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December 6, 2023
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What Happens if Someone Dies in a Car Accident?

Suppose someone is a victim of a car accident. They can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages if they are injured. But what if they die?

What happens to the at-fault party if someone dies in a car accident?

Whatever happens to the at-fault party depends on whether the deceased’s family or representative take a wrongful death action, and whether they face criminal charges as well.

Wrongful death occurs when someone dies because of someone else’s negligent or intentional act. At its most basic, a wrongful death action is a civil action claiming that the defendant is responsible for the plaintiff’s loved one’s death, and it affects them financially and emotionally. It is brought to a civil court. This type of case should be discussed with an experienced personal injury attorney.

If the deceased’s family or representative proves the death affects them, the defendant financially compensates them (damages).

If the accident resulted from the defendant violating traffic law, they may face criminal charges. Such violations include:

  • Stop/Yield sign violation
  • Vehicle intersection violation
  • School bus sign violation
  • Not stopping at a red light
  • Driving while intoxicated

A conviction can lead to prison time and fines.

If they violated traffic laws, the deceased’s family or estate could sue them in civil court for wrongful death, as they face criminal charges for the same death.

What happens to the deceased’s family in a car accident?

If a car accident victim dies, their family or estate could be entitled to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages. If the deceased is a child, their parents or legal guardian can file a wrongful death claim on their behalf. You can also consult with a car accident attorney for detailed advice.

Comparative negligence

Suppose the at-fault party is fully to blame for the accident, such as by hitting a stationary car or person or pulling out at a junction too early. In that case, it is easy to resolve as the at-fault party is fully liable for the damages. They will pay the family or estate (out of pocket or through their insurance carrier).

But if the deceased shared blame for the accident, the family or estate isn’t awarded the full compensation if they win. Instead, the percentage of fault belonging to each party is calculated, and the award is reduced by the percentage of fault of the deceased.

For example, if the court finds the deceased to be 30% at fault and the damages total $1 million, the family or estate receives 70% of the total, $700,000.

The same rules apply even if the deceased is more at fault than the defendant. In the above example, if the deceased is 90% at fault, they receive only $100,000.

What damages can they recover?

The deceased’s family or estate can recover two types of damages: economic and non-economic. Economic damages compensate them for tangible, monetary losses, while non-economic damages compensate them for intangible losses.

Economic damages

Recoverable economic damages include:

Medical and funeral expenses

The family or estate can recover the medical and funeral expenses if they paid them or are liable to pay them.

Past and future economic support

If the deceased played a financial role in the family, they could recover the past and future economic support services.

An expert hired by the plaintiff’s attorney calculates the past and future economic support. They will need the deceased work history and expenses. They then arrive at a figure they would make in the future and offset the amount they would have personally consumed.

Value of services

The family or estate can also recover the value of the services the deceased used to provide for them. A list of the services they used to provide at home is needed. They may also recover the value of an inheritance property the deceased would have inherited had they not died.

Several things are considered to determine the value of services, including lifestyle choices, age, life expectancy, etc.

Non-economic damages

Recoverable non-economic damages include:

Loss of consortium

Spouses and children of the lost loved one may recover damage to cover the loss of affection, love, intimacy, comfort, and guidance from the deceased. Although it is impossible to quantify accurately, the jury uses their best judgment of the entire situation and relationships.


The grief, stress, sorrow, and mental anguish the deceased’s family suffered and continue to suffer can be recovered financially. It often needs testimonies of friends and family but can also be proven using proof of psychiatric care and prescriptions.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are meant to punish the at-fault party for their actions and to send a message to others to avoid that sort of behavior. Although they aren’t designed to compensate the plaintiff, they receive the monetary award.


Why you need a lawyer

If someone dies in a car accident, the at-fault party compensates the deceased’s family or estate and could face criminal charges if found guilty.

A wrongful death lawyer can help you seek justice by pursuing both economic and non-economic damages. They will help you gather evidence, build a case, and represent you in court as you mourn the loss of your loved one. They can even negotiate a settlement without going to court.

If you have lost a loved one in a car accident, a personal injury attorney experienced in cases like yours can help you protect your legal rights. Our team of attorneys has years of experience advocating for the rights of the families of people who lose their lives in car accidents, and we can help you too.

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