Pursing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit When a Negligent Driver Causes Your Loved One’s Death

David W. Hodges
David Hodges is a founding partner of Kennedy Hodges. He focuses his practice on personal injury claims.

Two Family Members Holding Hands After a Wrongful DeathThe tragedy of a car accident is compounded when a family member dies as a result of his injuries. This is especially true when a negligent driver causes a crash that could have been prevented. Unfortunately, fatalities in car wrecks are increasing instead of decreasing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 17,775 people were killed in these accidents in the first half of 2016—a 10 percent increase over the same period in 2015. While it will give you little comfort from the grief you are suffering, you may be able to pursue justice against the driver who caused your family member’s death.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A person may have a wrongful death claim if a family member dies as a result of another person’s negligence—including in causing a car crash. Some other types of tragic accidents that could result in a wrongful death action are construction accidents, workplace accidents, slip and fall accidents, and medical malpractice.

The District of Columbia has its own laws regarding wrongful death actions. Wrongful death is defined as an injury resulting in a person’s death that is caused by a person’s or a corporation’s wrongful act, neglect, or default. The deceased person must have been able to pursue a claim against the negligent party if he had lived. This is most always true when a negligent driver kills an innocent victim.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The personal representative of the deceased person is the correct party to pursue the wrongful death claim. This is the person appointed in the deceased person’s will or under District of Columbia estate laws to probate the person’s estate—basically distributing his assets and other property. The personal representative would be filing the claim on behalf of the following:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased
  • If there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner, the deceased person’s next of kin, which could include children, parents, or siblings

If the deceased person had a will or other estate plan, the personal representative would distribute any compensation recovered to the spouse, domestic partner, or next of kin in proportion to the loss they suffered due to the person’s death. If the person had no will or estate plan, these rules will determine how much compensation each family member would receive:

  • If there are no children or parents, entirely to the spouse
  • If there are children who belong to the spouse, two-thirds to the spouse and the remainder to the children
  • If the surviving children of the deceased are not also the children of the spouse, the spouse receives one-half and the children are entitled to the rest
  • If there is no children and at least one surviving parent, the spouse receives three-quarters of the settlement amount
  • If there is no spouse or children, the parents receive all the compensation
  • If there is no spouse, children, or parents, the sibling would be entitled to the entire award

What Are the Top Car Crashes That Lead to Fatalities?

Many different types of car accidents can cause victims to suffer devastating injuries that lead to their death. Head and brain damage, internal organ damage, internal bleeding, spinal cord damage, and burns are a few of the injuries people suffer in auto wrecks that lead to their death. Sometimes, symptoms do not develop for days or longer after the crash, increasing the likelihood that the injury is life-threatening by the time the person realizes he needs medical care. Common causes of wrecks that cause victims’ deaths include:

  • Distracted driving—especially talking on a cell phone or texting
  • Speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Driver fatigue
  • Weather conditions
  • Street and highway defects
  • Vehicle defects
  • Running red lights or failing to yield at stop signs

How Kennedy Hodges, LLP, Can Help

Car accident cases where victims die can be more complex due to the many parties who could be responsible for compensating you, the potential insurance policies—including your own—that could provide compensation, and the different claims of liability you may need to prove. In addition, insurance companies fight paying these claims more because the values of the claims are higher. Let the legal team at Kennedy Hodges, LLP, take the burden of fighting for what you are entitled to off your shoulders so that you can deal with your grief and picking up the pieces of your life. Start an online chat today to schedule a free consultation.