Car Accident Aftermath: What Does the Law Say When Death Occurs?

Posted by Lisa Coleman on September 21, 2013


Losing a loved one is one of life's greatest pains, and the situation is even worse when there are no resources available for recovery. One area where untimely death may include a legal recourse for losses is fatal accidents involving an obvious respondent who may have been negligent in providing a reasonable duty of care for the victim. Automobile accidents are common examples, as too many individuals die early on the highways.

Beverly Hills Car Accident
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Automobile accidents have a potential for punitive or treble damage awards as well. Having a wrongful death attorney who is experienced in wrongful death awards can be very important while the family is grieving over the loss of the victim.

Who Can Sue?

Determining the proper standing to sue is crucial in a wrongful death claim. The estate of the decedent may be the official plaintiff when no one else automatically fits in the category. The first option for legal standing is usually the spouse, but this can be the parents or children of the victim if they were not legally married.

Children are generally considered next in legal position, but the list can include the estate trustee. The attorney actually brings the case to court on behalf of the plaintiff or primary family and can serve in both legal representative capacities.

It is important to retain local representation in such cases, for their knowledge of local and state laws in regards to a wrongful death case will help maximize a claim. For example, if someone lost their spouse to a terrible auto accident involving a negligent DUI driver in Houston, then retaining a wrongful death personal injury attorney in the Houston, TX area would be advised.

Compensatory Damage Awards

Compensatory damages refers to recovery of itemized and documented sums of money that are reflected in medical bills, burial expenses, loss of property, and loss of potential income. Though some of the damages are discreet numbers that can be quantified easily, the loss of potential income and future inheritances can be complicated calculations.

It is important to understand that there is no set amount of financial value put on a specific life. All wrongful death claims are unique in availability and determination of financial resources. Insurance companies usually pay a maximum amount per person per accident and this may be all of the financial resources available. The maximum amount is also payable in no-fault insurance states or policies covering uninsured or under-insured protection. The decedent's insurance company could be required by the court to pay supplemental damages in a qualified case.

Punitive Damage Awards

There are restrictions when filing for punitive damages. Insurance companies are only liable for punitive damages if they have been found to be denying a claim in bad faith. Payment for claims that are obviously covered are required to be paid in a reasonable amount of time. However, the term reasonable can be put on a sliding scale. Insurance companies are notorious for taking a long time before paying on a wrongful death claim, even when there is minimal case argument presented.

Paying a death claim is business as usual for insurance companies. Punitive damages can still be applied in states that allow them when the case is eligible for a treble damage award. Treble damages are amounts calculated at three times the compensatory amount in egregious gross negligence cases. Automobile accidents involving drunk drivers are a prime example, as the intoxicated motorist is clearly negligent when driving under the influence.

It is very important to retain an experienced and effective wrongful death or accident attorney when faced with the possibility of a lawsuit. Professional legal counsel can take care of all of the legal proceedings while the family is free to recover from the loss. This can be a reassuring method of receiving timely payment of benefits or possibly settle the case out of court, as many insurance companies prefer to avoid the possibility of punitive damage assignments that can increase their financial responsibility.

When tragedy strikes, Lisa Coleman shares the importance of retaining an attorney to help legally and financially after an accident. She recently researched online at and read about how a Houston-based auto accident attorney was equipped to represent a client in a wrongful death case and help obtain financial compensation with the insurance company.

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