Learn important information about wrongful death lawsuits, including average car accident settlement amounts and much more
If you have lost a loved one in a car accident or other accident that was caused by someone else, you are facing a devastating personal and financial loss. People in your situation may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover financial damages from the negligent party.
This article contains details about wrongful death lawsuits and settlements to provide you with the information needed to decide if filing a lawsuit is an option for you.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Overview
A wrongful death lawsuit is a personal injury liability action that sues for money damages from the party or entity whose negligence led to the death of another person. A wrongful death claim can be made against any person or company that was negligent and caused a death, including car drivers, medical professionals and businesses. Calculating the amount of damages for a wrongful death lawsuit car accident is a complex process that requires the expertise of personal injury attorneys, financial professionals and economists.
If a wrongful death action is decided by an insurance settlement, the average settlement amount varies a great deal. Cases that go to trial can either result in a dismissal or damages in various amounts. It is critical to have your wrongful death case examined carefully by a qualified attorney to determine if it is better to settle or to go to trial. This largely comes down to determining negligence. If the other party clearly was negligent, it may be beneficial to go to trial; if, however negligence is not easy to prove, settling could be preferable.
Who May Sue for Wrongful Death
A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by the representative of any survivors who have suffered financial damages form the loss. These people are known in legal terms as ‘real parties in interest.’ This representative normally is the executor of the estate of the deceased. Who the ‘real parties in interest’ are will depend upon the state. The most common people who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit are:
- Immediate members of the family, such as spouses, children and unmarried children.
- Life partners, putative spouses and financial dependents. This category includes any people who were financially dependent upon the person. A putative spouse is a person who had a strong, good faith belief that they were married to the person.
- Distant family may be allowed in some states, such as brothers, sisters or grandparents.
- All who are suffering financially. Some jurisdictions will let all people who are suffering financially to sue, even if they are not directly related by marriage or blood.
- Parents of the fetus that is deceased. Some jurisdictions allow the beneficiaries to sue based upon the wrongful death of a fetus.
Check with your personal injury attorney to determine who can file suit in your state.
Who Can Be Sued For Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death action may be filed against various people, companies, government entities and company employees. For instance, in a car accident with a poorly paved and marked road and a drunk driver, it is possible for a lawsuit to be filed against the following parties:
- The drunk driver who was driving the vehicle that caused the fatal accident
- The builder, designer or contractor who was responsible for creating the road and/or maintaining it
- The manufacturer or distributor of part of the vehicle that failed and led to the death
- A person or business that sold or gave alcohol to the drunk person who caused the accident
- The owner of the business where the drinks were served to the driver
It is possible that a certain person or government agency could be immune from a legal action for wrongful death. This would mean that damages cannot be recovered from these individuals or entities. Who may get immunity will vary by jurisdiction. In some states, a government agency or employees of that agency may not be able to be sued for wrongful death.
Common Wrongful Death Scenarios
Wrongful death lawsuits frequently arise when there is clear evidence that the death would not have happened if the other person had not engaged in misconduct or negligence. If the other party was clearly at fault, a wrongful death lawsuit will probably succeed. Wrongful death actions are often filed against drivers who did not follow traffic laws and cause serious accidents. These actions are very common against drunk drivers. Also, medical professionals who improperly perform their medical duties and fail to exercise due car can also face a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Settlement Factors
How do you put a monetary value on the life of a human being? This is difficult, but there are several factors that are considered to arrive at a rough settlement figure:
- How old the deceased was: A younger person would typically see a higher settlement amount because of their longer expected life.
- The earning capacity of the deceased: A person who was an attorney earning $200,000 per year may see a higher settlement amount than a truck driver earning $45,000 per year.
- The health of the deceased: A person in good health would be expected to live longer than a person with cancer.
- The income of the person at their time of death.
- Age and circumstances of dependents: A person who has left behind young children could realize a larger settlement than a single person with no dependents.
- Education and training of the deceased: Higher trained and paid professionals usually see higher wrongful death settlements than a person with only a high school education.
- Medical bills incurred
- Funeral costs
- Value of the deceased’s lost benefits, such as health insurance or pension.
The damages you have incurred cannot just be a rough guess. To succeed in a wrongful death accident settlement, the damages must be supported by strong evidence. Your personal injury attorney will have access to economists and financial professionals who can look at the situation and help to determine an appropriate settlement amount.
Wrongful death settlements in car accidents and other accidents are usually paid out by insurance companies who gave liability coverage to the entity or person who was negligent. It is important to remember that insurance policies nearly always have a limit to what they will pay out.
Even if you win a verdict or settlement for $1 million, you only would collect up to the limit of the policy in effect. If the person or entity does not have enough insurance coverage, they are personally responsible for any settlement or judgement amount. However, collecting the remaining amount can be difficult when the defendant has few assets.
Wrongful Death Average Settlements
Most wrongful death settlements go to the spouse or family of the person who died. One of the biggest factors is to determine how much the person was adding to the household financially at their time of death. Another major factor in the size of the award is the degree of negligence. This can drastically affect the amount of the settlement or verdict, especially when the negligence is found to be by a company as well as a person.
Below are some recent wrongful death settlement amounts that have been published in various parts of the country. There is a wide disparity in these settlements and judgements based upon individual case factors, so talk to your wrongful death attorney regarding your case.
- $150 million jury award: For a 13-year-old female who saw her entire family killed in a terrible car accident. The accident was caused by a truck driver. The family was burned alive, so the child’s pain and suffering were extreme.
- $950,000 settlement in California for the parents of a teenaged girl who killed herself after being bullied.
- $500,000 settlement in Massachusetts for a man who was shot by the police.
- $32.3 million verdict against a motorist who drove through a store and killed a worker.
- $1.4 million settlement for a man who was killed by a speeding bus.
- $1.9 million settlement for medical negligence.
Wrongful Death Settlement Summary
Any person who has suffered the loss of a loved one to a possibly negligent driver or other negligent party should have their case reviewed by an experienced wrongful death attorney. This attorney can review the case and give you an idea of the type of damages you may expect. Most wrongful death attorneys will have familiarity with cases that resemble yours for your geographic area. The attorney also will be able to help you with the negotiation process. It is common for the non-legal person to be bullied by insurance companies into accepting a small settlement, but you could be entitled to much more.
Of course, no attorney can guarantee a given settlement or verdict amount, but the chances of recovering sizable damages increases with a good attorney in your corner. Even though the attorney will charge a contingency fee of up to 1/3 of the settlement amount, most people who retain wrongful death attorneys usually are far better off in the end than those who do not seek legal representation.