Introduction to Wrongful Death Cases
The information provided here by the Car Accident Settlement Center focuses on recovery for injuries, including the following:
- Herniated Disk Injuries
- Knee Injuries
- Facial Injuries
- Brain Injuries
- Broken Bone Injuries
- Back and Neck Injuries
- Neck Injuries
- Wrongful Death
However, some persons involved in car accidents die at the scene of the accident or afterward, unfortunately. Beyond the obvious emotional devastation of losing a loved one, survivors are left with an emptiness may never be filled. In addition to their absence, their death caused problems at home if they worked to support or maintain the household financially and physically. To secure justice and provide for those left behind, surviving family members will file a wrongful death lawsuit to obtain compensation. This cause of action alleges that someone other than the deceased victim is legally responsible for their death and caused damages that are suffered by the decedent's survivors. The type of damages that survivors might seek varies but normally includes:
- Funeral expenses.
- Lost companionship (typically to spouses).
- Los of consortium.
- Lost future earnings.
- Lost past wages if the accident hospitalized the victim before their death.
- Lost support (typically to children).
Filing and resolving a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of surviving family members is a modern notion in America. The United States did not originally provide this legal solution when common law was established through inherited English laws. However, over the last century, federal courts and all state courts have opened the door to wrongful death actions. Therefore, understanding the particulars of this lawsuit is important. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
1. What must I allege in a wrongful death cause of action?
First, you must establish that someone else is legally responsible for the death of the deceased. For instance, if someone ran a red light and crashed into another driver who succumbed to their injuries would be sufficient legal grounds. Additionally, if an object flew off of a company’s truck and caused a driver to veer off the road, crash into something which caused the driver's death, then the surviving family members would have ample cause to file suit. However, the plaintiffs filing the case must prove that they are a legitimate survivor of the deceased because of their proper legal relationship. Normally, the next of kin or other legally recognized relationship like a beneficiary can seek financial compensation. Documentation like a birth certificate, marriage license, or others must be presented to prove a legal relationship. Next, plaintiffs must prove how the loved one's death caused damages like those listed above.
2. Who can bring a wrongful death cause of action?
Generally, people with a sufficient interest to bring a wrongful death lawsuit are defined by each state legislature and set by law. Yet, there might be some people outside the normal boundaries of legally defined relationships who could potentially bring a wrongful death cause of action, because they can prove they suffered damages due to the decedent’s death. Most immediate relatives are permitted to bring wrongful death actions (this includes spouses, children, and even parents in some instances). More distant relatives and cohabitants may be allowed to file these lawsuits (this includes siblings, grandparents, dependents, and domestic partners). Finally, and least regularly, some states allow persons with a financial interest to bring a wrongful death suit if they were adversely affected by the decedent’s passing.
3. Against whom can a wrongful death cause of action be brought?
The breadth of people and groups that can be sued for wrongful death is wide. Generally, any individual or entity responsible for damages related to the wrongful death of another is legally obligated to pay them. Thus, a person must pay if he or she drives carelessly and causes another’s death. A company might have to pay if its employee caused the death of another in a car accident, or a car manufacturer might have to pay if it negligently designed/manufactured/marketed a product that caused another’s death. A bar might have to pay if it over-served a patron to drunkenness that caused the death of another. While this is not an exhaustive list, it does include some common defendants and circumstances of wrongful deaths with car accidents.
4. Does anyone have immunity from a wrongful death lawsuit?
Yes. In some instances, state law provides for immunity from wrongful death lawsuits to a protected class that normally includes government workers, government bodies, and sometimes even family members. However, this can change from state to state so it is important to check your state’s laws to see if you can sue the person at fault in your accident.
Wrongful Death Statistics
- Approximately 1 in 4 of all accidents in the U.S. occurs as a result of motor vehicle accidents.
- Approximately 1 in 10,000 people die in the U.S. yearly because of a motor vehicle accident.
- Approximately 30,000 people die in the U.S. yearly because of motor vehicle accidents.
- Approximately 10,000 people die in Illinois yearly from motor vehicle accidents.
- Approximately 1 in 14,000 people die in Illinois yearly from a motor vehicle accident.
- Motor vehicle accidents cost the U.S. over $100 billion in costs and damages.
- Across the country, approximately 39% of accidents involved cars, 25% involved pickups/SUVs, 2% involved big trucks, 13% involved motorcycles, 14% involved pedestrians, and 2% involved bicyclists.
- Across Illinois, approximately 43% of accidents involved cars, 22% involved pickups/SUVs, 2% involved big trucks, 15% involved motorcycles, 13% involved pedestrians, and 3% involved bicyclists.
- Across the country, approximately 57% of crashes involved one vehicle and approximately 43% of crashes involved more than one vehicle.
- Across Illinois, approximately 55% of crashes involved one vehicle and approximately 45% of crashes involved more than one vehicle.
Further Wrongful Death Resources
Here are some resources to help you understand what recovery might be possible if someone you know has died in a car accident: