In many cases, a family member can sue for wrongful death after a car accident. However, each state has its own laws regarding who has a right to file a wrongful death claim, who can benefit from the settlement, and how much an individual may receive.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), nearly 40,000 people in the United States lost their lives as a result of motor vehicle accidents in 2018. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) adds that over 10,000 fatalities occurred in accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers or approximately 1 in 4 total accident deaths that year.
Losing a loved one in a car accident not only robs them of their life, but it can also take so much from yours, too. A wrongful death attorney can help you file a wrongful death suit for your losses as a result of your loved one’s death.
Some States Allow a Family Member to Sue for Wrongful Death After a Car Accident
In some cases, the spouses of decedents file wrongful death claims. States often allow only a specific family member or the executor of the decedent’s state to pursue litigation. In many instances, the spouse accounts for both qualifying parties. If the decedent did not have a spouse, states each follow their own procedure for determining the party or parties who may qualify to file a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
In states that require a family member to file a claim, most systems involve a hierarchy in which the closest surviving family member has the first opportunity to pursue compensation in a wrongful death case. The family members typically include spouse and children, and some states also extend the option to parents, siblings, and distant relatives.
Other states have no limit on who can file a wrongful death claim for a loved one. They may receive many claims for the same case, including those from unrelated dependents who relied on the decedent for financial support. If this occurs, a court may require the consolidation of all the cases into one to simplify the process.
If the state allows only the executor or representative of the decedent’s estate to file a wrongful death claim, only the decedent’s beneficiary of will has the right to sue for wrongful death. If the decedent did not have a will, the court may appoint a representative who can proceed with legal action.
How Plaintiffs Must Distribute the Settlement
States also determine the distribution procedure for the wrongful death settlement should the plaintiff(s) achieve one. Depending on where you live, you may have to:
- Decide between family members who should receive compensation and how much each should receive
- Provide only the spouse and/or children of the decedent with the settlement award
- Provide compensation to family members based on their level of dependency on the decedent
- Submit the decision to the court if family members cannot decide
- Allow the court to decide who benefits from the settlement and how much they receive
A lawyer can help you file a lawsuit or a claim for wrongful death after a car accident in your state and how the court will handle the settlement distribution.
Types of Financial Awards in a Wrongful Death Settlement
Claimants file wrongful death lawsuits with the intent of pursuing financial awards that provide a lifetime of support, as the decedent would have had they survived. However, the types and amounts of compensation you may receive in a wrongful death claim vary based on the circumstances of your case. This includes the age and health of the decedent, the decedent’s income, and available insurance.
Economic and Non-Economic
Plaintiffs can seek economic damages, which refer to the measurable damages a court can place a set value on, such as medical bills and lost wages. These can help loved ones rehabilitate the financial instability they may have experienced as a result of the decedent’s death, as well as awards the decedent could have pursued themselves if they had survived their accident.
Some states also allow claimants to pursue non-economic damages in wrongful death cases, which provide compensation for the claimant’s physical, emotional, and mental trauma suffering due to the accident. A wrongful death lawyer can help you determine which types of financial awards you may seek.
Compensatory and Punitive
When a plaintiff requests financial recovery for damages and injuries accrued as a result of the accident, the court refers to them as compensatory damages. They serve to compensate the plaintiff for their reported losses, which may include both economic and non-economic damages.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, involve additional compensation ordered by a judge in cases in which the defendant displayed exceptionally heinous negligence or intent in committing the act that caused the fatal accident. Also called exemplary damages, the court may impose them as a punishment and as a public deterrent.
A Lawyer Can Help You Pursue Legal Action in Your Case
Family members can sue for wrongful death after a car accident in many cases, but state law determines exactly who can file a claim and under what circumstances. Learning this information on your own may present a challenge, but the lawyers at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can do it for you. We can help you pursue the compensation for the loss of your loved one. Contact our legal team today at (800) 593-3443 for your free case evaluation.