The unexpected death of a family member is one of life’s most tragic events. There’s no remedy that could possibly undo the pain of such a loss. Your friends and relatives may say the wound will heal with time, but some scars are permanent. Though nothing can change the past, it may be possible for your family to maintain its financial security by bringing a wrongful death claim against the liable party.
If you intend to pursue damages, one of the smartest steps you can take to protect your case is to speak with a truck accident lawyer. A seasoned attorney can provide the guidance you need to make informed decisions throughout the proceedings. Your lawyer can also help you account for all potentially recoverable damages so you don’t end up accepting a low settlement.
Read on to learn the answers to some frequently asked questions about truck accident wrongful death claims:
1. Who Might Be Liable for a Wrongful Death Caused by a Truck Accident?
Most wrongful death claims are filed on the basis of negligence. To prevail in such a case, you will have to prove that the defendant breached the duty of care owed to your deceased loved one, and that this breach of duty was the proximate or actual cause of the death.
Under some circumstances, however, a wrongful death claim can be brought on the basis of strict liability. For example, if the crash occurred because an auto part malfunctioned due to a manufacturing defect, you would not have to prove that the manufacturer was negligent to impose liability; rather, you would just have to prove that a manufacturing defect was more likely than not a proximate cause of the accident.
Depending on the specific cause of the crash, the following parties might be partially or entirely liable for your loved one’s death:
- The Driver of the Truck: Truck drivers have a duty to obey all traffic laws and to avoid operating their vehicles in such a way that puts other people at an unreasonably high risk of injury. They breach this duty when they violate the Hours of Service regulations, speed, drive under the influence of alcohol, and engage in other illegal and unsafe behaviors. If it is determined that the truck driver’s negligence was a proximate cause of the crash, the driver may be liable for the resulting damages; however, if the trucker was an employee and performing duties within the scope of his or her employment when the crash happened, then the employer may be vicariously liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
- The Truck Driver’s Employer: Besides being held vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees, trucking companies may also be liable for accidents caused by inadequate driver hiring or training procedures, and for improper vehicle maintenance.
- Another Driver: If multiple vehicles were involved in the collision, a driver other than the trucker might be liable for the accident.
- A Third-Party Contractor: Many trucking companies contract out essential tasks such as hiring and training their drivers and maintaining their fleet. If a contractor’s negligence was a proximate cause of the collision, that contractor may be liable for the resulting damages.
- A Government Entity: Government entities may be held liable for damages if negligent road design or maintenance causes an accident that results in wrongful death.
- An Auto Part Manufacturer: If the collision occurred due to an auto part malfunction, the manufacturer of that part might be liable. Depending on the cause of the defect, it may be possible to pursue damages from other parties who played a role in the development or distribution of the product such as a designer, engineer, or vendor.
2. How Much Money Is My Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
Wrongful death claims often involve substantial damages because it is sometimes necessary to account for many decades of lost income and services the deceased would have provided to their family. The potential value of your claim will depend on a number of factors, which may include:
- The deceased’s life expectancy before the accident;
- The deceased’s income:
- The deceased’s expected career trajectory;
- Whether the deceased was married;
- Whether any heirs suffered a loss of advice, assistance, training, protection, and love; and
- Whether you suffered emotional distress due to witnessing the death.
In addition to bringing a wrongful death claim, it may also be possible to bring another type of claim called a “survival action.” These claims seek compensation for damages the deceased incurred between the fatal injury and death. Such damages may include:
- Property damage;
- Lost income before the death; and
- Medical costs incurred due to the fatal injuries.
3. Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Only certain relatives of the decedent can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those relatives, in order of priority, include the decedent’s:
- Dependent stepchildren;
- Minors who lived with the decedent for at least half a year;
- Dependent parents;
- Parents (even if not dependent);
- Siblings and their children;
- Grandparents; and finally
- If none of the above parties is available, the right to bring the claim passes to the children of a spouse who has passed away, if applicable.
Any of the parties listed above can opt to have the personal representative of the deceased’s estate bring the claim instead. A survival action must be brought by the personal representative of the estate, or if there is no personal representative, by the deceased’s successor in interest. Often the wrongful death claim and survival action are combined and brought to court together.
Discuss Your Claim with a Wrongful Death Attorney in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you need help navigating the legal system after a wrongful death in the family, turn to attorney Michael D. Waks. With more than three decades in legal practice, Michael Waks has the experience and knowledge to help you pursue the highest recovery possible. To schedule a free case assessment, send us a message or call (562) 206-1939.
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