Driving is not the safest mode of transport. You are much safer hopping on a train, flying on an airplane, or taking a boat than driving a car. Because of the elevated risk of an accident, drivers should be cautious and avoid reckless, distracted, drunk, or drugged driving. Driving and fatal collisions are intricately connected.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 38,000 people died in car accidents in 2020. Many accidents occur due to distracted driving, according to statistics from the United States Department of Transportation, which reported that in 2019, 3,142 people died due to motor vehicle crashes caused by distracted drivers.
Despite statistics showing the leading causes of vehicle accidents, they still happen. When a driver’s recklessness, distraction, or drunkenness causes a crash that results in the death of a loved one, the victim’s surviving family or the estate is eligible to file a wrongful death claim because the deceased cannot file the claim. Building your case to obtain compensation for the claim is difficult, so the Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm is here to help you seek wrongful death damages.
Causes of Car Accident Deaths
Drunk driving and speeding are the most significant causes of fatal car collisions. Nevada has experienced a spike in fatal car collisions, with the state’s Department of Public Safety reporting that the number of traffic deaths continues to increase. Clark County was leading in traffic fatalities statewide, accounting for at least half of the car accident fatalities reported in 2021.
What is the cause of these traffic fatalities?
DUI, speeding, and distracted driving have been reported as the primary causes of fatal crashes in Nevada. Other causes of vehicle collision fatalities are:
- Poor weather conditions
- Vehicle manufacturing defects
- Street and highway design defects
- Driver fatigue
Operating a motor vehicle is dangerous. The risk of an accident increases when a driver exhibits any of these behaviors while behind the wheel. Luckily, you can pursue a wrongful death civil action against the negligent or intentional conduct of a car driver that results in the death of a loved one.
Distracted driving occurs when a driver engages in other activities while behind the wheel instead of focusing on the road. A driver can be distracted by a smartphone, eating, or talking while behind the wheel.
DUI is also a serious threat to road safety because it lowers the attention span and increases reckless behavior like hallucinations or sleeping. When this happens, a driver loses control of the vehicle, causing a fatal accident.
Also, when drivers drive beyond the designated speed limit, they cannot stop the vehicle when there is danger ahead. These result in rear-end or head-on crashes notorious for causing fatal injuries and deaths.
All drivers must exercise caution when operating their vehicles. Safe motorists depend on others to drive safely. However, this does not always happen, leading to fatal car crashes. Behaviors that result in reckless driving are:
- Disregarding traffic rules and signs
- Street racing
These actions on the road put all drivers, even those driving safely, at risk of fatal car accidents.
Wrongful Death Legal Definition
Wrongful death is a civil action when someone loses their life because of somebody else’s intentional, negligent, or reckless conduct.
Wrongful death is civil, meaning the defendant does not face criminal penalties. Instead, the court proves the person is liable for your death or that of an immediate family member and instructs them to pay monetary damages.
Unlike personal injury lawsuits envisaged under the English Common Law, wrongful death is a separate law under NRS 41.085. A wrongful death claim is one the deceased person could have filed if they were alive. If the victim survived the car crash, they would need to file an injury claim for their injuries. Nevertheless, when these fatal injuries result in death, the deceased’s surviving family or estate should seek compensation for the unlawful death.
Car Accident Wrongful Death Elements
If you are the deceased’s immediate family or estate, you must prove that the defendant is responsible for the death of your loved one to obtain compensation. The elements you need to verify are:
- Your decedent died
- Their death stemmed from negligent, intentional, or reckless conduct by another driver
- You are the heir or representative of the deceased’s estate
- You suffered losses due to the death of your deceased
Proving these facts about the case is not easy. To build a solid case, you need a vehicle accident attorney with experience handling wrongful death civil actions.
NRS 41.085 makes wrongful death in car accidents fault-based. You, the plaintiff, assume the burden of proof and must show the defendant's acts were the cause of the vehicle collision that led to the death of your loved one. Therefore, before filing a claim, you should speak to an experienced car crash attorney to investigate the case and have the facts straight. You need solid evidence to obtain a favorable outcome in the case. The evidence that your attorney should gather includes the following:
- The police report
- A video surveillance footage of the moment the car collision happened
- Medical records
- Statements from eyewitnesses
- Testimony from accident reconstruction professionals
- Recorded or jotted communications from the defendant
If the defendant’s insurer is not willing to settle outside court, you can proceed to file a lawsuit in a civil trial. However, even if the ruling by the civil court is in your favor, the defendant will not face any criminal penalties like probation, court fines, or incarceration. Instead, the court will instruct them to compensate you for the damages caused by the unlawful death.
Let us discuss these elements further:
Your Decedent Died
Your attorney must prove to the court that a decedent or loved one died. The element is simple to prove because all you need is a death certificate or medical records proving someone is deceased.
Another Driver’s Negligence, Recklessness or Intentional Act Caused the Fatality
The other element you should demonstrate to the court is that the wrongful conduct or recklessness of the driver led to the death of your loved one. Your attorney must find the surveillance footage of the accident scene, photographs of the scene and the car wreck, eyewitness testimony, and the police statement to show that wrongful conduct by the alleged driver was the cause of the fatal car crash.
You Have the Right to File the Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Because the car collision victim died from the fatal injuries sustained, they cannot take legal or civil action against the alleged driver. Therefore, only an eligible plaintiff can file a lawsuit on behalf of the victim. Nevada has stringent rules for individuals eligible to file a wrongful death suit. Those who can demand compensation for the deceased are:
- The deceased’s estate personal representative
- The dead victim’s surviving family or intestate heirs
If you married the deceased, you could file the lawsuit as a surviving spouse or domestic partner. Also, you can sue for compensation if you are a child of the victim and one of the heirs. In cases where the deceased was unmarried and had no children, the following people can sue on the victim’s behalf:
- The victim’s parents
- The victim’s siblings
- The closest surviving family member who is not a sibling or parent to the deceased
A child who has resided in the deceased’s home and depended on the victim for at least half of their financial support is also qualified to sue. Nevertheless, under NRS 41.085, the following individuals cannot file a wrongful death suit even when named as beneficiaries in the deceased’s will:
- Close friends
- Unmarried significant others
If you are unsure whether you qualify to bring a wrongful death action against a defendant, you should talk to the Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm. Our attorneys understand car accident wrongful death claims and will help you determine if you qualify as a plaintiff. If you do, they will investigate the accident and find the evidence necessary to build a claim.
You Incurred Losses Because of the Death
Finally, you must demonstrate to the court, through your attorney, that you suffered losses or damages due to your loved one's death in the car accident.
Wrongdoers in Vehicle Collisions Wrongful Death Claims
Potential defendants in car collision wrongful death claims under NRS 41.085 could be an organization that runs a fleet of cars, an individual driver, or the employer of the driver that caused the fatal accident. If the crash and subsequent death are caused by a faulty vehicle part, like the brakes, the vehicle or auto parts manufacturer can be liable for the demise.
The owner of a bar that served a drunk driver alcohol before he caused a fatal accident cannot be sued for the vehicle accident death if the driver is of legal drinking age. This is true even if it is clear that the defendant's intoxication was the cause of the accident.
Even if you sue the defendant, do not expect them to go down without a fight. They will challenge the claim in court using various defenses. The defendant will find evidence to demonstrate that the victim’s death was caused by something other than negligent or reckless driving. The defenses they are likely to use are:
- Victim of mistaken identity
- False allegations or accusations
- The driver was involved in the car collision but did not cause the victim’s death
- The deceased person appended their signature on a legal release contract assuming responsibility for their death when they agreed to engage in a dangerous activity like car racing
You need a vehicle collision attorney to counter these arguments and prove they are irrelevant to the case or inconceivable.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitation
Once you have identified the defendant in your case, you have 24 months from the date of death to file a car crash wrongful death suit. When you file a claim after the lapse of this period, the defendant can easily have the case thrown out by filing a motion to dismiss. The motion will be based on the lapse of the time limit in the statute of limitations to take the civil cause of action.
Therefore, when a loved one loses their life in a vehicle collision, you should immediately speak to an injury lawyer to build your case. The attorney will take time to investigate the matter and gather evidence to file a factual claim before the lapse of the timeline provided.
NRS 41.085 wrongful death is a civil suit intended to reimburse the victim’s descendants or estate for the losses. These cases often yield hefty settlements ranging from a few thousand to millions. The amount of compensation varies based on the case’s circumstances and the harm caused to the deceased’s estate or surviving family.
When a settlement is attained, the amount is payable upfront or through a structured payment plan that extends over a particular duration. The compensatory damages are classified as economic or general damages. The period for which you will receive these damages depends on the following:
- The deceased’s life expectancy during the unlawful death
- Your life expectancy, as the plaintiff, during the wrongful death
Your injury attorney will rely on lifestyle, health, and career to determine life expectancy.
1. Economic or Special Damages
Economic damages include the medical expenses and other costs the victim incurred before their demise. Also, they include:
- The monetary support the victim could have provided to the surviving family in their lifetime
- The loss of benefits or gifts the surviving family members were expected to obtain from the car accident victim
- Burial and funeral costs
- A value estimate of the home services the deceased would have offered
2. Non-economic or General Damages
Non-economic damages will reimburse you for losing the victim’s:
- Moral support
- Sexual relations
- Coaching and guidance
- Pain and suffering
- Grief and sorrow
There is no definite formula for estimating general damages. However, the jury considers several factors that can affect your vehicle accident death claim. Because of the problems experienced in valuing economic damages, insurers try to undervalue your emotional pain. A profound unlawful death claim attorney will help you through the tricks insurance adjusters employ for fair financial reimbursement.
Factors Determining the Average Wrongful Death Compensation in a Vehicle Accident
Every vehicle accident wrongful death suit has unique circumstances that make having a predetermined average settlement difficult. Nevertheless, some aspects of the case can increase or decrease the funds you should obtain as reimbursement. These factors are:
The Deceased’s Age
If the victim was young during the car accident, it would seem natural for the jury to award more for the claim. However, the amount will be reduced if the deceased is retired or a senior citizen. In the eyes of the jury, the victim’s age does not have significant effects like lost income.
The Deceased’s Earning Capacity
The jury will consider what your loved one was doing for a living and the amount they used to earn. If the deceased used to make vast amounts of money, you will obtain massive compensation. However, when their earnings are small, or they are unemployed, wrongful death compensation will be less.
The Victim’s Surviving Family Size
If the deceased had a large family, numerous children and dependents would be involved. With many dependents involved, the court will offer a significant figure as compensation, unlike when the deceased has few or no close family, spouse, or children.
The Deceased’s Fault in the Car Crash
The defendant will not agree to compensate quickly. They will contest your demands by arguing that the victim was partly responsible for the accident. If these facts are accurate and supported by evidence, the amount you were entitled to as compensation will be reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault.
Sum of Economic Damages
You would receive massive compensation if you suffered much economic damage from the car crash victim’s death. The losses include burial expenses and medical bills.
Insurance Policy Limit
The defendant in the case will not be paying the wrongful death damages. It is the insurance company. However, the size of the defendant’s policy will determine the amount you will receive.
The number of damages sought in wrongful death suits is usually speculative. You cannot predict the exact amount you will receive at the beginning of the case. However, you can increase the possibility of a hefty reimbursement by hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney for the trial. An attorney will be crucial, primarily when you settle the case outside of court. A legal expert with an excellent record of negotiating with insurers will ensure you have enough settlement money to cover all your damages.
Another reason it is difficult to ascertain the compensation amount in the case is out-of-court settlements. When a payment occurs, the figure remains confidential to the involved parties. If you have a weak claim based on your attorney’s evaluation, it is best to settle with the insurer, even if it is for a lower amount. However, without your attorney's assessment of the case, do not agree to a settlement because the insurer will offer the least amount.
The strength of your vehicle accident death claim depends on the investigation that your injury attorney does. Therefore, hire a reputable legal expert immediately after the incident to investigate, collect, and preserve evidence. The legal expert should gather all the details of the collision and the victim's death to build a solid case.
Survival Action Vs. Wrongful Death
Apart from the wrongful death suit, the surviving family of the deceased can file a survival action suit under NRS 41.100. You can file this claim if your loved one sustained fatal injuries from the car accident but did not die immediately. The deceased’s legal claim will survive the crash, even if they are not lucky enough to survive.
With the survival claim, you and other heirs of the deceased can seek the monetary reimbursement the victim would have obtained if they had survived the vehicle collision. The damages you can pursue under the survival action are:
- Out-of-pocket medical costs
- Lost earnings
- Pain and anguish
Consult your injury attorney for guidance if you have a survival action.
The Role of an Injury Attorney in your Claim
Your car accident injury attorney will deal with the court and the insurance adjuster and update you on the claim. Their responsibilities in building your case are:
1. Conducting Investigations
If the police responded to the fatal vehicle crash, they investigated the case and prepared a report. The report contains witness testimonies, sketches of the scene, and statements from other drivers involved in the car accident. Even with the information on the investigations done by the officers available, a reputable wrongful death lawyer should conduct an independent inquiry, which involves:
- Evaluation of the police report
- Evaluation of the insurance company statement
- Eyewitnesses cross-examination
- Acquiring video surveillance footage of the accident
- Analyzing records of road design faults at the scene
- Hiring an accident reconstruction professional
- Reviewing the medical report
Further investigation of the auto accident paints a vivid picture of the scene and makes it easy to identify the liable person and the wrongful death damages available.
2. Negotiating With the Insurance Company
Negotiating with the insurer is crucial to recovering damages in a wrongful death claim from a fatal car crash. Approaching the negotiations without legal guidance is risky. Settlements allow involved parties to develop creative and flexible ways of negotiating. Your attorney understands the tricks insurers use to deny claims or undercompensate. An attorney will ensure you receive your rightful damages.
However, if you and other descendants of the deceased want the defendant to be held liable in court, you should file a lawsuit instead of going for a settlement. If the case is strong, a trial will give you closure and a handsome payment. Nevertheless, going to court has its challenges. A positive outcome is not guaranteed. Additionally, the lawsuit can drag on for years before its conclusion. Therefore, speak to an attorney for guidance.
Find the Right Wrongful Death Attorney Near Me
Car accidents often result in deaths. The damages from the accident can devastate the victim's family. Therefore, these individuals must seek compensation for the demise of their loved ones. However, the at-fault party will fight the lawsuit. At the Las Vegas Car Accident Attorney Law Firm, we can help you build a solid case to obtain the damages you deserve. Call us today at 702-576-0010 to start building your case.