Understanding The Personal Injury Process

4 Wrongful Death Questions To Ask Your Auto Accident Attorney

One of your worst nightmares has come to pass: a loved one has been killed in an auto accident. To make matters even worse, it appears that someone else was at least partly at fault. These circumstances may spur you to file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation for the financial and emotional devastation you've experienced. But how do you go about assembling your case, figuring your damages, and proving your points to a court of law? Here are four questions to keep in mind once you're ready to engage wrongful death attorney services.

1. What Situations Qualify as Wrongful Death?

The term "wrongful death" can cover a few different personal injury scenarios, including medical malpractice, the intentional killing of a person, and death caused by negligence in an auto accident. If the wrongful death occurred in connection with the performance of job tasks at a workplace, however, your case may need to proceed as a workers' compensation case instead of a wrongful death civil suit. Your automobile accident attorney can advise you on the right way to go forward with your case.

2. How Do I Prove a Case of Wrongful Death?

As in other types of personal negligence cases, a wrongful death case hinges on five points of proof. Your auto accident attorney will seek to prove that:

  1. The defendant had a duty of care to the deceased, such as obeying traffic laws and driving carefully in hazardous circumstances.
  2. The defendant failed to make a reasonable effort to honor that duty of care.
  3. The negligence of the defendant actually caused the death of the deceased ("cause in fact").
  4. The defendant failed to take actions beforehand that might have reduced or eliminated the events that caused the death ("proximate cause").
  5. The negligence of the defendant caused you financial and/or emotional hardship, and they therefore owes you damages.

3. How Does the Court Determine Compensation in a Wrongful Death Case?

What kinds of damages you may receive will depend in part on your state's laws. A few states require that you prove that the defendant was 100 percent at fault; even a tiny contributing factor from the deceased will prevent you from receiving any damages. Most states, however, follow the principles of contributory negligence. If your state uses a rule called pure contributory negligence, your award will be based purely on the percentage of fault that the defendant must assume — even if the deceased was mostly to blame for the accident. If your state observes the modified contributory negligence rule, you must prove that the defendant was at least 51 percent at fault before you can receive damages.

4. What Kinds of Damages Can Be Claimed in a Wrongful Death Case?

You may be entitled to financial compensation far beyond the liability award an insurance adjuster might offer you. Your auto accident attorney will know how to evaluate and include specific types of damages. Typical examples include compensation for medical and funeral expenses, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before death, loss of any financial support provided by the deceased (including the loss of inheritance money), and the loss of guidance, nurturing, or care provided by the deceased. You may also be able to file for a type of damage called "lack of consortium." This term applies to the loss of love, affection, or sexual relations as a result of the auto accident fatality. As you might imagine, attaching precise dollar amounts to the more intangible losses you've suffered can prove extremely difficult. That's why you want to make sure that your auto accident attorney has lots of experience in figuring and presenting such damages.

Even in such a terrible event as a wrongful death due to an accident injury, you can obtain both the legal justice and the financial compensation you and your family need. Contact your provider of wrongful death attorney services to go over these questions and get even more answers!