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Wrongful Death in Car Accidents [June 2024 Guide]

Use the chatbot on this page to find out if you qualify for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Claim.

Contact TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman
Tor Hoerman

Attorney Tor Hoerman, admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association since 1995 and The Missouri Bar since 2009, specializes nationally in mass tort litigations. Locally, Tor specializes in auto accidents and a wide variety of personal injury incidents occuring in Illinois and Missouri.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and attorneys at TorHoerman Law and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Tor Hoerman, you can do so here.

TorHoerman Law does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

A Guide to Handling Wrongful Death Claims for Family Members

On this page, we’ll discuss wrongful death in car accidents, who can sue for wrongful death, the process of a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal car accident, the benefits of hiring a wrongful death lawyer, and much more.

Information for Families on Filing a Wrongful Death Claim for a Loved One

The death of a loved one is always a heartbreaking experience.

Grief and devastation can be even more overwhelming when someone else’s negligence or recklessness causes a loved one’s death.

We understand how unbearable this situation can be for you, and we’re here to provide guidance and support.

No amount of compensation can remove the grief of losing a beloved family member, but seeking legal recourse can help bring closure and hold those at fault accountable.

Compensation recovered in the form of wrongful death damages can provide financial stability for the surviving spouse and family.

Careless drivers whose negligent actions result in the wrongful death of others deserve to be held accountable.

Wrongful Death in Car Accidents; Wrongful Death Lawsuit; Wrongful Death Claim; Wrongful Death Attorney

If your family member or loved one tragically passed away in a car accident at no fault of their own, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation for your tragic loss.

Our experienced wrongful death attorneys can help you navigate the legal process and ensure you receive the compensation you’re entitled to.

Contact us now or use our chatbot for a free case evaluation.

Losing a loved one due to someone’s negligence is heartbreaking.

Filing a civil lawsuit against the negligent driver can recover damages and ease financial burdens in the wake of such a tragic accident.

Reach out to us for more information on filing a wrongful death claim, the legal process for fatal car accidents, and more.

Table of Contents

Understanding Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death lawsuits are complex legal procedures.

Wrongful death cases can be lengthy and emotionally charged as they often involve grieving families seeking justice for the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or intentional harm.

These cases require a deep understanding of both the law and the unique circumstances surrounding each death.

Navigating the intricacies of these cases demands expertise in gathering evidence, establishing liability, and accurately valuing the compensation owed to the deceased’s survivors.

As families cope with their loss, experienced attorneys work diligently to ensure that the legal process contributes to their healing by holding responsible parties accountable and securing the financial support necessary for their future.

If your family member was tragically killed as a result of the negligent actions of an at-fault driver, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim.

Contact us for more information, or use the confidential chatbot on this page for an instant case evaluation.

Our lawyers can help seek compensation for funeral expenses, medical bills, and other damages incurred by the accident.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a legal concept that allows surviving family members or beneficiaries to seek compensation for the death of a loved one.

Negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions are necessary elements to qualify for a wrongful death suit.

Wrongful death cases can arise from various circumstances, including car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, and more.

Concerning severe car accidents, an accidental or wrongful death could transpire if a driver, passenger, or pedestrian dies as a result of another driver’s negligent or reckless behavior.

In the event of a wrongful death car accident claim, it’s important to recognize that there are statutes in certain jurisdictions that allow victims to file lawsuits outside of the statute of limitations until the criminal case against the at fault driver is complete.

This concept is called “tolling”, or pausing the statute of limitations.

What Are the Causes of Wrongful Death in Car Accident Cases?

Car accident deaths caused by a negligent driver may be pursued as wrongful death claims.

In car accident cases, wrongful death can occur due to various causes, including:

  • Distracted Driving: Texting, talking on the phone, eating, or adjusting the radio while driving are some of the most common distractions for drivers.
  • Drunk or Impaired Driving: Drinking alcohol impairs judgment and coordination. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration beyond the safe limit is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
  • Speeding: Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for road conditions can reduce a driver’s ability to react to hazards and increase the severity of accidents.
  • Reckless Driving: This behavior includes tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, and disregarding traffic signals or signs.
  • Defective Vehicles or Parts: In some cases, wrongful death in car accidents may result from defects in the vehicle or its components, such as faulty brakes, tires, or airbags.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The eligibility to file a wrongful death claim is typically determined by specific state laws, which outline the relationship between the deceased and the claimant.

These laws ensure that those most affected by the loss have a legal avenue to seek compensation and justice for their loved one’s untimely death.

The specific individuals who can sue for a wrongful death claim vary depending on state laws but typically include:

  • The Surviving Family Member: Spouses, children, and parents of the deceased person are often eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
  • Financial Dependents: Depending on the state or local laws, a financial dependent may pursue a wrongful death claim. A financial dependent can be a domestic partner, stepchild, or other family member who relied on the deceased person for financial support.
  • Personal Representatives: If the deceased person had an estate, the personal representative or executor of the estate may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries.

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Claim in Car Accidents?

Car accidents are among the leading causes of accidental deaths worldwide.

When filing a wrongful death lawsuit, there are some necessary elements that must be met in order to qualify for a claim.

Firstly, it must be established that the death was a direct result of another party’s negligence or intentional act, such as reckless driving or violation of traffic laws.

Additionally, the claim must demonstrate that the surviving family members have suffered measurable damages due to the loss, including financial support, companionship, and emotional distress.

Finally, there must be a personal representative appointed to bring the claim on behalf of the deceased’s estate, ensuring that all legal requirements are meticulously observed in pursuing justice.

Legal Duty of Care

Duty of care refers to the obligation to operate a vehicle safely and responsibly, follow traffic laws, and take reasonable precautions to prevent harm to others on the road.

All drivers have the responsibility to drive safely and avoid putting others at risk in car accidents.

If the defendant’s actions deviate from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation, they are considered to have breached their legal duty of care.

Breach of Duty

Once the duty of care is established, it’s time to prove that the defendant breached their duty.

The plaintiff (i.e., the surviving family member or estate representative) must show that the defendant breached their duty to drive safely and ensure the safety of other drivers on the road.

This breach could involve behaviors such as speeding, drunk driving, distracted driving, reckless driving, or violating traffic laws.

Many jurisdictions base this element on what an able and sober person would do and how they would behave under such events.


There must be a direct link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the victim’s death.

In other words, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the fatal accident.

Proving this element involves presenting evidence that the accident would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligence or intentional misconduct.


The wrongful death must have resulted in damages to the surviving family members or beneficiaries.

These damages may include economic losses such as medical expenditures, funeral expenses, and loss of the primary financial provider, as well as non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.

The specific types and extent of damages recoverable in a wrongful death claim vary by individual case and jurisdiction.

An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you assess and calculate damages to be included in your legal claim.

What Damages Are Often Sought in Wrongful Death Cases?

In wrongful death cases, families may seek various types of damages to compensate for the financial and emotional losses resulting from the death of a loved one.

These damages are intended to alleviate the financial burden placed on the family by the loss, covering everything from lost income that the deceased would have provided to expenses directly related to the death, such as funeral and burial costs.

Beyond the tangible financial impacts, damages also aim to address the profound emotional distress and loss of companionship suffered by the family members.

The calculation of these damages takes into account numerous factors, including the deceased’s earning potential and the non-economic contributions they made to their family’s life.

Hiring a wrongful death lawyer is crucial in ensuring that the full scope of these losses is recognized and adequately compensated in the pursuit of justice.

Funeral and Burial Expenses

Families can seek compensation for expenses related to funeral services, including the cost of the casket, embalming, visitation, and burial or cremation arrangements.

They may also claim damages for burial expenses, such as the cost of purchasing a burial plot, headstone or marker, cremation, etc.

Loss of Income and Support

Families may also seek compensation for the financial support they would have received from the deceased person had they lived.

Financial compensation could include lost wages, salary, bonuses, and other forms of income.

In addition to lost income, families can also seek compensation for the loss of financial support, including the value of services the deceased person would have provided, such as childcare, household chores, or home maintenance.

Loss of Companionship

This compensation refers to the loss of the deceased person’s companionship, guidance, and support.

Spouses, children, and other family members may be entitled to compensation for the emotional and psychological impact of losing a loved one.

Emotional Distress

Families may seek compensation for the emotional pain, suffering, and mental anguish resulting from the loss of their loved one.

This payment can include feelings of grief, depression, anxiety, and loss of enjoyment of life.

In some cases, families may be entitled to reimbursement for the cost of psychological counseling or therapy to help cope with the emotional trauma of the wrongful death.

Punitive Damages

In cases involving blatant negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct, the court may award punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages.

The judge awards punitive damages to avert the same misconduct in the future. This form of damage is rare and often appears in wrongful death cases.

What's the Process of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit involves several essential steps, from the initial consultation with a wrongful death lawyer to navigating negotiations or trial proceedings.

Having an experienced wrongful death attorney to guide families through this complex process is crucial.

Common steps in filing a wrongful death claim include:

  • Consulting with a wrongful death lawyer
  • Case investigation and evidence gathering
  • Filing a wrongful death claim
  • Negotiations for settlement
  • Trial proceedings (if a settlement cannot be reached)

Initial Case Consultation

The process typically begins with the surviving family members meeting with a wrongful death attorney for an initial consultation.

During this meeting, the attorney gathers information about the circumstances surrounding the death, discusses the legal options available, and assesses the case’s viability.

The attorney will evaluate the potential strengths and weaknesses of the case, including assessing liability, determining the extent of damages, and considering any challenges that may arise during litigation.

They may also advise if the potential case is within the state’s wrongful death statute of limitations.

Case Investigation

After agreeing to take on the case, the attorney will conduct a thorough investigation into the accident and the events leading to the death.

This step may involve reviewing police reports, accident reconstructions, witness statements, medical records, and other relevant documentation.

The attorney may consult with engineers, enforcement officers, medical professionals, government agencies, and other professionals to analyze the evidence and build a strong case for the plaintiff.

The investigation phase could take months or longer.

Gathering Evidence

The attorney will work with the family to gather evidence and document the damages suffered as a result of the person’s death.

Financial losses could include medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and non-economic losses such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship.

Preserving any evidence relevant to the case is critical, including physical evidence from the accident scene, photographs, videos, and witness statements.

This preventative step ensures evidence is available to support the family’s claims during litigation.

Filing the Claim

The attorney will draft a formal complaint once the investigation is complete and sufficient evidence has been gathered.

This complaint will outline the allegations against the defendant and the damages the surviving family members would like to receive.

The complaint is then filed with the appropriate court, initiating the legal process.

The defendant is served the complaint, and they have a specified period to respond, typically 30 days.

Navigating Through Negotiations

In many cases, the parties may engage in pre-trial wrongful death settlement negotiations to avoid a lengthy trial.

During these negotiations, the attorney advocates on behalf of the family, seeking fair and just compensation for their losses.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, the parties may agree to participate in mediation or arbitration, where a neutral third party facilitates discussions and helps the parties resolve outside of court.

If negotiations fail to reach an adequate resolution, they must take the case to trial and leave the decision to the judge or jury.

Trial Proceedings

The case will proceed to trial if both parties don’t agree to a settlement or mediation is unsuccessful.

The attorney will represent the family in court, presenting evidence, examining witnesses, and arguing their case before a judge or jury.

After hearing the evidence and arguments from both sides, the judge or jury will bestow a judgment or verdict, determining responsibility for the accident and damages.

In some cases, either party may appeal the ruling if they believe the judge or the jury made a mistake in their decision.

It’s important to remember that the appeals process only applies to errors related to the law or procedure, not the case’s merits.

If new evidence resurfaces, the parties may request a new trial.

What Are the Possible Challenges in a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful death lawsuits are complicated cases with numerous intricacies.

Because of this inherent complexity, several challenges can arise during the process.

Dealing With Insurance Companies

Insurance companies representing the at-fault party may deny or delay wrongful death claims to minimize their financial liability.

An insurance company may dispute liability or downplay the extent of the damages suffered by the surviving family members.

Insurance adjusters may offer lowball settlement amounts in hopes that the family will accept less than they deserve.

They may use various tactics to pressure the family into settling quickly, such as emphasizing the cost and uncertainty of litigation.

An experienced attorney can help you prevent this situation from occurring.

They can evaluate the insurance policy and advise you on the appropriate settlement amount.

Emotional Difficulty

The legal process of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit requires family members to recount and relive the traumatic events leading up to their loved one’s death.

Doing so can be emotionally distressing and may exacerbate feelings of grief, anger, and frustration.

Family members must balance the demands of the legal proceedings with the need for emotional healing and closure.

Coping with the loss of a loved one while simultaneously navigating the complexities of a legal case can be overwhelming.

Disagreements among family members regarding the handling of the lawsuit or distribution of any potential settlement can add further stress and strain to an already difficult situation.

A deep, empathetic conversation can help prevent these issues from becoming more problematic.

Lengthy Case Resolution

Wrongful death lawsuits can be complex and time-consuming, involving extensive investigation, discovery, and litigation.

Procedural delays, court backlogs, and scheduling conflicts can prolong the duration of the case.

If either party is dissatisfied with the trial’s outcome, they may choose to appeal the decision, further extending the duration of the legal proceedings.

The appeals process can potentially add months to the procedural timeline.

The financial strain of ongoing trauma, medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of income can exacerbate the financial hardships surviving family members face.

TorHoerman Law: Talk to an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Today

The unprecedented death of a loved one leaves a deep emotional scar on surviving family members, leaving them to deal with an immense financial and emotional burden.

We can’t imagine the ordeal you are going through.

We know that you’re looking for justice, and we can help with that.

The experienced car accident and wrongful death attorneys at TorHoerman Law have a proven track record of success in handling complex and high-stakes cases.

Schedule your free consultation with us today.

You can also use our chatbot for a free case evaluation.

We’re here to help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a Family Member Sue for Wrongful Death?

    Yes, certain family members can sue for wrongful death, although eligibility varies by state law.

    Typically, immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents of unmarried children are prioritized in wrongful death claims.

    In some jurisdictions, extended family members like siblings or grandparents, and even financial dependents of the deceased who may not be related by blood, might also have the right to sue.

    These laws aim to ensure that those most directly affected by the loss have a legal avenue to seek compensation for their emotional and financial damages.

    Contact our law firm today to learn more about laws surrounding the filing of wrongful death suits in your state.

    Our legal team can help you understand any time limit, laws, and certain circumstances surrounding your potential wrongful death suit.

  • Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

    In terms of a settlement for a wrongful death after a car accident, the insurance company of the at-fault party would be liable to pay for the damages of the decedent’s estate.

    An experienced personal injury attorney can advocate for adequate compensation for family members and spouses of individuals tragically killed in car accidents.

  • Can I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit If The At Fault Party Received Criminal Charges?

    Yes, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit even if the at-fault party faces criminal charges.

    Wrongful death cases are civil lawsuits that seek compensation for the survivors’ losses, separate from the criminal justice system, which aims to punish the wrongdoer for their actions against society.

    The outcomes of criminal cases do not determine the success of a civil suit, allowing families to pursue justice and financial recovery independently of the criminal proceedings.

    This dual-pathway approach ensures that while the state addresses the criminal aspect, families can directly seek remedies for their personal losses.

  • What is the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit?

    The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state but typically ranges from one to three years from the date of the deceased person’s death.

    This legal timeframe sets a deadline by which the lawsuit must be filed in court.

    It’s crucial for surviving family members to consult with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to ensure their claim is filed within this period, preserving their right to seek justice and compensation.

  • How is compensation determined in a wrongful death lawsuit?

    Compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit is determined by considering various factors, including the deceased’s earning potential, the financial and emotional support they provided to their family, and the circumstances surrounding their death.

    Courts may also take into account funeral and burial expenses, medical bills related to the deceased’s final illness or injury, and non-economic damages such as loss of companionship and emotional suffering experienced by the surviving family members.

    An experienced wrongful death attorney can help quantify these damages and advocate for fair compensation.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

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