Unintentional injuries are the third most common cause of death in the U.S., sometimes occurring in fatal car accidents. These unfortunate events can be caused by unintended driver errors, intentional acts, or negligence. The last two causes could be the basis for a wrongful death suit. This is when surviving family members attempt to recover monetary damages for the loss of loved ones. Basically, laws specify that plaintiffs may file these claims against any one person, company, or entity that caused a death, including accused drivers.
Fatal Car Accident Statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 42,915 motor vehicle deaths in 2021, up 10.5 percent from the previous year. One of the leading causes was drunk driving, with 17,000 fatalities, or roughly one fatality every 30 minutes. Another cause was speeding, which led to 29 percent of auto accident deaths in 2020. Other reasons for the incidents included drowsy driving, distracted driving, and not wearing seatbelts. Looking at these reasons, one can discern which ones are likelier to be caused by negligence.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) states that almost each year from 1975 to 2000, there were two male motor vehicle deaths for every female one. This could be because men usually spend more time driving than women, or because they are more prone to risky behaviors like speeding and driving under the influence.
The IIHS also revealed that teen drives from 16 to 19 years old were likelier than every other age group to end up in auto crashes. Even though these drivers account for just five percent of all licensed drivers, they accounted for 8.5 percent of all fatal crashes in 2020.
How Can I Tell if a Fatal Car Accident Might be Wrongful Death?
Although every claim is different, you will always need provide solid proof for a wrongful death lawsuit. The deceased person’s family members will need to show that an allegedly responsible driver was negligent or otherwise at fault. Examples of this kind of behavior includes:
- Other reckless actions, like cutting off another vehicle at a high speed, running someone off the road, or texting while driving
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Drunk or drugged driving
- Failing to yield
- Driving without a valid driver’s license.
It can be challenging to prove a wrongful death claim, but it can be done with skilled legal representation. The evidence-gathering phase is crucial, and sources of proof can include police reports, photographs, skid marks, physician reports, driving records, medical bills, and expert and witness testimony.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death cases are filed and pursued by surviving spouses, life partners, and biological or adopted surviving children. A decedent’s parents or financial dependents can also be allowed to recover damages from a wrongful death claim, as can the parents of a deceased child. When successful, these cases can work to ensure that responsible parties are held accountable for their actions
In order for family members to receive just compensation from a wrongful or unjust death, laws specify that the event must have resulted from an unprovoked (unwarranted) act, neglect, or a fault by another party. Had the decedent (person who passed away in the accident) survived, that person would have been able to pursue legal action like a person injury case on their own.
Automobile accidents are one category of wrongful death claims. These are also seen in medical malpractice cases, claims against defective products, nursing homes, violent crimes, and workplace fatalities. With any of these, it can be difficult for grieving family members to know if their situation calls for a wrongful death claim. Consulting with an experienced wrongful death lawyer is recommended.
How are Wrongful Death Suits Litigated?
The majority of these get resolved via negotiated settlements that take place out of court, and family members can receive agreed-upon amounts. A small percentage of wrongful death lawsuits go to trial, where a judge can dismiss the case or damages might be awarded. It is not easy to determine the financial value for damages in these kinds of suits, so attorneys often call in financial professionals, psychologists and economists in to help build the cases.
Depending on the civil court rules in your area, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit that includes wrongful death as a claim. Another option is a civil lawsuit that cites your state’s wrongful death statue for the basis of your case. Your evidence will need to prove that:
- The defendant had a duty of care, such as not speeding in a construction zone or not driving while intoxicated
- The defendant breached that duty
- Breaching that duty resulted in the death.
Proof that defendant breached their duty of care will be the focus of the investigation, and lawyers also work with investigators and other professionals to gather this all-important information. Building a strong wrongful death case takes time, and there can be some expected setbacks. A negotiated settlement can take up to a year or two, and court cases average two to four years.
What Kinds of Damages are Awarded in Wrong Death Cases?
The losses that might be recovered in a wrongful death claim include medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, the loss of services, loss of love and companionship, loss of any future financial contributions, loss of an inheritance, and pain and suffering. The determining factors that influence the monetary amounts awarded are as follows, and keep in mind that all are designed to be considered from objective viewpoints.
- Accident-related economic damages: This includes costs from medical bills, funerals, and burials.
- Age: With young decedents, their passings do not usually impact economic factors like lost earnings.
- Occupation: If the deceased person earned a comfortable living, the wrongful death claim could be worth more to the surviving family members.
- Size of surviving family: More family members mean more expenses, so a case with just one surviving spouse might result in less compensation than one that involves a large number of minor children.
- Insurance policies: Wrongful death settlements and court-ordered judgments are usually paid by defendant insurance policies, not out-of-pocket. If the policy has higher payout options, that could make a difference.
- Was the decedent at fault: Some states estimate a decedent’s share of fault in the accident and calculate accordingly. Ohio has a modified comparative fault rule so if a claimant’s share of fault for the crash is more than 50 percent, the claimant cannot receive financial compensation.
- State Laws: Like other states, Ohio has certain laws that pertain to how wrongful death suits proceed, recoverable damages, and limits/caps to the maximum recoverable amounts. The statute of limitation for filing a wrongful death claim in Ohio is two years following the date of the death.
These factors can also influence final settlements and judgements. Witness statements can be persuasive and can show how much the lost life affected the loved ones, how negligent the driver’s actions were, and obvious liability. Judges and jurors also form opinions about how close the decedent was with the plaintiffs and how negatively they have been impacted by the death.
A Dayton Wrongful Death Lawyer from Wright & Schulte LLC Can Offer Sound Legal Guidance for Your Wrongful Death Claim
An unexpected death can throw a family into turmoil. If you think that a loved one’s loss of life from a car accident qualifies for a wrongful death claim, reach out to a compassionate, knowledgeable Dayton wrongful death lawyer from Wright & Schulte LLC. We are located in Dayton, Ohio, and offer free initial consultations for prospective clients. Call our offices at 937-222-7477 or complete our online form today. We help families in Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, and Miamisburg.