Your Loved One is Killed in a Car Accident: What Are Your Rights?
Wrongful death laws will specify which family members can file a claim. For example, in Texas, the original Wrongful Death Act enacted in 1860 is now part of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. It enables the decedent’s parents, spouse, and children to sue for their losses. Some states also allow adopted children and grandparents to file.
To successfully prosecute a wrongful death claim, you must establish that:
- Your loved one’s death was at least partly caused by another person’s conduct;
- That person was negligent;
- There are surviving dependents or beneficiaries; and
- You have lost financially because of your loved one’s death.
Damages You Can Claim
In a wrongful death lawsuit you can sue for the medical and funeral expenses related to your loved one’s death. You can also claim damages for your mental anguish and pain and suffering as well as that of any other survivors such as your children.
As well, you can potentially receive compensation for:
- Lost earnings that the decedent would have brought in if he or she had lived to retirement age or the time of a natural death
- Lost benefits such as a pension plan and health insurance
- Loss of companionship, care, protection, and nurturing
Calculating Compensation Amounts
In considering how to award damages, a judge or jury will look at the decedent’s earning history, health, and character. Character issues would include whether or not the decedent saved money or squandered it in some way such as gambling. A gambling habit would reduce the amount of your compensation.
Calculating future earnings can be very complex. It is not done simply by multiplying the decedent’s salary by the expected number of years he or she would have worked. Instead, it is translated into “present value”. You would receive an amount that, conservatively invested, will earn whatever amount your loved one would have made in the same period of time. Various experts are consulted in these calculations – economists, statisticians etc.
If the decedent was a homemaker, the surviving family will be entitled to an amount equal to the monetary value of such work as cooking, child care, house cleaning, laundry, shopping, and transportation.
Some states allow punitive damages designed to punish the defendant for particularly bad behavior. An example would be if the accident was in some way deliberate or malicious. To learn more about your state’s wrongful death provisions, you need to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney.