for expenses like funeral costs and medical bills. They can also claim compensation for lost income, especially if the deceased was the main provider for the family.

Other claims might include money for the pain and suffering the deceased experienced before death or the emotional pain the family goes through after losing someone close to them.

To file a wrongful death claim, the family usually needs to prove that the death resulted from someone else’s harmful actions or negligence. This could be a drunk driver or a company that produced a faulty vehicle.

The goal of the claim is to help the family cope with the financial consequence of their loss and to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

When it comes to filing a wrongful death claim, who can do so varies depending on state laws. In some states, only the personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file the claim.

This personal representative could be someone the deceased named in their will or a person that the court appoints if there was no will. Their role is to manage the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased person’s estate and beneficiaries.

In other states, family members of the deceased can file wrongful death claims directly. These family members often include the spouse, children, and sometimes parents of the deceased. However, the specific rules and timelines regarding which family members can file and when vary from state to state.

In many states, the individuals who can file a wrongful death claim differ from those who can benefit from it. Even in states where only a personal representative can file the claim, any compensation from the lawsuit is typically for the benefit of surviving family members.

These beneficiaries often include the deceased’s spouse, children, or parents, who might receive compensation for financial costs, emotional suffering, and other losses they suffer due to their loved one’s death.

How Much Is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth?

Compensation from a wrongful death claim aims to provide financial relief to the deceased’s family and make up for their losses. The compensation available in wrongful death claims differ from state to state.

Here are some common types of compensation recoverable in such claims:

  • Medical Expenses: This covers the costs of any medical care the deceased received due to the injury that led to their death. It includes hospital bills, medication costs, and fees for medical procedures.
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses: These are the costs of the funeral and burial or cremation services for the deceased. They often include the price of a casket, funeral service fees, and the cost of a burial plot.
  • Lost Income and Benefits: This compensation is for the money the deceased would have earned and contributed to their household if they had not died. It includes not only their lost income but also benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions.
  • Loss of Inheritance: This is the potential future income the deceased could have saved and left as an inheritance for their family.
  • Pain and Suffering of the Deceased: This compensation is for the pain and suffering the deceased person experienced between the time of their fatal injury and the time of death.
  • Loss of Love, Companionship, and Guidance: This covers the emotional suffering of the family due to the loss of their loved one. It includes the intangible costs of the loss of the deceased’s companionship, affection, and guidance, especially in the case of a parent or spouse.
  • Punitive Damages: In some states and cases, punitive damages are available. Courts do not award this type of compensation to compensate the family but to punish the wrongdoer for particularly egregious behavior.

How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help

Bob Boatman Wrongful Death Lawyer

Robert W. Boatman, Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have a wrongful death claim, an attorney can make all the difference.

A trusted personal injury lawyer can help you demand accountability and fair compensation by:

  • Investigating the fatal accident for useful evidence of liability
  • Exploring all potential sources of compensation
  • Calculating the full extent of any compensation you deserve
  • Preparing and filing important documents for your wrongful death claim
  • Gathering and organizing evidence to support your claim
  • Interviewing witnesses who saw the accident or know relevant details
  • Securing expert testimony to corroborate your claim
  • Assessing future financial needs resulting from the loss
  • Managing communication with other parties and insurance providers
  • Analyzing legal statutes and case laws relevant to your claim
  • Ensuring compliance with all legal deadlines and procedures
  • Negotiating with insurance companies on your behalf
  • Advising you on the merits and risks of accepting settlement offers
  • Protecting you from tactics that might undermine your claim
  • Representing you in court if the case goes to trial
  • Preparing you for court appearances and testimony
  • Drafting a compelling case to present to a jury or judge
  • Addressing your questions and concerns throughout the legal process