Wrongful Death: What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?

Injury & Accident Lawyers Serving Los Angeles, Pasadena, East LA, Southern California, Stockton & Central California

Posted: June 12, 2023
Wrongful Death: What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?

Fatal car accidents are a nightmare for family members and loved ones who are left to pick up the pieces after losing someone in a crash. According to California’s Department of Transportation, one recent year saw 280 fatal crashes in the state, with 300 people killed. Fatal accidents made up 1% of all car crashes recorded on California roads.

Navigating the law while you’re coming to terms with your grief can be extremely difficult. However, you may have legal rights on behalf of the loved one you lost. When the unthinkable happens, an experienced lawyer can help you get through the aftermath and get justice when another person causes a fatal crash that takes the life of someone you love.

The Legal Process After a Car Accident

When another person’s carelessness, recklessness, negligence, or even intentional actions cause a fatal car accident, survivors have two main legal options in California:

  1. A wrongful death lawsuit to recover for the impact of the loss on your life, or
  2. A survivor’s claim to recover for your loved one’s pain and losses before they passed.

After a car accident, it’s customary to file a claim with your insurance company or the insurance company of another driver who was at fault. You can do this on your own, but when your case involves a wrongful death, it’s especially important to talk to a lawyer because so much is at stake. Insurance companies don’t want to pay out big wrongful death settlements to support the families of car crash victims. Only your attorney has your best interests in mind.

Every case is different because every situation is unique. Your lawyer can help you understand the legal options before you and guide you through the legal process. After going over the details of your case – for example in an initial consultation or after gathering evidence – your attorney can explain what type of timeline and process you can expect. 

Seeking Justice for a Car Accident Death

When you get behind the wheel of a car, you owe a certain standard of care to all of the other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians on the road. That includes following traffic laws and also taking common safety precautions like signaling and looking both ways at intersections.

In a perfect world, everyone would drive with the standard of care all the time and there would be no accidents based on negligence. But the reality is that people drive tired, distracted, or even under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This puts everyone else around them in danger.

When a driver fails to take the proper level of care and that causes an accident, they could be at fault for negligence. That means, legally, they’re responsible for the consequences of their actions – including the consequences to other people. A legal claim puts the responsibility where it belongs and holds the person at fault accountable for their actions.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

While the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim might seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. The right legal representation can make all the difference in your case.

When it’s just you against an insurance company, they’ve got an entire department of lawyers and representatives who answer to the company’s shareholders. Car insurance companies are infamous for using every trick in the book to try to deny or reduce claims.

Having a good lawyer behind you balances the battlefield and gives you a fighting chance to get the full compensation you truly deserve. Your lawyer can take over communicating with the insurance company and file the claim on your behalf.

If you’re concerned about how you’ll afford a lawyer, many take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay them only if they win your case and you recover compensation.

Who Can Get Compensation for Wrongful Death?

Which family members can file a claim after a loved one passes away?

In California, you generally have the right to file a lawsuit after a loved one’s wrongful death if you are their surviving spouse, child, parent, guardian, or a personal representative of a qualifying family member. If the victim has no surviving family, then the right to file a lawsuit could fall to the victim’s estate or their nearest relatives or heirs.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims?

Similar to personal injury cases, wrongful death claims and survivor’s claims have a statute of limitations, or a deadline, for filing. If you miss the deadline, you could lose your chance to file a claim over the incident that took your loved one’s life.

  • For wrongful death claims, the statute of limitation is generally 2 years from the date the victim passed away, whether that was the day of the incident or later.
  • For survivor’s claims, you have either 2 years from the date of the incident or 6 months after the victim passes away, whichever comes later.

Because the statute of limitations is so short, it’s important to reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible so that you can consider how to proceed without the stress of a deadline looming over you. It’s also important to get started on a case so that you can start gathering evidence – which is also best done as soon as possible after the accident.

What Kind of Damages Can You Get in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

No amount of money can make up for the life of your loved one. However, the law uses financial compensation as a way to “make whole” car accident victims and their survivors.

Depending on the type of lawsuit you file, you could get damages, or compensation, for:

  • Wrongful death claims – Economic damages such as funeral and burial costs, any income you would have expected to receive from your loved one’s career, the cost of lost childcare if the victim was the primary caretaker, and non-economic damages such as your grief and loss of companionship after the loss.
  • Survivor’s claims – Economic damages including any expenses or costs for medical treatment for the victim’s injuries before they passed away, any lost income from the victim being unable to work, and any non-economic damages including pain and suffering by the victim after the accident and before they passed away.

Your attorney can advise you on which claim is the most appropriate for your case. In some cases, you may be able to file both a wrongful death claim and a survivor’s claim.

At Sepulveda-Sanchez Law, we can help and your initial consultation is free. We work on a contingency fee basis so you don’t have to worry about how you’ll afford an attorney when you already have enough to worry about. Contact us now to get started.

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