In 2020, there were about 38,700 traffic-related fatalities in the U.S. A fatal car accident can have far-reaching consequences for surviving family members. Oftentimes, the period after losing someone you love in a car crash will be emotional and stressful, making it difficult to know the right steps to take. This is particularly true if the death was as a result of a negligent, preventable accident.
Although no amount of money can bring the deceased back, it is important to file a wrongful death lawsuit. So, what can you do after your loved one dies in a car crash?
Here’s what to know.
WHEN THE DRIVER AT FAULT FOR THE CRASH MAY FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES
There are many causes of fatal road accidents. Some of these accidents can lead to criminal charges depending on the circumstances. Law enforcement officers will investigate the crash scene. The police report generated will help to establish the cause of the crash and determine who was at fault.
Generally, even when fatal, auto accidents do not lead to criminal charges. An at-fault driver may face criminal charges in the event of:
Reckless driving: Examples of reckless driving include evading arrest and using a vehicle in the commission of a crime. These may warrant criminal charges against the at-fault driver.
Drunk driving: In Texas, driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal. An intoxicated driver may be held criminally liable for a fatality resulting from a DUI accident.
Drugged driving: Driving under the influence of drugs can result in criminal charges after an accident. However, proof requires diligence on the part of officers at the scene, and without tests, charges are unlikely.
The DA will contact the family about the prosecution if criminal charges are filed. But how the case moves forward in the criminal arena is largely out of the family’s control. Civil justice, however, is the one thing the family can control. If criminal charges are filed, or if the conduct was reckless, punitive damages in a civil lawsuit may be possible.
THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY CAN FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT
The deceased’s family can hire a wrongful death lawyer to file a lawsuit. This type of civil suit allows surviving family members to obtain compensation for damages they have suffered due to their loved one’s death. The types of damages that can be recovered in Texas wrongful death car accident cases include:
- Medical costs
• Funeral and burial expenses
• Mental and emotional anguish of the surviving family members
• Loss of consortium
• Loss of financial support
• Loss of guidance, protection, and inheritance
• Punitive damages
In Texas, only immediate family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. These are the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased, including adoptive children and parents.
According to the Texas statute of limitations, the family should file the claim within two years of the accident date. If the individuals are allowed to file wrongful death, the action does not do so within three months, and the executor of the deceased’s estate can file a claim on behalf of everyone.
THE ESTATE CAN SUE FOR SURVIVAL DAMAGES
The estate of the deceased person can file a survival action claim. A survival action is designed to compensate the estate for the losses suffered by the individual before their death. These are the damages the individual would have pursued if they were still alive. They include:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering of the victim before their death
- Other personal injury damages before death
- Loss of income and potential earnings
- Property damage costs
Unlike in a wrongful death claim, the awarded damages will go to the deceased’s estate for distribution in line with their final wishes.
AN EARLY INVESTIGATION IS NEEDED
An early accident investigation is needed to build a strong case and increase the chances of getting a favorable outcome. An early investigation will go a long way in ensuring the information and evidence presented in any claim is both thorough and accurate.
Law enforcement officers will go to the accident scene and gather as much information as possible. The police will then prepare a crash report.
The surviving family members, through a car accident lawyer can also hire their accredited car accident reconstructionist.
An independent investigation will come in handy, especially when eyewitnesses or survivors cannot recall the events leading up to the crash. An initial investigation by the family must start as soon as possible.
Insurance companies with exposure to the crash will start taking steps to defend the case as soon as they are notified about the accident.
INSURANCE OR LACK OF IT CAN IMPACT THE VALUE OF THE CASE
Insurance or lack of it can affect the value of a wrongful death case settlement. Frequently, the amount of insurance available to cover the claim is not the realistic maximum amount of money that can be collected as damages awarded.
In cases where the responsible party has limited insurance or is without insurance, the case’s value may be limited or nonexistent. Underinsured Motorist coverage on the deceased’s auto policy or the policy of the vehicle they were in can provide insurance coverage in some situations.
Even if the jury verdict value of a wrongful death claim is higher, it may not make sense to try to collect blood from a turnip!
LEADING WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYERS ARE NEEDED
Fatal car accident cases can be complex. This is why working with the best wrongful death lawyers is important. Legal experts can assist surviving family members in getting justice. Wrongful death lawyers will help you understand the legal process, properly value your case, provide the support needed to deal with the loss, and provide legal representation if the case goes to trial.
A good attorney will also collect and preserve evidence, help family members access various experts, communicate with the at-fault party and their insurance company, and ensure your legal rights are protected throughout the process. This will help to make the entire legal process more bearable. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit requires an experienced attorney. Do your research before signing up with the wrong law firm.
FINDING ALL THE RESPONSIBLE PARTIES
No two car accident cases are exactly the same. Factors such as road defects and vehicle defects can also contribute to fatal auto accidents. Depending on the facts of the case, there may be multiple defendants. Apart from another driver, other parties that may be held liable for death include employers, car manufacturers, repair shops, tire makers, construction companies, and others.
When someone dies in a car wreck, it is important to find all the responsible parties. A fatal accident lawyer will evaluate the case and help determine the parties legally responsible for the auto accident.
ONLY USE THE BEST PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS
The decision to hire a personal injury lawyer should not be taken lightly. Hiring the best personal injury lawyers is crucial to reaching a favorable outcome. Professional lawyers will help you make wise choices, level the playing field, work hard to protect the case, and ensure surviving family members get the compensation they deserve. This will leave you with enough time to grieve the death of your loved one.
The importance of working with an experienced car accident lawyer cannot be overemphasized. Wrongful death lawsuits can last up to two years or even longer if liability is contested or commercial liability insurance coverage is available.
Put our 35 years of Experience into Your Case!
The Baumgartner Law Firm Houston personal injury lawyers are committed to providing the best personal injury legal representation.
Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation regarding your case. Call (281) 587-1111!