​What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?

A car accident happens every few seconds, and while a crash causes destruction and changes the victim’s life, there is nothing like a fatal accident. Many individuals do not think that deadly accidents happen often, but they do. There is a common misconception that fatal car accidents only happen when a larger vehicle like a semi-truck or tractor-trailer is involved. The truth is that a fatal accident can happen between a passenger vehicle and another passenger vehicle.

There are many steps after a death in a car accident and many legal concerns. Some fatalities happen on the scene, while other victims will make it to the hospital before succumbing to their injuries. The surviving family and loved ones now must face life without the victim.

Depending on how the accident occurred, there are several legal options available. You will need to discuss your compensation options with a wrongful death accident attorney in your area.

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How Often Do People Die in Car Accidents?

There are some common ways fatal car accidents can occur, although a fatality can happen for any reason.

The top causes of deadly crashes are:

  • Alcohol: When people drive after consuming alcohol, their reaction times are slower. Judgment is also a concern because those on alcohol choose to get behind the wheel and drive recklessly by taking stop signs or ignoring other cars on the road. Alcohol was the cause of 10,497 traffic deaths across the nation.
  • Drowsiness: Similar to alcohol, driving while sleepy can lead to impairment. Many drivers will doze off and lose control of the vehicle, causing an accident.
  • Distractions: When a driver takes their attention off the road for even a second, it can lead to catastrophe. The primary cause of distractions is cell phones and other electronic devices. Other distractions are eating, drinking, and changing the radio.

Regardless of the cause, seeking justice for your loss is essential. You might think the reasons above are rare, but they are not.

The latest finding from NHTSA shows the breakdown for fatal accidents as follows:

  • 36 percent of passenger car occupants
  • 28 percent of light-truck occupants
  • 18 percent of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other nonoccupants

Passenger vehicle fatalities are at an all-time high, with 23,714 out of all 37,461 traffic fatalities involving a passenger vehicle.

Who Notifies the Family?

There are several ways you will receive notification that your loved one has passed away in a car crash. When the death is evident at the scene, either the coroner will contact the family directly, or they will send a police officer to the address on the victim’s driver’s license.

The hospital staff will contact the family if responding emergency personnel send the person to a nearby hospital, where they died. There are instances where the family will need to go to the morgue or the accident scene to identify the body.

Technology has made it difficult for victims’ families to have the privacy they need during these instances. A serious accident can quickly spread online, and the next of kin may arrive on the scene expecting the worst. That is the worst way to find out, and emergency personnel will try to avoid that notification as much as possible.

What Happens to the At-fault Driver?

When the driver at fault for the accident behaves negligently, they can face criminal charges. The most common criminal charge a negligent driver will face is vehicular manslaughter. Not every fatal accident will result in criminal charges.

The district attorney who has jurisdiction will review all of the facts of the collision and determine if it warrants criminal charges; there are a few factors the district attorney is looking for to deem a driver as criminally culpable:

  • The other driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • There was a reckless disregard for the traffic laws and rules of the road, like road rage or excessive speeding.
  • Whether any factors the driver didn’t control led to the accident, like poor road conditions or an Act of God.

When the driver completely controls their actions and chooses to proceed, they will be criminally liable for the other person’s death.

What Do I Do if the Person Who Hit Me Dies?

While many fatal car accidents involve the surviving family filing a claim, there are cases where the at-fault party is the one who passed away. The experience is traumatizing for all parties in the collision. However, the negligent actions of the deceased driver also left you with injuries and damages.

While the situation is tragic, you now suffer lifelong injuries, and someone must pay. You may not want to pursue a legal claim or be unsure if you can. Accident victims can file a personal injury claim against the deceased insurance company, but it can look different than in other cases.

Accident victims may file a lawsuit against the deceased’s estate. Going through the estate is very complex and involves probate.

When you file against a person’s estate, the estate executor will sell all of their assets to pay for debts. You will be a creditor and receive payment from the estate sale. There are many other legal complexities, and you must discuss your options with a wrongful death accident attorney in your area.

What Steps Occur at a Fatal Accident Scene?

At the scene, emergency personnel will assess all victims; if the deceased has passed upon arrival, they will have a white sheet placed on top of them for privacy. The local coroner will arrive at the scene, and the body cannot move until the coroner finalizes its investigation. The coroner will then attempt to identify the victim and call the family. Sometimes, the family will need to come to the scene or the coroner’s office to make an identification.

After the scene, the body will make its way to the morgue, where the coroner will determine the cause of death. The coroner’s report will be essential to your case as it will show that the accident was a direct link to the death of your loved one.

When the coroner completes their report, the family can begin memorial and funeral preparations. Some families will have roadside memorials, but they must be small and cannot block traffic. During this time, the family is grieving, and it won’t be easy to think of the legal repercussions. While you grieve and process the loss of your loved one, let a nearby wrongful death attorney handle the legal aspects.

Who Can File a Fatal Accident Claim for the Deceased?

Determining the responsible party is critical to a successful personal injury claim. Essentially the surviving family of the deceased will be eligible to file a lawsuit against the negligent person or entity responsible for the collision.

You cannot file a claim and garner compensation for your loss without a responsible party. While you might assume that the only responsible party is the other driver, other factors can lead to an accident.

After a careful investigation, other factors may arise, such as:

  • Mechanical failures: Through further investigation, an attorney can find that the collision resulted from a mechanical failure like a tire blowout. Two reasons for a mechanical failure can lead to another party being liable for the car crash. When the part has a defect or is unreasonably dangerous, it can mean that the product manufacturer is to blame. When a person services their vehicle, the mechanic must perform their tasks effectively to avoid hazards. If the mechanic who worked on a car did not perform maintenance or did so improperly, they can be held liable for a mechanical failure. These liability issues are complex, and you will need a lawyer who knows what to look for and can file a claim against the negligent party.
  • Dram shop liability: Certain areas have dram shop laws that hold bars and restaurants and other places that serve alcohol liable for the actions of a patron. When an establishment notices that a patron is too intoxicated, they must stop serving them alcohol. When they do not, it can cause the person to get behind the wheel and lead to fatal accidents. Remember that this law does not exist everywhere and will only apply in particular circumstances. If the driver were drinking at home when they got behind the wheel, this law will not apply.
  • An employer: Certain fields require employees to drive as a job role. The employer can face liability when an employee is driving for work and causes a fatal accident. These cases often involve a commercial vehicle. There are instances where driver error is not to blame but instead negligence of the employer. Cases involving an employer are some of the most complex cases, and you must have a lawyer on your team that knows how to handle all of the complexities.
  • Government entity: When unsafe road conditions or other hazards cause a fatal accident, a government entity can be the responsible party. Proving their negligence and liability is an uphill battle, but you can do it with the help of a local fatal car accident attorney.

Remember that every accident is different. You will need to have an experienced fatal car accident attorney investigate your claim to determine who can be liable and pay for your losses.

Multiple parties can file a compensation claim. The legal representative of the deceased estate is one entity that can file a claim on behalf of all surviving family members who qualify for compensation.

The next of kin that can receive compensation for a fatal car accident are as follows:

  • Children
  • Spouse
  • Parents
  • Siblings

There is a particular hierarchy for obtaining compensation in many cases. So while you can be eligible to receive compensation, that does not mean you will. A wrongful death attorney will need to look at the case’s specifics and if the deceased had a will. When there are already legal documents, compensation can become even more complex.

What Compensation is Available?

It is a challenging situation for the deceased’s family to be in, and while finances may be the last thing on your mind, holding liable parties responsible for their actions is crucial. The next of kin will receive notification of the passing of their loved one.

You will then need to contact a wrongful death lawyer in your area to obtain compensation for:

  • Loss of service
  • Financial support
  • Parental guidance
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of protection
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Medical bills for services rendered before their passing

The financial compensation the family receives will range due to the insurance policy limits the liable party has. A wrongful death claim is often much lower when the driver is the only party at fault. Your attorney needs to find every possible responsible party and compensation available. Insurance companies will try to offer the family compensation, but it will not be enough initially.

They will issue a settlement offer so quickly:

  • Because the insurance company does not want to let a judge or jury decide the amount
  • To avoid punitive damage awards
  • Because the insurance company wants to take away the opportunity to hire legal representation
  • Because they do not want to pay more as additional evidence comes to light

If you receive a settlement offer out of the blue, you will need the immediate guidance of a wrongful death lawyer nearby.

Do I Need a Car Accident Attorney?

The loss of a loved one is financially and emotionally damaging. Your family will never be the same after such an immeasurable loss. There is nothing that will bring your loved one back, but a lawyer can help get you some closure for your loss.

A local fatal car accident lawyer will help by:

  • Investigating the crash and finding evidence to prove liability
  • Calculating compensation
  • Filing paperwork to meet appropriate deadlines
  • Building a case that directly links the car accident to the fatality and losses
  • Negotiation and representing your family at trial

Having a local wrongful death attorney on your team is vital. A fatal car accident can happen for many reasons, and determining liability is critical for a compensation claim. After a deadly car accident, contact an attorney right away.

July 15, 2022
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