Although vehicle safety specs are improving all the time, car crash fatalities have been on the rise, reaching a 15-year high in 2021.
Unfortunately, 2022 was no better with traffic deaths increasing even more. Instead of being a blip, this rise in traffic fatalities has become a trend. According to road safety experts, the leading cause behind this is an increase in risky driving behavior.
Have you lost a loved one in a wrongful death car accident thanks to someone else’s risky driving? If so, the success of your case will hinge on proving liability.
Establishing liability in a fatal accident isn’t always cut and dry.
Keep reading for some of the most important things to know about proving liability in a wrongful death car accident case.
Who Is Responsible for Proving Liability in a Wrongful Death Accident?
Wrongful death car accident cases are usually civil legal claims. In other words, the liable party usually won’t face criminal charges.
If the plaintiff can prove liability, this will lead to an order for the defendant to pay monetary damages. In some cases, the liable party can face criminal charges and a wrongful death civil lawsuit, but this is rare for wrongful death car accidents.
Because wrongful death car accident cases are civil claims, it is up to an injured party to lodge a claim and prove liability.
Who Can Claim for Wrongful Death?
To claim wrongful death, you not only have to prove liability but you also need to be able to show you have suffered economic and non-economic damages as a result.
For instance, an estranged husband who hasn’t seen or spoken to his wife in 20 years, and suffers no economic loss from her death may not be able to claim wrongful death.
Plaintiffs also need to be close relatives of the deceased to lodge a claim. Spouses are the most common plaintiffs, and their damages can increase if they have underage children.
Parents of underage children can also claim wrongful death.
If the deceased is an adult, there are some circumstances where a parent or grandparent can lodge a claim. One example of this is if the parent is financially dependent on the deceased adult child.
The Areas of Liability You Will Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Car Accident
Now that we’ve covered who can lodge a wrongful death car accident claim, let’s dive deeper into how you can uphold the burden of proof as the plaintiff.
Although you don’t have to prove criminal negligence in a wrongful death claim, you do need to prove that the defendant’s actions were either negligent, intentional, or reckless—and that these actions were the direct cause of the death of your loved one.
If you are lodging a wrongful death claim you need to be able to prove the following.
The Defendant Was Under an Obligation to Exercise Reasonable Care
To be able to claim wrongful death, you have to be able to prove that the defendant had an obligation to exercise reasonable care.
This is usually relatively straightforward for car accident cases. All drivers are required to abide by traffic laws, exercise caution, remain vigilant, and take measures to avoid collisions.
The Defendant Breached Their Duty of Exercising Reasonable Care
You also need to be able to prove that the defendant didn’t uphold their duty of reasonable care. For a car accident, this could include things like:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
- Exceeding the speed limit
- Overtaking on a double line
- Using their cellphone while driving
Proving a breach of reasonable care can be either straightforward or tricky, depending on your case. For instance, let’s run through a couple of examples of wrongful death as a result of drunken driving.
Estimates show that roughly 30% of all car accident fatalities in the US involve drunken driving, making it one of the leading factors.
Proving that the other party was driving under the influence isn’t difficult if they stay on the scene and the police carry out a breathalyzer test. However, if the accident was a hit and run, the police failed to do a breathalyzer test, or there were issues with the test itself, this will make liability more complex to prove.
In this case, your attorney may need to gather additional evidence to show the driver had been drinking. For instance, if the driver had been consuming alcohol at a bar, they might be able to get witness statements to prove this.
The Defendant Could Have Prevented the Accident or Foreseen Harm
Additionally, as the plaintiff, you may also need to prove that the defendant could have done something to prevent the accident. For instance, let’s say the accident occurred in fog.
The other driver might have been obeying the speed limit, but veered into the oncoming lane because of poor visibility. In this case, you may be able to prove that they could have prevented the accident by either slowing down to accommodate the fog or pulling over entirely.
The Defendant’s Actions Caused Real Damages
Finally, you will also need to prove that you have suffered actual damages as a result of the defendant’s actions. You need to have evidence that the death has caused you things like:
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Medical expenses incurred before death
- Lost earnings
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of services and assistance the deceased provided
Some of these losses will be easier to prove than others. For instance, if your spouse has died in a car accident, you should include their future earnings in your claim, especially if you have children to support.
Something like this is relatively easy to calculate. On the other hand, the loss of services and assistance can be a little more tricky to prove. The best way to estimate these losses is to calculate how many hours per week your loved one undertook certain duties, such as caring for the children, and calculate how much you would need to pay to have these professionally performed.
Wrongful Death Cases Can Involve Multiple Liable Parties
Another thing to be aware of is that liability could be spread across multiple parties, including the driver, parts manufacturers, and even the local municipality. For instance, let’s say the driver was exceeding the speed limit marginally when they encountered a faulty traffic light.
At the last minute, they realized the light should have been red. When they tried to slow down their newly replaced brakes failed.
In this case, the driver, municipality, and the brake parts manufacturer or car shop may be liable.
Engaging an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney Is Critical
Although it is important to understand the basics of establishing liability in a wrongful death case, you can only get so far on your own. The best way to maximize your chances of proving liability is to hire an experienced wrongful death attorney.
A seasoned attorney will be able to uncover all areas of liability and build a strong body of evidence. They know what medical and accident experts to use, how to receive access to things like CCTV footage, and more. Their expert knowledge of wrongful death law can also help you maximize your settlement amount.
A good wrongful death attorney will also be versed in dealing with insurance companies and handling settlement negotiations. This can save you from having to take your case to court. However, if the insurance company doesn’t make a fair settlement offer, your attorney will be there to take your case to trial so you can receive a fair outcome.
Factors That Affect Wrongful Death Settlements
Wrongful death settlements are there to compensate victims for the damages they have suffered as a result of losing a close loved one. One of the key factors that affect settlement values is the relationship between the deceased and the plaintiff.
For instance, a spouse with children to care for is likely to suffer more economic damages than a spouse without children, or an elderly, partially-dependent parent.
As no two cases are the same, wrongful death car accident settlement amounts can vary widely. Statistics show that the average economic cost for a fatal car accident was $1,750,000 in 2020.
However, wrongful death settlements shouldn’t just cover economic damages. They should also extend to non-economic damages, such as loss of consortium (for couples) and pain and suffering. The extent of these damages can be more challenging to prove than economic damages, even though they are usually undisputable on an emotional level.
This is another reason why you must engage an experienced auto accident attorney who will be able to prove all areas of loss.
Do You Need a Wrongful Death Car Accident Lawyer to Fight Your Case?
If you have lost a loved one to another driver’s negligence or risky behavior, you deserve compensation. Not just for the economic impact on your family, but also for the emotional pain and suffering you’ve been forced to endure.
Wrongful death car accident cases can involve high stakes, and proving liability isn’t always clear-cut. If you want to maximize your chance of a fair and just settlement, you need to hire a capable wrongful death attorney.
Here at Sweet Lawyers, we specialize in both wrongful death and car accident claims. Our experienced team has a 98% success rate and will work tirelessly to ensure a successful outcome. We truly care about our clients, and our driving goal is to maximize your recovery and give you peace of mind.
Worried about legal fees? We won’t charge you a dime unless we win.
Contact Sweet Lawyers today for a free case evaluation.