While many car accidents do not result in a fatality, some can result in the death of the driver and/or passengers involved. From seemingly minor accidents to a passenger car crushed underside a truck, every car accident has the potential to be fatal.

The family of a victim who dies in a fatal car accident may have the right to sue on the deceased’s behalf for damages as a plaintiff. Under personal injury law, the family may have different legal theories they can use to file a claim. Which theory the family sues under depends on the facts and who caused the accident.

Fatal accidents can also occur when certain factors are present, such as bad weather, difficult driving conditions, poor lighting, and instances of driving under the influence (DUI).

When Can I Sue for Negligence After a Fatal Car Accident?

One legal theory that is frequently applied in fatal car accident lawsuits is that of negligence. Negligence is the failure to use care an ordinary individual would in the same and/or similar circumstances.

A family member can sometimes sue under the negligence theory when the driver causes injuries or death of another driver, a passenger, or pedestrian. To prove the defendant liable for the accident, a plaintiff has to show:

  • The defendant owed the victim a duty to not harm them;
  • The defendant breached that duty when they caused the accident;
  • The defendant caused the accident. The defendant must be the actual and proximate cause of the accident; and
  • The defendant’s actions led to the victim’s death.

An example of this is where the driver of the other vehicle breaches their duty to follow road rules and not drive while drunk. While it might not be a duty explicitly put on drivers, there is an implication that when you drive on the roads you will do your best to follow the rules to not hurt yourself and other drives.

But if they are found to be drunk driving, and their voluntary impairment causes a fatal car accident, then they might be held liable.

What If the Vehicle Itself Caused the Accident?

In some fatal accidents, the driver was not primarily liable for causing the accident, but the vehicle itself was due to a defect present in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Under products liability theory, the manufacturer can be sued by the family if there was a:

  • Design Defect: This occurs when there is an error, failure, shortcoming, or defect in the way that the product is designed (for instance, if the car’s brakes were designed poorly, leading to an accident)
  • Manufacturing Defect: These occur when there is some sort of defect during the production or assembly stage of the vehicle or vehicle product (for instance, if the engine is assembled incorrectly, resulting in an explosion)
  • Warning Defect: These are when there is an error with regards to the product’s warning labels, informational labels, or other similar warning mechanisms (for example, if insufficient safety instructions are provided with the car)

Some car accident lawsuits can involve more than one type of product liability issue. For instance, a defective car could have both a design defect with the engine as well as a warning defect regarding other parts of the car.

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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by a family on behalf of a family member who died. The family files the lawsuit against the individual who allegedly caused the death to compensate them for the death of the individual. Only the victim’s immediate family can sue on behalf of the victim at the focus of the lawsuit.

In the case of a fatal car accident, it would be the survivors of the car crash victims who would file on behalf of them. Some fatal car accidents can involve the death of several different parties and passengers. Thus, the wrongful death lawsuits may involve some complex legal determinations.

Calculation of damages in a fatal car accident will depend on many different elements, including the liability of the other parties, state law restrictions on damages, and other factors. In some cases, damages may be subject to limitations, especially when it comes to certain damages like punitive damages.

In some cases, you can file a claim for Loss of Consortium. Read more about it here at: What is Loss of Consortium?

Are there any Defenses Available in a Fatal Car Accident Lawsuit?

In some cases, a defense may be available to the defendant in a fatal car accident lawsuit. For instance, if the driver was operating under emergency circumstances, they may be able to claim that as a defense in their case.

An example of this is where a person’s driving was affected because they were having a medical emergency while driving their car, like a stroke or a heart attack. It is possible this defense is not useable if you drive yourself to the hospital while knowing that you are suffering from a serious medical emergency that can hinder your ability to drive safely.

Another defense is that of duress. This is where the defendant is not held liable because they were under threat of harm at the time of the accident. An example of this is where the driver is forced to drive faster than the speed limit by someone in the car threatening them with physical harm to do so.

Should I Consult a Lawyer about the Fatal Car Accident?

If your loved one died in a fatal car accident or you are being sued for the crash, you should contact a personal injury lawyer near you. Your lawyer will guide you through the legal process to settle or present your case at trial, and can provide representation during important meetings.