While any death is a tragedy, in the eyes of the law, only deaths that follow a certain criteria are considered to be a “wrongful death.” Such losses of life can happen for a multitude of different reasons, with one of the primary causes of wrongful death being from motor vehicle accidents. Here, we want to discuss what turns a fatal car accident into a wrongful death claim, how to file a claim, and what a wrongful death claim is typically worth. 

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

As defined by Cornell Law School, wrongful death is a “civil cause of action brought by family members and dependents against individuals who knowingly or negligently cause the death of another person.” Not to be confused with murder, wrongful death is different in the sense that murder is determined by intent. When someone is convicted or murder, it means that an individual intentionally killed another. Wrongful death, on the other hand, is when a person is killed due to another party’s recklessness or negligence. 

Who Can File the Claim?

The Austin accident lawyers at Shaw Cowart LLP acknowledge that a wrongful death claim differs from a standard personal injury claim on the basis on who can file one. For the most part, not just anyone can file a wrongful death claim following the loss of a life, and either a legal or familial connection must be proven. Although it depends on the state, for the most part, wrongful death claims can be filed by:

  • Immediate family members
  • Surviving spouse
  • The deceased’s children
  • Parents 
  • Extended family members

Valuing a Wrongful Death Claim

A wrongful death payout will depend on many contributing factors, making it hard to expect any amount concretely. There’s no real average when it comes to these unfortunate situations, but below is a list of reasons that affect the settlement amount one way or the other. 

Victim’s Age

The age of the person who died in a car accident would seem like it affects the payout substantially, but the law doesn’t recognize it as much as some may think. If a child dies in a car accident or an elderly person, a judge will still lean towards factors like economic damage to determine the extent of the settlement.

Victim’s Occupation

This factor is usually more unexpected to people pursuing a wrongful death case. The more money the deceased person made, the more money is valued into the settlement.

Size Of Surviving Family

If the deceased person had young children, the case’s value goes up exponentially higher than if the victim was single. The payout strives to make up for the emotional and financial damage a fatal car crash would cause, so it’s safe to assume a larger value if the family is big.

The Decedent’s Share of Fault in the Accident

If the decedent died in an accident they caused (driving intoxicated, distracted driving, etc.), then the case is valued lower. 

The Quantity of Expenses Incurred

Bills and expenses that correlate to the death of the driver are a contributing factor in the settlement. If the victim went to the hospital still alive, and passed while seeking treatment, the medical bills involved in that would be acknowledged. The same thing goes for funeral expenses and emotional damages surrounding the incident.

State Laws Surrounding Wrongful Death

Applicable laws for wrongful death in each state will apply to the case. Different states have different damages you can recover, so there may be some discrepancies in what is valued into the final cost of death depending on your state.

Insurance Coverage

The amount of insurance coverage a defendant has can influence the amount the plaintiff receives. Typically, the payout doesn’t fall on the defendant, but instead, their insurance company.

What To Do If My Wrongful Death Claim Is Being Wrongfully Valued?

According to Nashville wrongful death attorneys at Larry R. Williams, your case should feel fairly calculated and cover the extent of the damages, both economic and non-economic. If you feel this is at the fault of the defendant or your own lawyer, explore your options further and work with a lawyer you trust with your case. Typically, your first consultation with a lawyer is free, so take your time and land on representation you can rely on.