What Happens if a Car Accident Causes Death?
Sadly, the Utah Department of Public Safety reports that car accidents caused 276 deaths statewide in 2015, an increase of 20 fatalities from the previous year. When a person is killed in an automotive accident, their surviving family members may wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who caused the collision.
Who is Liable for a Fatal Car Accident?
A wrongful death is a preventable death caused by the reckless, unlawful, or negligent actions of another person. When a driver causes an accident by being negligent, which means failing to take normal precautions while driving to reduce the risk of an accident, he or she may be liable for the wrongful death of the victim.
Utah is a “no-fault” insurance state, which means injured drivers would generally file a claim with their own insurers, called a “first-party claim,” regardless of which driver was at fault for the accident. Typically, drivers would be required to exhaust $3,000 in PIP (Personal Injury Protection) benefits before filing a “third-party claim” against the driver who caused the accident. However, this rule does not apply to injuries resulting in death. It also does not apply to injuries resulting in permanent disability, disfigurement, impairment, or loss of limb (dismemberment), as these types of injuries meet Utah’s “serious injury threshold.”
When suing or filing a claim against another driver, the decedent’s representative must have the ability to prove the other driver was responsible for causing the accident. Specifically, four facts must be proven:
- The at-fault driver had a duty of care, as a motorist, to obey traffic laws and drive safely.
- The at-fault driver breached the duty of care by violating traffic laws, being careless, or taking reckless risks, like driving while intoxicated.
- The at-fault driver was primarily responsible for causing the crash or collision.
- The wrongful death of the victim was caused by the at-fault driver’s actions, or failures to act.
This proof can come from various sources of evidence, such as video footage, photographs, eyewitness accounts, expert testimony, analysis of crash site wreckage, and other pieces of information. A skilled Salt Lake City car accident attorney will present a compelling argument based on the available evidence.
Compensation for Survivors: What Damages Are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Case in UT?
No amount of compensation can ever make up for the loss of a human life. However, it is important to secure your family’s financial future. An untimely death often brings great and sudden financial hardship, which is an issue that compensation can help to address. It isn’t easy, but your attorney will be there to counsel and support you, every step of the way.
Compensation for expenses and losses is also called “damages.” (For example, a jury can “award damages” in a certain amount.) There are “economic” or financial damages, which Utah also calls “special damages,” as well as “non-economic” or non-financial damages, which Utah calls “general damages.” Special damages, such as medical bills, can be objectively calculated. General damages, such as pain and suffering, are subjective in nature and do not have a concrete dollar value. Ultimately, it is up to a jury to calculate general damages based on the facts at hand and the instructions they are given.
Surviving beneficiaries of the decedent can recover both special and general damages. Some examples include:
- Burial expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of care and guidance
- Loss of consortium (loss of a marital relationship)
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering of the surviving family members
Sometimes, in cases where the defendant engaged in exceptionally extreme (“gross”) negligence, the court will award “punitive damages” in addition to general and special damages. While special and general damages are meant purely to help compensate survivors, a purpose which gives rise to the term “compensatory damages,” punitive damages have the dual purpose of punishing the at-fault driver while deterring similar behavior.
The spouses, parents, and children of wrongful death victims have legal rights. With over 33 years of experience, auto accident lawyer Darwin Overson is committed to helping surviving family members exercise those rights. Your loved one deserves justice, and Darwin will do everything in his power to see that it is delivered.
Contact Experienced Salt Lake City Car Accident Lawyer Darwin Overson
Call car crash lawyer Darwin at (801) 895-3143 to arrange a free legal consultation. You will not be charged any fees, and Darwin will keep your family’s information confidential. Darwin understands that this is a difficult time for your family, and wants to make the process as simple as possible for you. He is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to fight for you and your loved ones.