When Can a Fatal Car Accident Be Treated as a Wrongful Death Case in PA?
PennDOT recorded 1,129 car accident fatalities in 2020, the second-lowest traffic death total for PA since the state started recording these figures. Despite the “good news,” the families of these victims still deserve justice. If you lose a loved one to a traffic accident, you should not hesitate to hold a negligent driver accountable for the death of your loved one. It’s in your best interest to contact a car accident attorney at your earliest convenience if you find yourself in this situation.
When Can a Fatal Car Accident Be Treated as a Wrongful Death Case?
For a fatal car accident situation to qualify as a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove that another party was negligent to be awarded compensation. This requirement is no different from a personal injury case. To understand what is necessary, knowing what negligence means in legal terms is important.
Negligence in a Fatal Car Accident Case
Negligence occurs when a person fails to act with the amount of care that a reasonable person would do under the same circumstances. To prove that another driver was negligent in a fatal car accident, our Philadelphia wrongful death attorney would have to establish four separate but connected elements. Speeding, reckless driving, road rage, and even vehicle defects can fall under the umbrella of “negligence.”
Duty of Care
Generally, people in Philadelphia have a duty to act in such a way to avoid hurting others. The first element our office will have to demonstrate is that the at-fault driver owed the deceased a duty of care. Fortunately, every driver in Pennsylvania has a duty to operate their car in a reasonably safe manner. Therefore, they are obligated to follow traffic rules and regulations. This duty also includes ensuring that their vehicle is roadworthy.
Breach of Duty
The next element required to prove negligence is showing that the defendant breached their duty of care. In simpler terms, this means showing that the defendant’s conduct deviated from what a reasonable driver would have done in the same situation. In many cases, a breach can be established by showing that a driver violated the rules of the road. However, there are times when a breach is not as obvious. If the streets are covered with snow, then driving at the speed limit could constitute a breach because a reasonable driver would slow down.
Poor conduct or decisions does not make someone liable for an injury or death unless their behavior caused the harm. The next element required in establishing negligence is causation. The at-fault driver’s actions must have caused the death of your loved one. If a distracted driver swerved into oncoming traffic and your loved one was killed in the accident, then their conduct caused the death.
The final element is actual damages. To prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a fatal car accident, the plaintiff must show that they suffer physical, emotional, or financial harm.
Comparative Negligence in Philadelphia
It is also essential to address the concept of comparative negligence when discussing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in Philadelphia. Under Pennsylvania law, a comparative negligence rule is followed by civil courts. This means that a judge or jury will determine the percentage of fault each party contributed to an accident. A defense attorney or insurance company could argue that your loved one was also partially or wholly responsible for the accident.
For example, a jury could find that the defendant only contributed 70% to an accident and the deceased was 30% at fault. Under the comparative negligence rule, a plaintiff’s monetary compensation would be decreased by 30%. If the deceased was found to be more than 50% to blame, then the plaintiff would not be permitted to recover any damages through a lawsuit. It is critical to have an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney representing you to counter any allegations the defense might present.
Presenting Damages After a Fatal Car Accident
The final element of proving negligence in a wrongful death claim arising from a fatal car accident is showing damages. If you are a surviving spouse, parent, or child, you are entitled to seek monetary compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the actual financial losses you suffered because of the death of a loved one. These include any incurred medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, and any lost income that the deceased provided to support you.
Non-economic damages represent the emotional and mental suffering you experienced because of the death. Some damages after you have unexpectedly lost someone include the loss of comfort, guidance, and companionship. Eligible surviving family members have a right to be compensated for these and other losses. Our Philadelphia fatal car accident attorney will thoroughly review your situation to determine what damages you should seek.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Car Accident Fatality
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action brought by a close family member of a person that was killed in an accident. It is important to note that there are only certain family members that are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit and seek a car accident settlement or compensation.
Typically, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by immediate family members and family members that were financially dependent or cared for by the deceased. This usually means that while a spouse, children, and parents are able to file a case, the right to file a claim could be extended to other family members if they relied on the decedent, like a cousin.
Note, however, that a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within the timeframe set by the statute of limitations, which determines the length of time a plaintiff has to file a case against a defendant. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of the decedent’s death.
If a plaintiff does not file their case within this timeframe, they risk the court barring their claim from being filed. As a result, they may be unable to pursue legal compensation against a negligent driver.
Suing Uninsured Drivers For a Fatal Accident
When you file a wrongful death lawsuit against another driver, what you are doing is suing their insurance company. Unfortunately, there are drivers on Philadelphia roads that do not have insurance. In these cases, it becomes very difficult for the victim’s family to collect any financial compensation. At the Reiff Law Firm, our knowledgeable attorneys and staff are aware this is a possibility. Under these circumstances, we will look to determine if other parties could be held liable or if there are other options available.
There are times that an intervening cause also contributed to a fatal accident. For example, a vehicle’s airbag might have failed to deploy or the local municipality neglected to prepare or plow an icy road. Additionally, your loved one might have had uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, allowing our office the option to negotiate with the victim’s insurance company. While it makes a case more challenging, you should still talk with our experienced Philadelphia car accident attorneys even if the other driver was uninsured.
Contact an Experienced Attorney As Soon As Possible
If your loved one was killed in a car crash, you should consult with an experienced Philadelphia personal injury attorney today. At the Reiff Law Firm, our experienced attorneys will work tirelessly to help you pursue legal action against the negligent driver that caused the death of your family member. To schedule a free case evaluation to discuss your legal situation, contact the Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940.