What happens when someone dies in a car accident? If a car accident results in someone’s death, it is important to know what to expect afterward. When a car accident victim dies, there is a specific process involved to help handle this death. Victims’ loved ones might be able to take legal action to recover compensation if a negligent party caused the accident.
Here you will learn what will often happens following someone’s death in a car accident, including the protocols that emergency personnel take and the process of filing a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. Reach out to a car accident lawyer.
What Happens Immediately After Someone Dies in a Car Accident?
Shortly after someone dies or sustains serious injuries at the scene of a car accident, the following will likely take place involving various parties.
Emergency Personnel Arrive
If an accident results in injuries or apparent death, someone is likely to call the authorities. Afterward, paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) will arrive at the scene in an ambulance along with law enforcement and the fire department.
Paramedics and EMTs will have the equipment and training needed to perform various tasks at the scene to help victims. They may perform specific procedures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They may also provide victims with necessary medication and use an ambulance to transport surviving victims to a nearby hospital.
To ensure they handle the scene properly, medical personnel will conduct a triage to prioritize victims based on the nature of their injuries. They will then begin treating victims in urgent need of medical attention. In the process, they will also identify deceased individuals at the scene.
If paramedics or EMTs locate any deceased victims at the scene of the accident, they usually lay a white sheet over the body before a coroner can arrive. This sheet helps preserve the accident scene before the coroner’s arrival while preserving the victim’s dignity. Additionally, it prevents the media or others from identifying the body before proper identification and notification of the victim’s family.
The Coroner Assesses the Scene
The next step after the medical personnel have identified and covered deceased individuals at the scene is for a coroner to arrive. Once the coroner is at the scene, they will assess it to determine how the accident occurred and how the victims died. They will capture photos of the scene, interview witnesses, and take note of any key details at the accident scene.
The coroner’s determination is critical for a car accident case in identifying at-fault parties and connecting them directly to one or more deaths. Once the coroner has assessed the scene and identified the deceased victims, they will then notify the victims’ families, with those relatives typically being spouses, children, or other immediate family members.
In some cases, it may be challenging to identify the victim positively. The coroner may also request family members to visit the morgue or accident scene to confirm the identity.
Transportation of Victims to the Morgue
After the coroner has assessed the accident scene and performed all necessary tasks while there, the coroner will have the victims’ bodies transported to a local morgue. Once the body is at the morgue, the coroner may need to investigate the cause of death further.
The coroner may also request an autopsy of the victim if it appears that the accident was not the direct cause of death. An autopsy may uncover another underlying cause of death, such as a pre-existing medical condition.
Following the coroner’s complete assessment of the victim and determination of the cause of death, the victim’s family can start making funeral preparations. The victim’s body will be under the care of the family, who will be able to request the transport of the body to a designated funeral home or mortuary.
The family can then conduct a memorial and funeral service in honor of the victim before burial.
What Legal Options Are Available After Death?
If you lose a loved one in a car accident, you may be able to pursue legal action against an at-fault driver or another liable party. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, the at-fault party may face criminal charges, and you may be able to file a wrongful death action.
When Can an At-Fault Driver Face Criminal Charges?
Reckless or careless drivers often cause car accidents that lead to serious injuries and fatalities. If someone died because of the accident, the driver could face vehicular manslaughter or other criminal charges. However, there is not a guarantee that an at-fault driver will face criminal charges even if an accident resulted in a victim’s death.
Specifically, district attorneys will need to determine whether they can hold the driver criminally culpable at the time of the accident before it is possible to file charges. For instance, the district attorney involved in the case may look for signs of impairment from drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. Drivers may also engage in certain egregious behaviors such as road rage and traveling far faster than the posted speed limit.
In some cases, the driver may lose control of their vehicle because of other uncontrollable circumstances. For example, a driver may cause an accident because of a pothole in the road that they did not and could not see. Faulty parts such as brakes could also contribute to accidents and prevent drivers from facing criminal charges.
When Can You File a Wrongful Death Case?
While families of deceased loved ones may feel a sense of justice if a negligent driver faces criminal charges and convictions, this won’t help compensate victims’ families for their loss. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit if you lost a loved one to an at-fault party.
If you wish to file a wrongful death case, there are certain criteria the case will need to meet:
A Liable Party Must Have Caused the Accident and Subsequent Death
Before you can seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one, you will need to identify a specific party who will pay that compensation. This could include an at-fault driver, vehicle or parts manufacturer, or another party contributing to the accident. You may also be able to file a case against multiple liable parties, depending on the circumstances of the case.
If a careless or reckless driver is liable for the accident and wrongful death, they will be legally liable along with their insurance company. To begin a wrongful death claim, victims’ families would initiate a third-party claim, typically with the help of an attorney with experience handling wrongful death cases. In the process, victims’ loved ones and their lawyers may be able to identify other liable parties that contributed to the accident and wrongful death.
Some of the potentially liable parties in wrongful death cases may include:
- Employers: If an employee causes an accident while working within the scope of their employment, the driver’s employer may be liable. Employers may need to compensate victims’ families for whether a driver’s negligence caused the accident or the employer was directly responsible. For instance, an employer may be liable if it required an employee to operate a company vehicle in poor condition at the time of the accident, resulting in mechanical failure.
- Manufacturers: If defective auto parts contributed to an accident, vehicle or parts manufacturers might be responsible for it along with any resulting deaths. For example, brakes may fail when the driver applies them, preventing the vehicle from coming to a stop before colliding with other vehicles or pedestrians. Tires with a manufacturing or design flaw could also blow out, causing the driver to lose control and get into an accident.
- Mechanics: Auto mechanics may also be liable for car accidents and victims’ deaths if they failed to identify issues when inspecting vehicles, did not address potential issues, or performed inadequate or incorrect vehicle maintenance.
- Restaurants and bars: Staff at restaurants and bars must not overserve customers to the point where they may endanger others when operating a vehicle. Suppose employees at a restaurant or bar know that a customer is intoxicated to the point where they are dangerous and likely to operate a vehicle. In that case, these individuals may be liable in addition to the drunk driver.
Only Certain Family Members Can File a Wrongful Death Suit
In most cases, specific family members of deceased individuals will be the only ones who can file a wrongful death case through a representative. In states like Florida, these family members include immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents. However, there may be exceptions for extended family members if the immediate family is unable to file a claim and if these family members are financially dependent on the deceased loved one.
When filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you will also need to prove liability by establishing:
- That one or more parties owed your loved one a duty of care
- That these parties breached this duty of care
- That your loved one died because of this breach of duty
- That your family sustained specific damages as a result of the loss of your loved one
Compensation Available to Victims’ Families for Wrongful Death
If you decide to seek compensation after a loved one’s death in a car accident, there are different types of damages you may recover.
Some of these damages could include:
The Direct Costs Associated With a Loved One’s Death
One of the main damages you may be able to recover compensation for in a wrongful death case is the cost of funeral and burial services, among other expenses directly resulting from the person’s death.
If your loved one dies after receiving treatment and initially surviving the accident, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills. This compensation could cover immediate treatment, ambulance transportation, urgent care, and other expenses.
Pain and Suffering
Your loved one may have also endured pain and suffering before death, which is also compensable in the form of non-economic damages. These damages may include physical pain and psychological distress resulting from accident injuries.
Loss of a Loved One’s Income
If your loved one initially survived the accident but was unable to work because of their condition before death, you may be able to recover compensation for these lost wages. You may also be able to seek compensation for the lost potential income resulting from your loved one’s death.
Loss of Services
Accident victims may have also provided various services for their families before their death, the loss of which could lead to certain challenges for the family. For example, a loved one may have provided childcare services, maintenance, cleaning, and other vital services to the family’s well-being.
Loss of Companionship, Support, and Consortium
Losing a loved one could also deprive victims’ families of the loved one’s support, companionship, presence, and consortium. Specifically, the loved one’s spouse could suffer from the loss of an intimate relationship and companionship, while the victim’s children would lose the support of a parent.
If you want to seek any of these damages in a wrongful death case, it is essential to act quickly. You only have a limited amount of time to file a wrongful death case against negligent parties, after which it may become difficult or impossible to seek compensation. In Florida, for instance, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is two years from the date of death, and this limit might be even shorter if you wish to sue a government agency.
Connect With a Reputable Wrongful Death Attorney
In the event of a car accident that results in the death of a loved one, it is best to contact a wrongful death attorney to discuss a potential case. With a better understanding of what happens after an individual’s death in a car accident and how to proceed with a lawsuit, you can build a case against liable parties successfully.