When a car crash leads to a driver or passenger’s untimely death, surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim with the court, seeking various damages. In most instances, a claimant or their lawyer will file this claim with the insurance company for the at-fault driver.
Although recoverable compensation in a wrongful death claim or lawsuit after a car accident can never replace a deceased loved one, it may help to bring about a sense of closure and justice for surviving family members. However, representing yourself during a wrongful death claim is never a good idea. Insurance companies and their adjusters routinely try to take advantage of wrongful death claimants—and pay them as little money as possible to settle.
A knowledgeable and compassionate Edmonton wrongful death lawyer in your area can first investigate the accident circumstances and determine your eligibility for filing a claim. If you’re eligible to pursue compensation, your lawyer can assemble the claim documents, file the claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and pursue a favourable settlement award. If the insurance company adjuster does not offer you the compensation you deserve, your lawyer can file a wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf and pursue the damages you deserve through the court system.
Common Causes of Fatal Car Accidents
Fatal car accidents usually happen when others act recklessly, carelessly, or unreasonably under the circumstances.
For instance, in a traffic accident, a driver might operate their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, engage in distracted driving, exhibit road rage, or violate some other traffic law.
- Intoxicated driving: Drivers who operate their vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent are legally intoxicated. Minor drivers who are under 21 years old, as well as commercial drivers, must follow stricter legal standards. Alberta imposes administrative penalties when the BAC is 0.05 percent and higher. When a driver is under the influence of alcohol, they may experience physical symptoms, such as blurred vision and an inability to concentrate. Intoxicated driving may also delay a driver’s reaction time, preventing them from stopping their vehicle in time to avoid a crash. In addition to incurring criminal penalties upon conviction, a drunk driver who causes a fatal accident, along with their insurance company, may be responsible for the resulting wrongful death damages.
- Distracted driving: At other times, fatal accidents occur when drivers become distracted and fail to watch the road sufficiently. Drivers may become distracted when they fiddle with an electronic device in their vehicles, such as a tablet, cellular phone, or GPS navigation system. Loud music playing in the vehicle may also prove distracting for drivers, as well as young children playing in the backseat and other rowdy passengers. When a driver becomes distracted, they might turn their head or look down. Even if the distraction lasts for just a second or two, that can be sufficient time for a fatal car accident to occur. For example, a distracted driver might veer across a median strip or center line, striking another vehicle head-on and causing the driver or passenger to suffer fatal injuries.
- Road rage: Another common cause of fatal traffic accidents is road rage. A driver exhibits road rage when they overreact to a real or perceived situation that occurs on the road. For example, another driver might operate their vehicle too slow, causing the first driver to become enraged and exhibit aggressive driving tendencies—like zealously weaving in and out of traffic, failing to use turn signals, and failing to yield the right-of-way at the proper time. Any of these aggressive driving maneuvers can lead to a severe accident that results in fatalities.
- Road rule violations: Finally, some fatal car accidents happen when drivers violate other rules of the road, such as by speeding, tailgating other vehicles, and failing to yield the right of way. If a driver tries to beat a red light or runs a stop sign at a traffic intersection, they might inadvertently hit the side of a vehicle travelling in an adjacent direction. The vehicle on the receiving end may overturn, causing the occupants to suffer fatal injuries.
If someone you love suffered a fatal injury in a recent car accident, you have legal options available to you. A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer in your area can help you set up an estate and file the necessary wrongful death claim with the appropriate insurance company.
When can Someone File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Various individuals may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim after a car accident. According to relevant provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act (FAA), eligible family members include a spouse, parent, child, or adult interdependent partner.
In some cases, surviving family members set up an estate after their loved one’s untimely passing. Once the court establishes the estate, it will name a personal representative to oversee the estate going forward. When it comes time to file a wrongful death claim, a lawyer will file the claim on behalf of the estate.
What Are Some Common Wrongful Death Damages?
When wrongful death claimants establish all of the legal elements of their claim, they may be eligible to recover various damages. All wrongful death cases are different, and the damages that one claimant receives may be different from those another claimant receives.
Recoverable damages in wrongful death claims and lawsuits typically depend upon the seriousness of the car accident, the injuries that the decedent suffered before their death, whether the decedent had a job at the time of the accident, and whether family members relied upon the decedent for financial support.
In addition to recovering compensation for related funeral and burial expenses, a wrongful death claimant can recover the decedent’s future lost wages if they depended upon the decedent for financial support. In addition, the claimant can recover monetary damages for the pain and suffering that the decedent experienced up until their untimely death. Bereavement damages and out-of-pocket costs are also recoverable.
Finally, wrongful death claimants can pursue compensation for the loss of the deceased individual’s care, comfort, and companionship.
An experienced and compassionate wrongful death lawyer in your area can assist you during settlement negotiations and help you pursue the maximum amount of compensation available in your case.
What Does a Claimant Need to Show in a Wrongful Death Case?
Generally speaking, the elements of proof in a wrongful death claim are the same as in any other personal injury case. Wrongful death claimants have the sole legal burden of proof in their case. However, the at-fault driver and their insurance company need not prove anything.
Wrongful death claimants must first establish that the at-fault driver behaved unreasonably under the circumstances. This typically means that they did something that a hypothetical reasonable driver should not have done in the same situation or failed to do something that a reasonable driver should have done in the same situation. Typically, this means that the at-fault driver violated a traffic law or engaged in distracted or intoxicated driving.
In addition, the wrongful death claimant must establish that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused the accident, which in turn caused their loved one’s premature death.
In some situations, it can be difficult to tell exactly how a car accident happened. This is especially true if the accident involves more than two vehicles. Under those circumstances, your wrongful death lawyer can hire an accident reconstructionist or other investigator who can review the police reports and eyewitness statements, visit the accident scene, review property damage photographs, and determine precisely how the crash happened—and who caused it.
A compassionate wrongful death lawyer in your area can help you prove all of the legal elements that you need to prevail in your claim or lawsuit.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit
A wrongful death claim begins when a claimant sends various documents to the insurance company adjuster for the at-fault driver. Those documents may include a copy of the decedent’s death certificate, along with medical records for the treatment the decedent underwent just before their death.
Other documents may include income tax information if the claimant is making a future lost wage claim, as well as photographs of injuries and property damage. Finally, the claimant may include copies of bills associated with the decedent’s burial and funeral expenses.
Once the insurance company adjuster handling the claim receives and reviews all of this information, they may make an opening settlement offer. In most instances, these opening offers are far below the wrongful death claim’s fair value. In most instances, adjusters want to try and settle wrongful death claims for as little money as possible in hopes of saving their insurance company significant money.
A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer in your area can aggressively negotiate with the settlement adjuster and try to convince them to increase their offer significantly. During settlement negotiations, the claimant’s lawyer usually decreases their settlement demand incrementally, just as the insurance company adjuster gradually increases their settlement offer.
If that does not happen, your lawyer can file a wrongful death lawsuit in the court system. However, just because your lawyer files a suit does not necessarily mean that settlement negotiations must end. In fact, those negotiations may continue throughout the entire litigation phase of the case.
During litigation, the parties may exchange answers to written questions, called interrogatories, and take one another’s deposition. For example, the at-fault driver’s attorney may take the wrongful death claimant’s discovery deposition—to learn more about their version of events. Following discovery, settlement negotiations may begin again, and the insurance company might be willing to offer more settlement money at that time.
If the adjuster does not significantly increase their most recent settlement offer, the parties may take their case to a trial or alternative dispute resolution proceedings, such as mediation or binding arbitration.
At a civil trial, a judge or jury will decide the total damages to award the wrongful death claimant. In contrast, at a mediation hearing, a neutral mediator will engage the parties in additional settlement discussions and determine if the case can resolve. If both parties settle the case in mediation, the case ends and will not need to go to trial.
At a binding arbitration hearing, a neutral, pre-selected, third-party arbitrator will hear the evidence and decide the pending issue of damages.
Your lawyer can help you determine whether a particular settlement offer is a fair offer under the circumstances. Your lawyer can also represent you at all court hearings and arbitration proceedings—and advocate for your legal interests there.
How Long Does a Claimant Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim or lawsuit, just like other personal injury claims, is subject to a statute of limitations. A wrongful death claimant only has two years from their loved one’s death date to file a lawsuit seeking damages. If they file their lawsuit even one day late, the court will prevent them from recovering any compensation. Therefore, it is essential to retain an experienced wrongful death lawyer in your area as soon as possible after a fatal car accident. If the wrongful death statute of limitations is running short, your lawyer can immediately file a lawsuit and begin negotiating favourable settlement compensation from the insurance company on your behalf.
Call a Knowledgeable Wrongful Death Lawyer to Handle Your Claim Today
Many wrongful death claimants feel as though they are fighting an uphill battle. In addition to losing their loved one in a severe traffic accident, they must worry about gathering documents and filing a complicated claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Doing all this during a time of extreme grief can be extremely challenging.
Fortunately, a wrongful death lawyer can assist you with all of these tasks. A lawyer in your area will help you file a claim and, if necessary, litigate your case in court to the most favourable conclusion possible in your situation. Your Edmonton personal injury lawyer will do everything possible to help you succeed with your claim and recover the maximum damages available.