What Happens If Someone Dies In A Car Accident?

Claiming compensation after a fatal car accident

Unless you have experienced the loss of a loved one in a car accident, you can’t truly know the shock, sorrow, and overwhelming emotions it causes. If you find yourself dealing with this traumatic, life-changing experience, you may wonder how to go on and what should happen next.   

At Hardison & Cochran, our compassionate and experienced lawyers assist individuals and families in the aftermath of fatal car accidents.  A death in the family is often costly and can affect a family’s financial stability. 

If a loved one’s death in a fatal car accident was caused by someone else’s recklessness or negligence, we can help you seek compensation from the at-fault party to cover expenses such as funeral costs and provide your family some financial security. 

Who is Eligible to Claim Compensation for a Death in a Car Accident?

Money may not be what you want to think about right after a loved one’s death. For many of us, insurance is in place to cover the expenses of a funeral and burial, as well as any medical bills. 

But the costs of medical bills and funeral expenses and the loss of a loved one’s household support should not be borne by the deceased’s family if someone else caused the accident. You may be wondering “Can I get compensation for a car accident?” North Carolina law specifies that immediate family members have a right to compensation if a person’s death is caused by “a wrongful act, neglect or default of another.” A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed to recover compensation on behalf of the deceased’s estate.

The “personal representative” of the deceased person’s estate may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal car accident in North Carolina. The suit would seek compensation on behalf of the estate and the legal beneficiaries, who typically are the surviving spouse and children.

If the individual who died had a written will, the executor named in the will serves as the personal representative of the estate. If the person died without a will, the court would appoint an administrator of the estate, who will then be responsible for bringing the wrongful death claim. This is typically the surviving spouse, a parent, or an adult child.

In North Carolina, a wrongful death claim may seek compensation for:

  • Medical expenses, including for the deceased’s emergency care, surgery, medication, and hospitalization
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost income the deceased would have provided survivors
  • Pain and suffering the deceased endured before death
  • Loss of the deceased person’s services, protection, care, and assistance
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice.

Who is Held Responsible After a Fatal Car Accident?

Most fatal car accidents are caused by a driver’s error, which is due to negligence or recklessness. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which compiles traffic accident statistics, specifically tracks fatal accidents caused by speeding, alcohol impairment, and fatigued driving. However, the injured party may wonder who is held responsible or who pays compensation for a car accident.

There may be other parties responsible for a car accident, as well. For instance, the employer of a driver who caused a crash while on the job may bear financial responsibility for their employee’s actions. Most car accidents involve individual drivers responsible for the own actions, but in some cases, there are multiple parties who can be held accountable for the car accident death insurance payout.    

The driver who causes a fatal accident may be charged with a crime. If the accident involves a violation of any state traffic law or local traffic ordinance, other than impaired driving, the driver could be charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle in North Carolina. This a Class A1 misdemeanor, for which a first-time offender could receive up to 60 days imprisonment and fines as deemed appropriate by the judge.

In a drunk driving case, the driver may be charged with felony death by vehicle. This is a class D felony punishable by 51 to 64 months in prison for a first offense and fines as deemed appropriate by the judge.

While criminal prosecution may be appropriate, depending on the facts, the family of the deceased may still need to file a separate civil lawsuit to pursue wrongful death compensation after the death of a loved one. Car owners in North Carolina are required to maintain auto liability insurance. That is usually the source of compensation for a family member’s death in a car accident.

In a wrongful death claim, the personal representative of the estate would need to show proof that the alleged wrongdoer:

  • Caused the deceased’s death, and
  • Should have foreseen that the death was a predictable result of his or her carelessness, failure to act, or misbehavior.

As your attorneys, Hardison & Cochran would:

  • Investigate to obtain evidence demonstrating the cause of the wrongful death accident
  • Determine liability for the death
  • Identify insurance coverage that is available to provide compensation
  • File claims with the appropriate insurance companies
  • Prepare and file a wrongful death lawsuit, if necessary

A formal wrongful lawsuit is a last-resort option we use if insurance companies will not agree to a settlement after a fatal car accident. Most clients prefer not to go through the stress of a trial if possible.  In most cases, our attorneys can present evidence of the wrongdoing party’s guilt and negotiate an acceptable settlement without going to court. 

Contact a Fatal Car Accident Lawyer

When a car accident fatality has been caused by a drunk driver, drugged driver, distracted driver, drowsy driver, speeding driver, or other types of driver negligence, the victim’s survivors are due compensation under North Carolina law. 

Wrongful death claims are complex and time-consuming, and lawsuits in North Carolina must be filed within two years of the decedent’s death. If you have lost a loved one in a car accident in North Carolina that was caused by someone else’s negligence or carelessness, please contact Hardison & Cochran in Raleigh today.

Our compassionate and knowledgeable attorneys offer a free, courtesy consultation to review your loved one’s accident and explain your legal options. Contact us now at (800) 434-8399 or online.