A wrongful death claim or survivor action in a car accident is brought by the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, the court will appoint someone. The claim is brought for the benefit of the immediate family members, or spouses, children or parents of the deceased.
A wrongful death claim is similar to any other car accident claim regarding the standard of proof and the elements that must be proved, however the damages that may be recovered are different. To bring a death claim for an auto accident, you need to prove each of the following elements:
- The responsible party had a duty to exercise reasonable care to the decedent. In the context of a motor vehicle accident, this means maintaining a proper lookout for others on the roadway, including pedestrians, and obeying all traffic laws. It is the standard of care used by a reasonably cautious and ordinary driver under similar circumstances.
- The responsible party breached his or her duty of care by not obeying one or more traffic laws or by failing to exercise caution. For example, driving while impaired, speeding, texting or running a stop sign or red traffic light are considered breaches of the standard of care.
- The breach of care was the proximate cause of the accident and the injuries that led to the decedent’s death. If the other driver was speeding or was impaired but the decedent made an unsafe lane change or went through a red light, or a tire exploded on the other car leading to its loss of control, then the motorist’s breach of care may not have been the proximate cause of the accident. In most instances, a violation of a traffic law was the causative factor.
The standard of proof that the plaintiff or one who brings the suit must meet is the civil standard of preponderance of the evidence, or that it is more likely than not that the defendant had a duty of care to the decedent, breached that duty and that the breach was the direct or proximate cause of the accident.
Sources of Liability
In many fatal car accidents, the only survivor is the party who allegedly caused the accident. A wrongful death lawyer can look to other evidence to demonstrate liability by another motorist or entity:
- Skid marks to show evidence of speed of that vehicle
- Surveillance video from adjoining businesses
- Eyewitness testimony from pedestrians
- Location of the property damage on the vehicles
- Examination of the vehicle for defective parts
- Traffic officer’s measurements and observations at the scene
- Statements made by the other motorist
- Results of blood alcohol concentration level of the drivers
- Condition of the roadway
- Design of the roadway
- Signage and obstructions
- Records of accidents at the accident site
- Weather conditions
- Cell phone records of the defendant driver
- If a truck or bus is involved, records of the on-board monitor
- Log records of the truck driver and driving records
If necessary, your wrongful death lawyer can retain an accident reconstruction expert who can survey the accident site and use the results of the officer’s investigation to demonstrate liability. In any case, many wrongful death claims involve multiple parties and factors. It is essential in such cases to consult with and retain Swampscott wrongful death lawyer Deborah Gold-Alexander who has handled complex injury cases and received millions in compensation for her clients.
Beneficiaries in a Wrongful Death Claim
Massachusetts only allows the immediate members of the decedent’s family to benefit from a wrongful death suit. There are some basic damages available but others are unique to death claims. To recover damages, the plaintiff must prove each of the damages by a preponderance of the evidence. Damages may include economic losses, noneconomic losses and possibly punitive damages.
The immediate family members may collect the following:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of financial support provided by the decedent to a family member such as a spouse or child
- Loss of the value of employment benefits such as a retirement plan and medical insurance
- Goods and services provided by the decedent such as the value of performing household chores, providing child care, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry and transportation
- Medical expenses if expended for care until the decedent succumbed to the accident injuries
Noneconomic losses can provide the bulk of any award in wrongful death claims:
- Pain and suffering of the decedent if he or she was conscious and was observed to have suffered pain before succumbing
- Loss of love, support, guidance, companionship and consortium
The beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim in Massachusetts could recover punitive damages from the liable party if there is sufficient proof of grossly negligent conduct that is considered outrageous or that constitutes reckless indifference to the rights of the others including the decedent.
Swampscott car accidents do occasionally result in fatal injuries. Swampscott wrongful death lawyer Deborah Gold-Alexander has nearly 30 years’ experience in representing the interests of injury victims and their families. Trust your claim to an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who is sensitive to the concerns of her clients but who will work zealously to get you and your family the compensation you deserve.