Car accidents are not only a leading cause of injury in the United States and California but a leading cause of death, too.
To be sure, in California in 2017, there were 3,304 fatal crashes resulting in 3,602 deaths – a rate of 9.1 deaths per 100,000 population.
When a death occurs as a result of a car accident, family members are often left shocked, grief-stricken, and unsure of what will happen next.
For surviving family members of fatal car accidents, there was never a chance to say goodbye to their loved one, resulting in emotional pain and anguish, too.
If you are the family member of a person who was involved in a car accident that resulted in death, it’s important that you understand that while there is nothing that can be done to restore your loved one’s life or undo what has been done, there are legal options available to you.
By filing a wrongful death claim in California, you can seek damages for the value of your loved one’s life, as well as the economic damages that your family has suffered as a result of the death.
The Differences Between Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Cases
When dealing with the aftermath of a fatal car accident, it’s crucial to understand the difference between personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
Personal injury cases arise when an individual suffers harm due to another party’s negligence, whereas wrongful death cases occur when an individual’s death is caused by the negligence or wrongful actions of another party.
In personal injury cases, the injured individual seeks compensation for their injuries and damages, while in wrongful death cases, the surviving family members file a lawsuit on behalf of their deceased loved one to seek compensation for their financial and emotional losses.
Car Accident Collisions that Are More Likely to Result in Death
While any car accident theoretically has the potential to be fatal, there are some car accident types that have a higher fatality rate than do others. These accidents include:
- No seatbelts. In a car accident where occupants of a motor vehicle are not buckled at the time of impact, the rate of fatality is much higher. To be sure, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in a single year in the United States, seatbelt use saved nearly 16,000 lives.
- High speeds. The faster that vehicles are traveling, the greater the risk of accident and the greater the risk of severe injuries or death. This is because the force of an accident is directly influenced by speed; the faster that a vehicle is traveling, the more force that is involved in a collision.
- Head-on collisions. Head-on collisions are, statistically, the most fatal accident type. When vehicles hit each other head-on, occupants in both vehicle types are at a high risk of severe injury or death.
- Rollover accidents. Like head-on collisions, rollover accidents have an especially high fatality rate. This is particularly true when occupants are not wearing their seatbelts at the time of a collision, as the crash may result in them being thrown from the vehicle.
- Commercial vehicle crashes. Finally, just like speed, vehicle size (mass) has a direct impact on the force that is involved in a collision. When a big rig, commercial vehicle, or another large vehicle is involved in a crash, the smaller vehicle–and those within–are often catastrophically harmed.
All of the accident types listed above are preventable, and almost always are the result of acts of driver error and negligence.
What Happens After a Fatal Car Accident?
After a fatal accident, surviving family members will face a number of economic and noneconomic costs, including pain, suffering, funeral and burial costs, medical expenses incurred prior to death, estate-related costs, loss of companionship, and more. A family member who has lost a loved one surely wants to be compensated for these losses.
Because California is an at-fault insurance state, negligent drivers are required to pay for the accidents, and the resulting damages, that they cause. Typically, however, rather than paying for these expenses out of pocket, a negligent driver’s liability insurance policy will pay.
In order to ensure that your right to your full compensation award is preserved, it’s important that you take certain steps as soon as possible after a car accident that results in your loved one’s death. These steps include:
- Request a copy of the police report;
- Request copies of your loved one’s medical reports – you will need to prove that death would not have occurred but for the car accident;
- Gather any evidence related to the car accident, such as photos of the vehicles involved, witnesses’ statements, video footage, event data recorder information, cellphone logs (if you think the at-fault driver was distracted at the time of crash), and more;
- Start calculating the various economic damages you have suffered, including funeral and burial expenses, probate expenses, medical costs, and the value of your loved one’s lost wages and earning abilities.
You should also consult with a California wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after losing a loved one. Trying to take the above steps on your own can be overwhelming, and an attorney can offer support and guidance throughout the process.
Does Insurance Car Accident Deaths?
Liability car insurance, which is required in California, is designed to pay for injuries that the policyholder causes to others. Most of the time, the damages that are awarded in a wrongful death action will be paid by an insurance company.
However, reaching a settlement with an insurance company isn’t always easy; insurance companies are interested in saving the company money, and may reduce a claimant’s settlement as such. A lawyer can review your claim and negotiate your settlement, helping you to maximize the amount of compensation available.
In some situations, reaching a settlement out of court proves too difficult. When this is the case, you maintain the right to file a lawsuit directly against the at-fault party.
Compensation for a Death After a Car Accident. How much you can get
If someone you love was killed in a car accident due to the negligence of another person you should talk to an attorney right away. GJEL has recovered millions of dollars for wrongful death victims families and over $950 Million total.
The recovery amount varies greatly depending on the facts of your case. Contact an attorney to learn more.
Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxed?
Read our article on how California handles the taxation of wrongful death lawsuits here.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim and Who Get’s the Money?
While the death of a loved one, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend or a close friend is tragic, only certain parties reserve the right to bring forth a wrongful death lawsuit in California. To be sure, only the deceased person’s spouse, domestic partner, or children can bring forth a claim; if none of these parties exist, then anyone who maintains a right to the decedent’s estate, such as surviving parents, may file a claim.
Learn more about who can file a wrongful death suit in California.
Call Us if You’ve Lost a Loved One in a Fatal Car Accident
In a few seconds, a tragic car accident collision can occur, ending the life of someone forever. Those who survive are often left with questions about the future, not to mention grief and psychological harm, as well as financial concerns. When you call our California car accident and wrongful death lawyers at the law offices of GJEL Accident Attorneys, we will help you to understand what happens next and how to bring forth a wrongful death claim. Please call us today for a free consultation to get started.
This article was written by Andy Gillin. Last updated 3/20/23.