Find out what you need to know about your legal rights after losing a loved one in a fatal accident – including how to pursue a wrongful death case.
Accidents can be devastating. For some unfortunate victims, there is no recovery. There is only loss and – for their surviving loved ones – grief.
Unintentional injury is the fourth leading cause of death in the nation, claiming 130,557 lives every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Motor vehicle accidents alone kill 33,804. Some 30,208 Americans die from accidental falls annually. And another 38,851 lose their lives to unintentional poisoning.
When it’s your loved one who died accidentally, you know from experience that these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Behind every accident fatality, there are grieving families whose lives have changed forever because of a death that didn’t have to happen.
As you begin the difficult process of picking up the pieces after a sudden and shattering loss, you’re looking for closure, for answers. Sometimes the accident presents the grounds for a wrongful death claim. This legal action that can help your family find out the truth about the death and recover money damages.
What Makes a Death a “Wrongful Death”?
A wrongful death claim is a case against someone else whose actions caused or contributed to a death.
This someone can be an individual or a company. Often, the defendant caused the death through negligence – behavior that is careless or reckless.
A death is wrongful when it was avoidable and caused by another person’s actions.
The law requires all of us to act with reasonable caution. No one is allowed to carelessly put the lives of others at risk. When someone is negligent and another individual pays the ultimate cost for that carelessness, the law holds that person accountable for the consequences.
Are All Accidental Deaths “Wrongful Deaths”?
An accidental death isn’t always a wrongful death, and vice versa.
Often, wrongful deaths are accidental deaths. They are a tragic but unintended result of another person’s negligence. However, if an accidental death can’t be traced to another person’s or party’s careless behavior, then there’s no one to pursue a claim against.
Sometimes a wrongful death claim involves a death that wasn’t an accident at all, but an act of intentional violence. You see this occur on occasion in high-profile murder cases. This sort of wrongful death claim is less common, in part because there’s often no insurance coverage to seek compensation from. Typically, the surviving family in a case like this must seek money damages directly from the person who intentionally caused the death – and there’s no guarantee this person even has the assets to pay a claim against them.
However, some wrongful death claims involve an intentional act, but also a negligent one. If a person is killed by intentional violence in a place they could reasonably have expected to be protected by security, the loved ones of the deceased may have a claim against this property owner. This can be the case in situations like mass shootings at malls and schools or vicious attacks at bars and concert venues.
An attorney can help you determine if your loved one’s accidental death could offer the grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Types of Accidental Deaths
No matter how your loved one’s deadly accident occurred, surviving family members have legal rights.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives every year in collisions involving:
Those killed are drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Some are at fault for the deadly crash. But many are innocent victims, caught helplessly in the path of a dangerous motorist.
Some of the most common causes of motor vehicle deaths include:
- Drunk driving
- Distracted driving
- Drowsy driving
- Failing to maintain a safe following distance
Deaths in motor vehicle collisions often lead to wrongful death claims. The requirement that all New Jersey and Pennsylvania drivers have auto insurance means there is coverage available to seek compensation from. Some wrongful death claims against negligent drivers also provide answers – like whether the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash.
Fatal Dog Bites
Dog bites aren’t common, but they can be deadly, especially to children. A dog mauling can leave victims with injuries so serious that they don’t survive.
Wrongful death claims involving dog bites name the dog’s owner in the lawsuit. Often, a homeowner’s insurance policy covers deaths and injuries caused by dog bites.
Lethal Workplace Accidents
Every year, thousands of workers die on the job, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
Workplace accidents are a different situation from other types of accidents caused by negligence. Depending on the circumstances, a family might have a worker’s compensation case and an additional claim against a third party who contributed to the death.
Accidents on Unsafe Premises
Falls are the most common accidents on unsafe properties, but other accidents involve falling objects or malfunctioning machinery.
Commercial and residential property owners and even government entities in charge of maintaining property can become the target of wrongful death lawsuits. What you need is proof of the owner’s negligence – and to act quickly, before important deadlines pass.
Deadly Medical Mistakes
Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients die at the hands of negligent medical providers.
A doctor’s error might not immediately come to mind when you think of accidents. But if one such mistake killed your family member, you deserve answers.
You have the right to hold a careless doctor accountable, especially when the negligent actions cost someone’s life.
What to Do If You Lost Someone to an Accidental Death
If you believe the accident that stole your loved one from you may be the grounds for a wrongful death claim, there are certain actions you need to take – and a limited amount of time you have to take them.
You need to investigate the accident and gather the evidence that proves that the other party’s actions led to your loved one’s death. This is no easy task, especially when you’re still trying to cope with your grief. To really succeed in this endeavor, you’re going to need a wrongful death lawyer on your side. An experienced attorney knows where to look for the evidence that will support your case as well as what sorts of industry experts can help bolster your claim.
The sooner you speak with an attorney about a possible wrongful death claim, the better. In most cases, families have just two years from the date of the deadly accident to file a wrongful death lawsuit (and in some situations, you may have just a few months). While two years may seem far away now, it will take time to investigate the accident and to build your family’s case.
Nothing can erase the accident or take away the pain you feel from this terrible loss. But often, a wrongful death claim can help you get some closure. You will finally understand what happened. You will have the opportunity to hold the person who caused this unnecessary death responsible. And your family will receive the compensation to prevent a financial hardship from this sudden and unexpected loss.
If you want to speak with someone about your legal options after a family member’s fatal accident, you can reach out to us at any time. We’re here to help you through this tragedy.