Every year, millions of people die in car accidents around the country. Some people die at the scene. Other victims survive long enough to receive medical treatment but tragically succumb to their injuries.
Survivors of a driver or passenger killed in a car accident often face overwhelming emotional strain and struggle and do not know where to turn for help.
When the unthinkable happens and a loved one is killed in a car crash, a Philadelphia car accident lawyer can guide you through the complex legal landscape that follows.
When Someone Gets Hit by a Car and Dies, the At-Fault Driver May Face Criminal Charges
There are many causes of car accidents. One of the most common causes of an auto accident is when a driver acts carelessly or recklessly.
When a reckless driver causes the death of someone else, they can face civil liability in addition to criminal charges, such as vehicular manslaughter.
Not every serious accident that causes a fatality will leave the “at-fault” driver with criminal liability. The decision to file criminal charges against a driver in a fatal auto accident rests with the local district attorney.
This government employee will assess a variety of factors to determine whether a driver was “criminally culpable” in causing the death. District attorneys will often consider whether:
- The accident resulted from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol is illegal in Pennsylvania. A fatal drunk or drugged driving accident frequently leads to criminal charges against the driver.
- The driver was reckless, aggressive, or violated traffic laws. Everyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle has a legal duty to follow traffic laws and drive with a reasonable standard of care. When an auto accident causes the death of another person because of gross negligence, the driver will often face criminal prosecution with charges such as homicide by vehicle. Other examples of negligence include hit-and-run, speeding, texting while driving, and “road rage.”
- Whether factors out of the driver’s control played a role in causing the accident. Criminal charges are less likely to result from a fatal accident if the accident happened due to something out of a driver’s control, For example, poor road conditions, unpredictable mechanical failure, or an “Act of God” will be taken into account when deciding to charge someone with crime for killing another person in a car accident in Pennsylvania.
Criminal charges against an at-fault driver can have a complex emotional impact on the family of the decedent.
While it may offer a sense of justice or closure, it doesn't necessarily alleviate the emotional pain or fill the void left by the loss of a loved one.
In addition, the outcome of criminal proceedings can be uncertain, and the process can be lengthy and emotionally draining for the family involved.
How is Liability Determined For a Fatal Car Accident in Philadelphia?
The dynamics of an auto accident that results in a fatality are often complex. When a person, business, or government entity is responsible, they and their insurance company will be legally liable for the harms and losses that resulted in the wrongful death of anyone killed.
An experienced car accident attorney in Philadelphia will not only study the actions of the other driver but also uncover and name all of the parties who contributed to the accident.
When a vehicle accident tragically takes away someone's life and involves other potential causes, a skilled lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation.
This often includes the use of experts like an accident reconstructionist to determine the liability of all the parties who contributed to the cause of the fatal accident.
The lawyer’s investigation may include inquiring whether the accident resulted from:
- Mechanical failures. If a defective car part causes a car to crash, then the lawyer representing the family of the victim will want to explore whether that failure resulted from a defect that made the part “unreasonably dangerous.” Under Pennsylvania law, manufacturers of “unreasonably dangerous” car parts face potential legal liability for the harm their defective products cause, including car accidents resulting in a fatality. Similarly, auto mechanics can be liable if repairs they performed (or failed to perform) on a vehicle made it unreasonably dangerous and caused an accident.
- Over-serving alcohol to a bar or restaurant patron. Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to a patron who is "visibly intoxicated." Violating that law can saddle those establishments with legal liability for wrongful death if a patron causes a fatal drunk driving accident.
- Drivers’ employers. In Pennsylvania, employers generally have legal liability for the acts of their employees while they are on the job. If the driver of a commercial vehicle causes a fatal accident because of careless or reckless driving, then the driver’s employer may owe damages to the family of the victim. Likewise, if the employer’s actions contributed to the cause of an accident, the employer may also be liable. Some examples include an employer requiring a driver to falsify records, sending drivers out with vehicles in poor condition, or failing to do a background check or check driving records.
Every car accident that causes the death of someone is different. The only thing that remains the same is the sadness that the survivors feel.
A Philadelphia lawyer experienced in wrongful death cases knows to reveal the causes of an accident and identify all parties who may have contributed to the tragic loss of your loved one.
When Someone is Killed in an Accident, the Estate of the Deceased Person May File a Wrongful Death Action
In Pennsylvania, if a person loses their life in a car accident, the law allows the victim's surviving family members to file a "wrongful death" lawsuit.
This is possible if the deceased would have been eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit for their injuries, had they survived the accident.
Preserving your rights as a survivor in a wrongful death claim is one of the reasons why you need to hire a personal injury lawyer after a deadly car accident in Philadelphia.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Accident Claim in Pennslyvania?
As a general rule, the beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim are the surviving spouse, children, or the parents of the deceased.
If the deceased has no surviving spouse, child, or parent eligible to claim damages, a designated personal representative can initiate legal action.
This action aims to recover costs related to hospital care, nursing, medical treatment, funeral arrangements, and other administrative expenses that were needed due to the injuries that led to death.
Damages recovered in a wrongful death action are distributed according to the deceased's will. If there was no will, Pennsylvania laws address distributing an estate of a person who died without leaving a will.
For additional information on the rights of the survivors, consult with a Philadelphia car accident lawyer with extensive knowledge of wrongful death claims as a result of an auto accident.
What Types of Compensation are Available in a Car Crash Wrongful Death Claim?
The compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit covers both any claims the deceased person could have made from the car accident, as well as certain additional damages arising out of the death itself. These damages typically include:
Medical expenses before death. In some cases, the injuries from the car accident delay your loved one’s death by hours, days, or even weeks after the accident. Compensation for medical bills and related costs is included as part of a wrongful death claim.
Expenses arising from your loved one’s death. Funeral costs include the burial expenses or cremation of the deceased, including the service, casket, or urn, and other related ceremonial costs. Other costs such as managing and settling the deceased's estate, are generally included as well. injuries.
Pain and suffering before death. Many injuries cause a substantial amount of pain before they result in the death of the individual injured in the accident. If your loved one lived for some time after the accident, then a wrongful death claim may seek damages for this pain and suffering.
Loss of your loved one’s income. The income your loved one was not able to earn in the period between the accident and the date of death, as well as the future income they would have earned, had the death not occurred.
Loss of the services your loved one provided to the family. Even if your loved one did not work, their loss could cause substantial financial difficulty for the family. Often, the value of services provided exceeds the value of a loved one’s income, such as for:
- Child care
- Cooking for the family
- Care for an elderly loved one
- Yard maintenance
- Home maintenance
- Maintenance on vehicles
- Home cleaning
When you lose a loved one who performed these services, you may have to hire someone else to take care of those services, often at an extremely high financial cost.
In many cases, professionals cannot fully replace the value your loved one offered to the family, but they can alleviate some of the burdens you face due to that loss.
Loss of your loved one’s presence, support, and companionship. For minor children, this could mean the loss of a parent’s guidance and advice. For the spouse of the deceased, this could mean the loss of consortium as well as the loss of a partner and companion.
The Value of a Wrongful Death Settlement Also Depends on the Financial Resources of the Liable Party
Every family that loses a loved one in a car accident should recover a full measure of compensation from the party at fault.
In reality, whether a family can recover that compensation depends, in part, on the financial resources of the person or entity that caused their family member's untimely death.
For example, if legal liability falls only to the other driver, then the insurance limits covering the other driver will dictate how much money the grieving family can hope to receive.
That is why experienced lawyers know the crucial importance of digging deep into a case to identify every party with potential legal liability in a wrongful death case.
Locating a second, third, or fourth party with liability effectively means doubling, tripling, or quadrupling the funds available to pay a settlement or jury verdict.
Not every case presents that sort of opportunity, of course. Still, clients have every right to expect that their lawyers will do the necessary due diligence to determine the full scope of potential liability.
After Someone Dies in a Car Accident, it is Crucial to Hire an Experienced Philadelphia Personal Injury Attorney
Families who lose a loved one in a car accident face sudden, unexpected, and emotionally overwhelming burdens.
They need skilled, sophisticated legal guidance to help them make sound decisions about when and how to enforce their legal rights to seek compensation through a wrongful death action.
Not just any lawyer or law firm will do. Families need to find a lawyer with sufficient depth of experience and resources to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit to the fullest extent possible.
Why is it so important to hire an attorney with a track record of success and years of practice in wrongful death cases? Consider the following scenarios:
Insurance Companies Usually Attempt to Shortchange the Family
After a fatal car accident, insurance companies that cover parties with potential legal liability may get in touch with the family of the deceased to offer a “quick” settlement.
Typically, the amount of an initial settlement offer does not reflect a fair and full amount of money that the family deserves as compensation for the tragic loss of life due to a car accident.
Families should never accept these offers (which usually come with onerous legal strings attached), without first consulting with an experienced car accident injury attorney.
A Dedicated Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Determine Who is Liable
The immense tragedy of a death due to a car accident calls for an attorney who will leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice, accountability, and compensation.
The more parties who have potential liability, the higher the likelihood of the family recovering the damages it needs and deserves.
The Most Skilled Negotiators and Trial Lawyers Will Successfully Protect Your Rights
Wrongful death cases stemming from auto accidents frequently involve large damages claims, some amounting to millions of dollars.
With that much at stake, families should entrust their legal representation and wrongful death suit to an attorney who has successfully gone toe-to-toe with powerful insurance companies in negotiations and has the talent to present a compelling case to a Pennsylvania jury.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney in Philadelphia
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, reach out to an accident trial attorney in Philadelphia with experience in wrongful death lawsuits.
The sooner you contact an attorney at The Levin Firm, the sooner that attorney can start working on your behalf to seek the compensation you and your family need today and in the future.
Call a Philadelphia car accident attorney for a free consultation at 215-825-5183 and find out how we can help you recover financial compensation.