What Happens When Someone Dies Due to a Car Accident?

Over 1.25 million people in the U.S. are fatally wounded in traffic accidents each year. Some victims are killed before medical help arrives at the scene. Others are transferred to medical care facilities and do not survive their injuries.

Families of fatal car accident victims usually face enormous emotional and financial challenges. Oftentimes, these families do not know how to proceed.

If you have lost someone you love in a collision, it is important to understand that you have options. No amount of money can ever make up for the loss of a loved one. Still, you deserve compensation to help you move forward.

Negligent Drivers Do Not Always Face Criminal Charges

Many collisions occur due to driver carelessness. If a motorist’s negligence causes someone else’s death, the motorist could face criminal charges.

One example of relevant criminal charges after a traffic fatality is vehicular manslaughter. But not every fatal car crash results in criminal liability for the responsible driver. It is up to the local district attorney to decide whether criminal charges are appropriate. 

Usually, district attorneys consider the following factors:

  • Whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol
  • Whether the driver was under the influence of drugs
  • Whether the motorist ignored or violated traffic laws
  • Whether outside factors contributed to the accident

Criminal charges are less likely when factors beyond the driver’s control cause the crash. Such factors may include:

  • Natural events or disasters, sometimes called “acts of God”
  • Poor road conditions or maintenance
  • Unpredictable automotive or mechanical failure
  • And more

The decedent’s family can pursue compensation through a civil claim even if the at-fault party escapes criminal charges.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Under Pennsylvania state law, the surviving family members of an accident victim can seek damages through a “wrongful death” claim. This allows the decedent’s loved ones to recover the compensation the victim would have been owed if they had survived.

A wrongful death claim must abide by the following rules:

At-Fault Party

Wrongful death claims must have a liable party. That is, someone else’s negligent behavior must have caused the decedent’s accident.

For instance, if a careless driver caused the collision that killed your loved one, you could pursue a wrongful death claim.

Every traffic accident claim is unique. A trustworthy wrongful death attorney will carefully examine the circumstances of your case. They will work tirelessly to help you recover the compensation that your family deserves.

The Decedent’s Estate Must Bring the Action

There can only be one civil lawsuit representing the estate of the decedent. In Pennsylvania, the personal representatives of the deceased person’s estate must bring the wrongful death against the at-fault party.

Any damages must be distributed according to the victim’s will. If no will is available, the sum is usually distributed between the victim’s spouse, children, or parents.

Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death cases allow families to recover the costs related to the accident itself, as well as additional losses resulting from the victim’s death. 

Common examples of damages include:

  • The cost of medical bills before the victim’s death
  • The pain and suffering of the victim before their death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The loss of the victim’s income and wages following the accident

Additional costs and losses may arise following the death of the victim. These damages include loss of companionship, long-term loss of income, and the pain and suffering of the family.

If someone you love has been fatally injured in a car accident, it is vital to consult with a skilled injury attorney to protect your rights to a wrongful death claim.