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Is a Car Accident a Cause for Wrongful Death?

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Posted on October 18, 2023

If a person suffers serious injuries in a car accident, they can make a personal injury claim for compensation for damages like their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. But what happens if a person dies in a car accident? Can family members make a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one in a car accident? Under some circumstances, the answer is yes. In most cases, if the deceased person could have filed a personal injury claim had they survived the accident, a close surviving family member may file a wrongful death claim.

What is Wrongful Death?

All deaths feel wrong to those left behind, but when the death directly results from someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing, it’s a wrongful death under the law. Damages in personal injury cases are the economic and non-economic consequences of an injury. In a San Diego wrongful death claim, a surviving family member suffers the “damages” from losing their loved one, particularly if the deceased person was a family provider like a wage-earning family member or one who provided care for the children and home. 

A wrongful death claim takes place in civil court independently of any criminal charges in the case. 

When is a Car Accident Fatality a Wrongful Death?

Not every car accident fatality is a wrongful death, even if the surviving loved ones experience financial hardship as well as grief after their loss. Family members may file a wrongful death claim after a car accident if someone else caused the accident through egregious negligence, recklessness behind the wheel, or purposeful wrongdoing. Examples of wrongful death in car accidents are those resulting from the following:

  • Drunk driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Road rage
  • Excessive speeding
  • Running through a red light or stop sign

Any of the above driving behaviors are negligent or reckless, leaving the offending driver liable for damages. In less common cases, the liable party in a wrongful death car accident case could be a city road maintenance agency that failed to repair a traffic light or the manufacturer of a defective car part, such as a steering or brake system that failed and caused a fatal accident.

Liability in Wrongful Death Claims

When a surviving family member makes a wrongful death claim, they must prove the negligent party liable for damages. Proving liability requires documenting evidence of the following;

  • That the at-fault party owed a duty of care to others on the road to take reasonable measures to prevent injuries
  • They breached their duty of care to others by acting negligently, recklessly, or with purposeful wrongdoing
  • Their negligent breach of duty directly caused injury and death
  • The decedent’s family members suffered significant economic and non-economic damages from the wrongful death

The surviving family members bear the burden of proving liability. It often requires an experienced wrongful death attorney to investigate the car accident to document evidence of liability.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Common damages claimed in wrongful death cases after a car accident fatality include the following:

  • Property damage
  • Medical expenses incurred before the death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost future income for the remaining years the deceased family member would have worked
  • Lost health insurance benefits
  • Lost retirement plan
  • Grief and anguish
  • Loss of consortium

When a car accident causes the death of a loved one through no fault of their own, the family members deserve compensation. Financial compensation cannot bring the loved one back, but it can relieve financial hardship and achieve a sense of justice.