Car Accidents and Wrongful Death – What You Need to Know Before Filing a Lawsuit

By | November 19, 2015

Every year more than 30,000 people are killed by car accidents in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This is equivalent to one car accident wrongful death every 12 minutes. Although NHTSA reports a 3.1 percent decline in the numbers from the previous year, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System indicates that over 32,000 people died due to vehicle accidents in 2013.

According to the American Automobile Association, the following are leading causes of car accidents that results in wrongful deaths:

Drunk and reckless driving

Car manufacturing defects

Driver fatigue

Distracted drivers

Street and highway defects

Weather conditions

Inexperienced driver

AAA Foundation further found that distraction and teen crashes are most fatal. Studies also indicate that the number of vehicle crashes has increased steadily over the past decade. However, the number of deaths due to such accidents has declined, thanks to the more enhanced car safety features, new vehicle construction techniques, advanced restraint systems, force-absorbing materials, crumple zones and more. But what if you have already lost a loved one in a fatal car accident?

Yes, it is painful; a loss that cannot be compensated. And if all that grieving wasn’t devastating enough, you also need to think about the financial security especially if the victim was the breadwinner of the family. The key is find a lawyer who is compassionate enough to understand the value of your case and experience enough to properly represent your case in the court. With car accident wrongful deaths, you have a lot of claims to file including medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, pain and suffering, lost wages of the victim, and more.

You should therefore need to make informed decisions in order to win the lawsuit, having an experienced personal injury attorney to represent is case is a necessity. In fact, the first thing you should do soon after the accident is to talk to a lawyer to understand the legal steps you need to take to protect your rights.

Is the Wrongful Death Claim Just?

Not all car accident related deaths are considered as wrongful deaths. A wrongful death case applies when the victim (who would normally have a personal injury claim) dies because of an intentional harmful act or negligence of the defendant. You can make such claims when:

The death was caused by medical malpractice. For example, doctor was negligent or they failed to diagnose a condition that lead to the death of the victim. In such cases, you can sue the doctor and/or the hospital authority for a wrongful death claim.

The victim was killed intentionally by the defendant’s harmful act.

Car accident fatalities that involve negligence of the at-fault party. You can file a wrongful death claim under such situations if the victim dies because of car accident injuries.

In fact, a wrongful death claim can be brought from almost all personal injury situations, except for work related injuries that result in the death of the victim as those cases fall under the worker’s compensation system.

Understand the Statute of Limitations

Each state has different laws related to a car accident wrongful death claim. This is also applicable for ‘Statute of Limitations,’ which represents the specific time limit within which the plaintiff needs to file the wrongful death claim. This time limit differs from state to state. For example, in Pennsylvania the statute of limitations for adults is 2 years within which you need to file the claim otherwise your right to obtain a recovery from the at-fault party is completely waived off.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, allows 3 years’ time period for the plaintiff to file the lawsuit. But if you ask a Milwaukee personal injury attorney, they will always recommend you to file the claim immediately in order to protect your and your family’s rights.

What are the Different Phases of Your Claim?

To prove that the defendant is liable in the wrongful death claim brought by you, there are certain phases you need to go through. This begins with pre-litigation phase, where you need to complete certain crucial tasks. It begins with appointing  a personal injury lawyer and also involves other tasks such as securing records, commencing a full investigation of the accident and death of the victim, gathering witnesses’ statements and so on. In addition, you must send notice to the defendant(s) in order to obtain insurance information. This is followed by negotiating with defendant(s). A successful negotiation can save both the parties the high cost of filing a lawsuit.

But in case the negotiation fails, the next step is to file a wrongful death lawsuit, marking the beginning of the litigation phase. You need to file a Complaint or Writ of Summons, which is served upon all the defendants. Once the defendant(s) respond to the complaint the discovery phase starts where interrogatories are issued along with request for production of all case related documents, which both the parties need to submit. The lawyers question all the parties involved along with the witnesses to get into the details of the case.

Next follows the pre-trial phase where your lawyer and the defendant’s lawyer(s) will educate the judge regarding the case and a jury will be selected. At least one conference is scheduled with the attorneys during this phase in order to help the parties reach a settlement.

If the ‘Pre-Trial Settlement Conference’ fails, you have to go for a trial or arbitration where the judge and the jury give the final verdict after listening to both the parties. In case either the defendant or the plaintiff decides to challenge or appeal the outcome of the trial, the case moves to the post-trial phase.


When filing a car accident wrongful death lawsuit it is important to have all your documents in place. An experienced lawyer will help you gather and present all the documents and witnesses in your favor. The lawyer also ensure that the decedent’s story is properly re-told as they can no longer speak for themselves. Time is an important factor here, even if the statute of limitation gives you enough time to file your claim, any kind of delay can increase the chances of your documents being manipulated. The best approach is therefore to appoint a personal injury attorney who is experienced in wrongful death cases to help you obtain successful recoveries from the party at-fault.

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