What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?
Each year, over 1,000 people die in car accidents in Pennsylvania according to the Department of Transportation.
Some of them are passengers while others are drivers who never saw a fatal accident coming. What happens when someone dies in a car accident?
If you have lost a loved one in a car accident, you should understand what will happen legally. At PhillyLaw LLC, we represent many grieving family members in wrongful death lawsuits, and we can explain the process to you.
There will probably be a criminal investigation into why a person died. Police will visit the scene of the crash, interview witnesses, and review the coroner’s report. The police are looking to see if a crime was committed that led to death.
Not all fatal car accidents result in criminal charges. Some accidents are truly that—just accidents. In other cases, a driver might have been careless but not sufficiently negligent to warrant criminal charges. For example, someone who backs up in a parking lot without checking over their shoulder has been negligent but not criminally negligent.
If the death was caused by drunk driving or other reckless conduct, then the state will take a hard look at whether to bring charges.
Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death is a civil cause of action, not a criminal one. This means that the state does not file a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, Pennsylvania’s statute allows the personal representative to file on behalf of family members.
Wrongful death cases are independent of any criminal prosecution, and you can bring one even if the state is pursuing criminal charges. However, sometimes it is strategically beneficial to wait for the criminal trial to end before pursuing a civil wrongful death case. More evidence might be available, which can make it easier to prevail in your case.
A wrongful death case differs from criminal charges in important ways:
- If you win a wrongful death case, the defendant pays you money. He or she does not go to prison or get put on probation, which can happen in criminal cases.
- The standard of proof for a civil case is lower than a criminal one—”preponderance of the evidence” versus “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Basically, it needs to be more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death.
- You can sue a defendant for simple negligence in a wrongful death case. As mentioned above, backing up without looking over your shoulder is a type of negligence that isn’t serious enough to warrant a manslaughter charge. However, it can be the basis of a wrongful death suit.
Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney
Wrongful death cases are complicated. You need to:
- Identify who to sue. In some cases, there might be more than one defendant.
- Collect evidence that the death was wrongful. File the correct documents in court.
- Negotiate with an insurance company or other parties for a settlement.
In your moment of grief, you need the reassuring presence of a committed advocate. Please call PhillyLaw, LLC at (215) 883-8281 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation. We have fought many cases and will provide the kind, compassionate representation you need at this sensitive time.