Losing a loved one in a car accident can be heartbreaking, but it is even more so if the death could have been avoided. Suing the responsible party for wrongful death is one way that the survivors can begin to pick up the pieces, at least financially. The following guide can help you determine if this is an option for you.
When is a death considered wrongful death?
Not all car accidents qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit. Generally speaking, there has to be negligence in order for there to be grounds for a lawsuit. Examples of negligence in a car accident scenario include the following:
Reckless driving, such as speeding
Distracted driving, such as texting
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Can only the other driver be sued?
It's not always the other driver that is at fault. In some cases, the negligence may be due to a third party that wasn't in a vehicle. For example, the auto manufacturer may be the responsible party if it was a malfunction of the vehicle that led to the accident. Or, the municipality could be to blame for failure to properly maintain a road or erect signage in the correct location.
Who can sue for wrongful death?
This varies by state, but in general the person who sues will have to be either a family member or a representative of the estate. In some states there is an order of designated beneficiaries that must be followed. For example, immediate family members such as spouses, children, or parents have the first right to sue. No one else can if the immediate family chooses to forgo a lawsuit. If there is no surviving immediate family, then the right to sue passes to the next tier of beneficiaries, usually siblings, grandparents, or aunts and uncles.
What if there is a manslaughter charge?
In some cases, usually those involving reckless driving or driving under the influence, a manslaughter charge may be brought against the other driver. Manslaughter is a criminal charge while wrongful death is considered a civil lawsuit. The state will bring the manslaughter charge against the driver, and its purpose is to punish. You can still sue for wrongful death in this case, since the purpose of the civil charge is to receive a payment of damages to help the family through the loss financially.
If you have more questions, contact a wrongful death attorney in your area or continue doing additional reading online.