What Happens if a Family Member Dies in an Auto Accident?

Most Americans rely on cars in their daily lives. The downside is that accidents happen frequently, and they can potentially turn lives upside down — especially when an accident is deadly. More than 42,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2021 alone, with alcohol consumption, speeding, reckless driving, and lack of seatbelt use contributing to the problem.

If you had a family member die in an auto accident, you could be eligible for damages in a civil lawsuit. Nix Patterson’s personal injury attorneys may be able to help you obtain financial justice for your severe personal loss.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When negligence or a malicious act causes someone’s death, states have wrongful death laws to provide a civil remedy for close family members. All states have a wrongful death statute allowing the family to obtain financial damages for their economic and non-economic losses.

Each state’s laws differ, so it is essential to consult with your accident attorney to determine who can file and what damages are available. For example, in Texas, a wrongful death occurs when an injury leads to someone’s death, and the injury is caused by another person’s wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default. Many fatal events can be the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit, including auto accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and intentional acts.

Which Family Members Can Sue for Wrongful Death After a Car Accident?

Which family members can sue for wrongful death depends on the state where the incident occurred. The decedent’s surviving spouse, parents, and children may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas. Each can file their own claim or may file together. If the surviving spouse, parents, or children do not file a wrongful death claim within 90 days, the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate must file the lawsuit.

However, in Oklahoma, the law usually only allows the personal representative or executor of the person’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. It is recommended to talk to your Nix Patterson auto accident attorney about your state’s laws and who can file the claim.

How Can a Spouse File a Claim for Wrongful Death?

In some states, the spouse can file a claim for wrongful death. In Texas, the surviving spouse can file a wrongful death claim, but it must be within 90 days of the person’s death. Texas recognizes both common law and formal marriages. If the court recognizes your common-law marriage, you can file a claim in Texas.

What Wrongful Death Damages Can a Family Member Sue for?

The damages you can receive in a wrongful death case depend on that state’s laws. In Oklahoma, for example, you can receive compensation for the following:

  • Medical, burial, and funeral expenses
  • Mental and physical pain and suffering by the decedent
  • Your mental and emotional anguish
  • Loss of companionship and grief to the children and parents
  • Financial losses to the children and surviving spouse
  • Punitive damages, if applicable

Your auto accident attorney will attempt to reach a fair settlement after considering your various economic and non-economic losses. If the defendant or their insurance company will not offer a reasonable settlement, your attorney may take the matter to court and present the case to a jury.

What Must Be Proven for a Family Member to Sue for Wrongful Death?

Each state’s wrongful death statute lays out what must be proven for you to win your case. State laws differ in their wording. In Texas, the law states that the death has to have been caused by one or more of the following by a person or entity:

  • Neglect
  • Carelessness
  • Unskillfulness
  • Default or failure to fulfill an obligation
  • Wrongful act

The responsible party could be another person, company, professional, or government agency. You must prove that another party was negligent and contributed to your loved one’s death, or you may be unable to receive damages. That is why having a skilled wrongful death attorney handle your case is so important. Proving negligence requires your attorney to prove the following:

  • The party owed a duty of care to the decedent (duty)
  • The party did not uphold their duty of care (breach)
  • The failure led to the decedent’s fatal injuries (causation)
  • The death caused losses for the decedent’s family (damages)

Various duties of care may apply in a wrongful death case. For example, a car driver has a duty of care not to run a red light and hit other vehicles. A physician has a duty of care to perform a procedure in a way that another reasonable medical professional would in a similar situation.

Your lawyer must put on evidence that any negligent party acted inconsistently with their duty of care to prove they were negligent. This can be easier in some auto accident cases than others. If the other party was entirely at fault, the case could be easier to prove than if the deceased was partially at fault for the accident.

Contact Nix Patterson’s Car Accident Attorneys Today

Losing a loved one in an auto accident is one of life’s worst possible events. While nothing can ever bring your loved one back, there are ways to potentially obtain a measure of justice and compensation for your loss.

Nix Patterson’s auto accident and wrongful death attorneys may be able to help you receive economic and non-economic damages, including medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages and inheritance, and mental anguish. Nix Patterson covers all litigation expenses, so you never have to pay for legal fees or related costs out of pocket. We understand the difficult time you’re going through. Please contact our attorneys today for a complimentary and compassionate case review.

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