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What Happens When Someone Dies Due to a Car Accident?


No one can explain how much emotional turmoil can occur when a loved one is killed in a car accident. When you lose someone unexpectedly, you will experience a mix of emotional feelings such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Unfortunately, car accidents are all very usual, and many of them result in one or more fatalities.

However, if you experienced the tragic death of someone close to you due to a fatal accident, it is essential to know that you have legal options. We laid out some information in this blog post to help you understand what happens when someone dies in a car accident.

Car Accident Statistics 

Every year, approximately 1.24 million people die in a car accident globally, and approximately 2.5 million of them are seriously injured or permanently disabled. The statistics on fatal car accidents in the United States are listed below.


Criminal Charges May Be Filed Against the At-Fault

If the fatal car accident results from careless or reckless driving, the driver may face criminal charges such as vehicular manslaughter.

The following are some scenarios that could lead to a criminal investigation:

Reckless Driving


Reckless driving frequently occurs, and it is one of the most dangerous driving behaviors. It is defined as any behavior that demonstrates "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." Examples include tailgating, aggressive driving, and even distracted driving.

Your personal injury attorney may use witness testimony or accident reconstruction to show the other driver's actions before and during the accident.

Drunk Driving

DUI or drunk driving is a crime that puts everyone on the road in danger. In 2016, 28 percent of fatalities were caused by drunk driving accidents. When a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, he will likely face criminal charges, including manslaughter.



As per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speed is a factor in over one-quarter of all fatal car accidents. Where speeding does not always result in criminal charges, charges are more likely when high speeds directly cause an accident. Also, officers and courts will consider how fast the vehicle was traveling before and at the time of the accident.

But when a fatal accident occurs due to some variables beyond the drivers' control, such as poor road conditions, unpredictable mechanical failure, and an "Act of God" situation, drivers don't often face criminal charges.

The result of a criminal investigation will not affect your right to make a wrongful death claim against the driver. Similarly, the outcome of a criminal case will neither prove nor diminish the value of your civil case.

What You Need to Know About a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims are filed against defendants whose negligent or intentional actions result in the death of another person. A wrongful death claim can typically be filed whenever there would have been a personal injury claim had the victim survived.

An experienced wrongful death attorney in your area can assist you with the following if you want to file a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Depending on the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction, determining who is eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
  • On behalf of a deceased loved one, opening an estate, gathering all documentation copies, and preparing to assign a personal representative for the estate.
  • Filling a wrongful death claim with the entity's insurance company or the at-fault party and submitting a demand package that includes all relevant medical expenses and records incurred by the decedent up until the time of their death.
  • Negotiating a favorable settlement offer with the entity's insurance company or the at-fault individual.
  • If a favorable settlement cannot be reached, wrongful death cases will be prosecuted and tried before a jury in the state court system.

The Surviving Family Members Can File a Wrongful Death Suit


Individuals appointed as the personal representative of an estate may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim in some jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, the surviving family members of a deceased loved one can instantly file a wrongful death claim.

Family members who are eligible to file a wrongful death claim include:

  • The surviving spouse
  • The surviving parents
  • The surviving children
  • Other family members

The order of precedence among these individuals, however, varies by jurisdiction. An experienced wrongful death attorney will be familiar with the laws in your area and can assist the appropriate individuals in filing a wrongful death claim against the appropriate at-fault individual or entity.

The Burden of Proof in a Wrongful Death Claim

The horror to their family members when a loved one dies suddenly and unexpectedly in a car collision caused by a negligent driver can be devastating and overwhelming at the same time. Apart from the fact that a family loses a loved one, the financial and legal consequences of the car accident can be significant and have a long-term negative impact on the family. These grieving families may choose to seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit to protect their rights.

A San Francisco wrongful death attorney and their clients must meet the following elements of liability to prove a wrongful death claim:

Duty of care

It must demonstrate that the party who caused the wrongful death owed the deceased a duty to protect them from acting in a way that could have foreseeably resulted in death.

Breach of a person's duty of care


Did the defendant fail to meet a reasonable standard of care or act negligently? In a car accident, the drivers who caused the collision were negligent, such as driving while intoxicated or speeding.


Is the wrongful death caused by the defendant's actions or failure to act? This may appear to be a straightforward case, but it is not always the case because wrongful death can be caused by various factors, not all of which can be linked to the defendant's actions.


How much financial harm did the person's surviving relatives suffer? The amount can vary depending on the deceased's age, occupation, and financial contributions, among other things. In many courts, damages are calculated using predetermined formulas.

Compensatory Damages in a Wrongful Death Case


When a loved one passes away, family members are left with a huge emotional burden. It can also put you in a lot of financial trouble. When a person or entity is legally liable for the death of a deceased person, each state's laws provide a way to alleviate the financial burden. It's critical to comprehend the various types of compensation available if your wrongful death lawsuit is successful.

In a wrongful death case, compensatory damages may include the following:

Lost Wages

Although it may be challenging to think about money right after the loved one's death, the fact remains that sudden death can have a significant financial impact on the surviving family members. This is certainly relevant if the victim was the victim's primary or sole source of income. Lost wages are essential factors to consider in a wrongful death case. This includes any wages owed to the victim after their death. This amount should be relatively straightforward and based on age, average income, and expected retirement age.

Funeral and Burial Costs

Following the loved one's death, some state laws allow surviving family members to recover all reasonable and actual funeral and burial costs. The average funeral costs $10,000, according to Ascent. The family members can only claim these costs if they or the victim's estate initially paid these costs.

Loss of Support


When a child loses a parent, there is no way to estimate the loss of support. Children rely on their parents for support as they grow older. Children require guidance, affection, and financial support from the time they are infants to when they graduate from high school. It can harm a child's emotional and psychological well-being if a parent dies unexpectedly.


Loss of Service

Just because the victim does not work outside the home does not mean they do not contribute to the household's economic well-being.

If the victim wasn't working during the car accident, the insurance company may take into account the loss of services, which could include:

  • Cooking
  • Housework
  • Child care
  • Yardwork

Loss of Companionship

We humans rely on the love and companionship of those around us. The law recognized a married couple's physical and emotional connection. Hence, the insurance company has to consider the loss of companionship by the surviving spouse. Again, this highly subjective claim may depend on various factors.

Punitive Damages


Punitive damages are awarded by the court to discourage others from making the same mistakes. Punitive damages are uncommon. The court only considers punitive damages in the most extreme cases.

Here are some examples:

  1. Over speeding
  2. Drunk driving
  3. Reckless driving

Medical Bills

Even a few days in the hospital can cost up to $100,000. Medical bills are pricey. From the time of the car accident until the victim's death, a survivor's action considers all medical costs.

Certain types of medical care may be excluded from coverage by some insurance companies, but in most cases, medical costs also include:

  1. Hospital stays
  2. Medication
  3. Surgical procedures
  4. Medical devices
  5. Specialty care
  6. Home health care

Pain and Suffering

Severe and painful injuries can result from fatal accidents. Following an injury caused by someone else, a car accident victim has the right to seek monetary compensation for any physical, emotional, or psychological pain. When someone dies, this right does not go away. A survivor's claim for pain and suffering can be made in this case by the victim's family or estate. This only applies to the time leading up to the victim's death.

Lost Wages

Only lost wages from the time of the accident until death are considered in Survivor's Benefits. This simple calculation calculates the victims' most recent wages plus the number of hours they would have worked if they hadn't been injured.

Survivor's benefits claims, unlike wrongful death lawsuits, do not include future lost wages. As a result, when deciding what type of case to file, the two most important factors to consider are medical bills and lost wages.

Financially Liable Parties in a Fatal Car Accident


You must prove liability in a wrongful death or survivor's claim to recover damages. It may appear simple, but there may be various parties who can be held financially liable for car accidents. In some cases, you may be able to have a case against multiple negligent parties.

Those who may be held accountable include:

The other driver

After an accident, one or both drivers are usually at fault. Some US states use pure comparative negligence. This means that even if your loved one was partially or mostly at-fault, you could still file a wrongful death suit.


If a fatal car accident was caused by a mechanical failure of a car part, such as a tire blowout, the lawyer for the accident victim's survivors may want to investigate whether the failure was caused by a "defect" that made the part "unreasonably dangerous." In some state laws, manufacturers of "unreasonably dangerous" car parts may be held liable for the harm their defective products cause, including car accidents that result in an untimely death. Similarly, auto mechanics may be held responsible if repairs to a vehicle rendered it unreasonably dangerous and resulted in an accident.

The government agency

A state or local government may bear some responsibility for an accident in infrequent circumstances. Government liability may occur as a result of:

  1. roadways that are unsafe or damaged
  2. missing directional devices
  3. inadequate road maintenance

To win a case against the government, you must show that the state or city was aware of the dangerous conditions and failed to take appropriate action.

An employer

If the drivers were working at the time of the accident, the employer might be held liable. In addition, if the employer's unsafe practices caused the accident, the employer may be held entirely responsible.

A bar or social host

Bars and social hosts are only liable in some states if an intoxicated guest causes death or injury. Mainly, establishments or individual employees may be held liable if they knowingly served someone who they knew had a drinking problem or who was under the age of 21.

How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit


Suppose you intend to pursue legal action following a fatal car accident. It is critical to speak with a San Francisco wrongful death lawyer ASAP! You and your attorney will discuss your rights and what to expect from the case once you have scheduled an initial appointment. While most personal injury cases have a four-year statute of limitations, a victim's family only has two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim.

A demand to the at-fault party's insurance company is usually the first step in this process. The company may or may not respond with a counteroffer at this point. It will always be your choice whether or not to settle at any point along the way. If you and the insurance company are unable to reach an agreement, your attorney may file a motion with the court. While some cases do go to court, the vast majority of car accident cases are resolved outside of it.

Hire an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney to Protect Your Rights and Obtain Justice and Compensation


Grieving families who have lost a loved one in a fatal accident are confronted with sudden, unexpected, and emotionally draining burdens. They needed an experienced, sophisticated legal counsel to help them make informed decisions about when and how to seek monetary compensation through a wrongful death action.

Just after a fatal car accident, insurance companies for parties who may be legally liable may contact the deceased's family to offer a "quick" settlement. However, the "unexpected" settlement does not reflect the total amount of money the family is entitled to as compensation for the tragic loss of life caused by a car accident. Without first consulting with a wrongful death injury attorney, families should never accept these offers. That's why it is so critical to hire a wrongful death lawyer with a proven track record and years of experience.

If a loved one was killed in a fatal car accident, our experienced wrongful death attorney could help you face this situation. Attorney Gene Halavanau is a multi-awarded personal injury attorney who has helped numerous victims of car accidents.

For a free consultation, you may contact us at (415) 494-8535 or send us an email at gene@halavanau.com.

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