A lawsuit for a wrongful death in a car accident can be filed if your family member was fatally injured in an accident. Your life can come crashing down on you after the sudden death of a loved one. Disbelief, pain, and anger can overwhelm you and your family. While nothing can bring back the person you love, a wrongful death lawsuit can hold the party responsible for your loved one’s death accountable through a civil lawsuit.
The death of a loved one in a car accident can come as a shock. All kinds of people are killed every day in car accidents — men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Your loved one may be here one day and, because of an accident, gone the next. Sometimes victims can linger in intensive care for days, weeks, or months before they succumb to their injuries.
Deaths in Car Accidents Are a Common Occurrence
There are about 40,000 traffic-related deaths every year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There were 1,504 traffic-accident-related deaths in Georgia in 2018, reports the state’s Office of Highway Safety. About two-thirds of them were in the state’s cities, the rest in our rural areas. Per-capita, Georgia’s rate of traffic deaths is about 22% higher than the national average.
According to the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some of the leading causes of traffic-accident-related deaths include drivers who are …
Who Can Make a Legal Claim for Wrongful Death in a Car Accident?
Georgia law has rules about who can file a legal action for a wrongful death after a car accident:
- The person’s surviving spouse or, if there is no surviving spouse, the deceased’s child or children.
- If there is no surviving spouse or children, a surviving parent can file a lawsuit.
- If there are no such survivors, the administrator or executor of the person’s estate may file the legal claim.
Under state law, a survival action can be started by the representative of the victim’s estate. It seeks compensation for the victim, including the financial losses and the pain and suffering the person suffered due to the accident. An estate representative is obligated to pay the legitimate debts of the estate, then disburse what’s left to beneficiaries of a will or the person’s next of kin if no will exists.
These types of cases could result in substantial compensation and are one reason to prepare a will. If a will is prepared, then the people and charities you choose may potentially share in the assets of the estate and the lawsuit is one of those assets.
Who Can Be Held Responsible for Wrongful Death in a Car Accident?
Sometimes, in car accidents, especially if someone is killed, criminal charges are filed against the responsible party. Criminal and civil are two different legal processes. However, if a criminal defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty of a crime, it can be used as evidence to support the case of the person filing the lawsuit.
In a wrongful death car accident claim, there may be multiple defendants (those who are sued), depending on the facts of the case. We ask accident victims to contact us as soon as possible so we can discuss their case. If we are retained, our attorneys will start investigating what happened, why and who is responsible.
In many cases, there can be multiple causes. More than one driver may have acted negligently; cargo may have fallen off a poorly loaded truck; or an intersection may have been so poorly designed that it’s dangerous. In these kinds of situations, we may file a wrongful death case against multiple parties. Though these cases are more complex, there could also be several parties paying settlements or verdicts, which helps our clients.
Wrongful Death in Car Accident Cases Is Usually Based on Negligence
Most wrongful death lawsuits are based on negligence, though they can also be filed against a driver who intentionally caused an accident (such as a road rage incident). Negligence is a legal theory where to be successful the person bringing the case (the plaintiff) has the burden of showing …
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty or obligation: To drive in a reasonably safe vehicle and obey traffic laws and rules.
- The defendant breached that duty or violated that obligation: The vehicle’s brakes weren’t maintained or the driver was speeding or intoxicated.
- That breach was the factual and legal cause of the accident and fatal injuries.
- Under Georgia law, the defendant is obligated to compensate the next of kin for the harm caused.
The plaintiffs can seek the “full value of the life of the decedent, as shown by the evidence,” according to Georgia law. This would be compensation for the harm they suffered because of the loss of their loved one. It may cover monetary damages (harm measured in dollars) relating to the financial and intangible value of the deceased person’s life, including:
- Lost wages and benefits, which include what the deceased might reasonably have earned if he or she hadn’t suffered the accident
- Loss of care, companionship, and other intangible benefits the deceased would have provided to the plaintiffs.
Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit needs to be filed within two years of the person’s death or else the family members risk losing their right to sue, with exceptions. In some situations, the statute of limitations is different:
- If the estate hasn’t gone through probate, the statute of limitations is pushed back for up to five years.
- If there’s a criminal case involving the same events, the statute of limitations starts after the criminal case is finished, as long as it doesn’t last more than six years.
- There are other exceptions that may also apply
Wrongful Death in Car Accident Cases May Involve Many Parties and Vehicle Manufacturers
An example of a wrongful death case involving multiple parties played out in a Columbus courtroom last year, according to WTVM. The next of kin of five deceased people were involved in a wrongful death lawsuit. The deaths were caused when a tractor-trailer struck an SUV with the five people in it. The tragic accident happened in East Alabama in 2016.
The trial took place in Georgia because it was the location of one of the defendants, a trucking company. The plaintiffs alleged that the driver fell asleep while driving, based on the fact that he took no action to avoid the accident. The jury decided that the four defendants had to pay $280 million, reports WTVM.
In another case, the family of a 6-year-old girl killed in 2018 in a school bus accident in Houston County filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year, reports WGXA. The first-grader was riding home in a school bus when the driver approached a downhill curve, the bus slid off the road and rolled over. The girl was thrown from her seat, ejected through the bus door, and died hours later in the hospital.
The family sued the bus manufacturer, claiming its top-heavy design made it unstable, unsafe and more likely to roll over. The company is accused of knowingly putting a dangerous vehicle on the road.
Your Family Should Get the Help it Needs
If you want legal help with a wrongful death car accident case, the first thing to know is that this type of case can be very complex. There can be a lot at stake in car accident wrongful death lawsuits, and defendants don’t want to be held responsible for someone’s death. To ensure your rights are protected, you need an attorney who can not only explain the accident but tell your loved one’s story in a way that connects with the jury.
It may hurt your case to use an attorney who helps clients in several kinds of matters, like taxes, real estate, or business law. That attorney may be learning about the process of a wrongful death lawsuit connected to a car accident while he or she is working on your case. You want to have a wrongful death attorney who knows the ins and outs of this specialized type of law.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one in a car accident that you believe was caused by another party, reach out to The Stoddard Firm at 470-467-2200. We can discuss your case, Georgia law and your options moving forward.