Over the past decade, the type of technology available in our vehicles has changed drastically. Features only available in luxury cars in the past – like backup cameras – are now standard in many cars, trucks, and SUVs. Yet despite all of these safety advances, Californians continue to be hurt in car accidents – and sometimes those injuries are even fatal.
According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), in 2017 alone, there were 3,582 fatal crashes in the state – and 3,904 people died in those accidents. If a loved one died in a car accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit or a survival action to recover compensation for your losses with the help of a skilled California personal injury attorney.
These two types of legal claims are unique and are each meant to address a specific type of loss. In many cases, both types of lawsuits may be filed: one on behalf of the victim’s survivors, and the other on behalf of the victim’s estate. If a family member has died as a result of a car accident, reach out to our law firm to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.
Types of Legal Claims That Can Be Filed After a Fatal Car Crash
If a car accident results in death, the at-fault driver and their insurance company may be held financially responsible for any losses related to the crash. The victim’s family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the other driver (defendant). In addition, they may pursue a survival action on behalf of the victim’s estate.
California law allows certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Specifically, surviving spouses, domestic partners, children, grandchildren (if the victim’s children are also deceased), other minor children who were dependent on the victim, and anyone else who would be entitled to a share of the victim’s estate if they died without a will. A wrongful death lawsuit is meant to compensate survivors for their losses.
By contrast, a survival action is brought by a representative of the victim’s estate. The goal of a survival action is to seek compensation for the losses suffered by the deceased person (decedent) before they died. As long as the victim survived long enough to suffer some type of economic damages (such as medical bills or lost wages), their estate can pursue a survival action.
Filing a Death Claim After a Fatal Accident
If your loved one died in a car accident, then you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit if the other driver acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. For example, if the at-fault driver was texting and driving or driving drunk at the time of the accident, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim. Importantly, even if the other driver is not facing criminal charges for their actions, you can still file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In a wrongful death action for a fatal car accident, you can seek compensation for economic and non-economic damages that you have suffered from the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. Generally, economic damages are meant to compensate you for specific financial losses. In a wrongful death claim, this may include things such as:
- The financial support that the decedent would have contributed to the family;
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The loss of gift and benefits that you could have expected to receive; and
- The reasonable value of the decedent’s household services.
In comparison, non-economic damages are meant to compensate you for intangible losses. In this type of case, non-economic damages may include a claim for loss of the deceased person’s society and companionship, protection, moral support, affection, and training and guidance. They do not cover the pain and suffering that you may have suffered due to your loved one’s death.
Importantly, punitive damages – which are meant to punish a wrongdoer for their intentional or reckless conduct – are not available in wrongful death cases. However, if your loved one was killed in an auto accident, then you may be able to seek punitive damages on behalf of their estate through a survival action.
Filing a Survival Action
Like a wrongful death lawsuit, a survival action can be based on negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct. However, a survival action is brought by the estate itself rather than heirs to the estate. Another way to look at a survival action is that it is the type of claim that the victim could have brought if they had not died.
To bring a survival action, the decedent must have lived for some period of time after being injured in a motor vehicle accident. If they died instantaneously, the estate may not be able to bring a survival claim. A personal representative files a survival action on behalf of the estate.
The damages in a survival action are limited to actual economic losses that the victim sustained after the accident, but before they died. This may include things such as:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
For example, if your husband suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car crash, and lived for several months before passing away, there may be substantial medical bills. In addition, he may have lost a significant amount of money because he was unable to work during that time. In a survival action, you could seek compensation for those specific losses.
In addition, punitive damages may be available in a survival action. In car accident cases, punitive damages are most often awarded in situations where the at-fault driver acted recklessly or intentionally – such as in drunk driving cases. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine if you can seek punitive damages in a survival action.
It may be possible to file both a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action based on a single automobile accident. A skilled wrongful death attorney can help you determine if you and your family can file one or both types of claims after a fatal car accident.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in California is 2 years. This time begins to run from the later of the date of the injury, or 6 months after the death. If surviving family members fail to file a claim within this time period, then it may be barred.
Spouse Was Killed in a Car Accident. Do You Need a Lawyer?
Yes. Wrongful death and survival claims can be complicated. If your loved one was killed in a fatal car crash, a lawyer will advocate for your rights and help you get the compensation that you are entitled to under the law.
How Much Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?
It depends. The value of a wrongful death lawsuit is based on a number of factors, including the age and health of the victim and the needs of the surviving family members. A seasoned California personal injury attorney can help you determine if you have a viable wrongful death claim, and if so, give you an estimate of the case value.
Help for Injury Victims and Their Loved Ones
There are few things that are more devastating than losing a family member in a car accident. If your loved one has died in a motor vehicle collision, you may be able to seek compensation for your losses through a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, it may also be possible to file a survival action on behalf of their estate.
At Kuvara Law, we are dedicated to helping injury victims and their families recover the compensation that they deserve after an accident. We offer free consultations, and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a San Rafael car accident lawyer, call us today at 415-479-7070 or fill out our online contact form.