First Steps to Take After Your Spouse Is Killed In A Car Accident

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The loss of your spouse is a tragedy whenever it may occur. However, the loss of your spouse due to the negligence of another party is particularly tragic. Though you may wish to leave behind the tragic experience of your loss, it is important that if you seek compensation for your spouse’s wrongful death that you get the compensation you deserve.

If your spouse was killed in a car accident and you seek to file a wrongful death claim, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers.

What Should I Do if My Spouse is Killed?

1. Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer

Though you may not need a lawyer for minor car accidents, it would be wise to hire an attorney if you plan to file a wrongful death claim. This is because large amounts of evidence are often needed, and the law can be incredibly intricate on who may seek compensation. An experienced attorney will conduct the investigation and sift through the mounds of evidence, unloading a massive burden off your back.

Furthermore, understand that many lawyers utilize a fee agreement. A contingency fee means that your attorney will receive payment only if he or she wins your case. If you agree upon a contingency fee arrangement, you will generally agree to pay a certain percentage of your expected compensation. The average percentage tends to be a third, or 33%, of your expected compensation. To give an example, if you were to obtain $30,000 in compensation, you would give $10,000 to your lawyer and you would keep $20,000.

2. Document the Accident

When you file a wrongful death claim, you have the burden of proof to show that you have the right to seek compensation because the other party was negligent. This means that you must present evidence that the negligent party was indeed negligent. To show this, you must substantiate your claim with evidence. Evidence can be photographs, medical bills, witness statements, and the like. 

Be sure to always document and retrieve evidence from the scene of the accident. In a car accident, the police will generally write a report of the crash. This report often determines who was at fault. Be sure to get the name, address, license number, plate number, and insurance information from all the drivers involved in the accident. Also, if the driver involved in an accident was working for an employer, you should obtain the name and contact information of the driver's employer.

Witness testimony is often crucial in car accident cases. If there were witnesses to the accident, you should also get the names and contact information of the witnesses. If any of the witnesses took photographs or video recordings of the accident, ask them for copies. If you have a camera at the scene of the accident, take pictures of the scene.

3. Keep Receipts and Invoices

You should keep and document any costs that arise from the wrongful death of your spouse. For instance, you should document any medical bills and funeral bills. If your spouse contributed financially to the household, you should also collect any documents that signify the “lost wages” that would have been contributed to your household if your spouse had not passed away. This means that you should collect documents that detail your spouse’s job, earning prospects, retirement date, and the like.

4. Notify Insurance Company

Regardless of whose fault the accident is, you should always contact your insurance company as your insurance company may be able to give you some relief. However, do not make the mistake of talking about who was at fault for the accident. If your insurance company asks for a recorded statement, politely refuse.

5. Build Your Wrongful Death Claim

Are You Eligible to File a Claim? 

All states allow a spouse to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of his or her spouse.

If the deceased was not a spouse but a life partner, you may still be able to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of that individual in some states.

Proving Negligence

In order to win a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove that the individual that caused the death was negligent. In order to prove that the individual was negligent, you must prove that the individual owed a legal duty, that the legal duty was breached, that the breach of the duty caused the death, and that the death caused monetary loss.

To give an example, imagine that a driver who was texting while driving kills an individual. A claimant would state the following in his or her lawsuit. First, that the drunk driver owed a duty not to text and drive. Second, that the driver breached this duty by texting while driving. Third, that the driver’s texting while driving caused the death of the individual. And finally, that the death caused monetary loss—hospital bills, funeral expense, etc. Though this example is quite simplified, you will need such facts if you expect to win your claim.

File Documents

Though lawyers on television are mostly in the courtroom engaging in theatrics, much of any legal action takes place on paper. When you begin a wrongful death lawsuit, you must submit a notice and complaint to the opposing party. There are many rules involved in filing a lawsuit, so it is highly recommended that you ask a lawyer to help you.

6. Negotiate with Insurance Company

Despite what insurance companies may say on their advertisements, their claims adjusters are not trained to give you the most generous offer possible. In general, they will try to lowball you. Therefore, you should not simply accept whatever the insurance company offers you without knowing the value of your claim and talking to a lawyer.

In any negotiation, you will likely get a counteroffer that is less than what you want. However, do not simply accept the offer. If you have a claim with merit, you can always tell the insurance company that you are willing to go to trial. You may get a better offer if you show that you are confident enough to go to trial. Though you may not want to go to trial, insurance companies also do not want to go to trial as trials are very costly.

7. Settlement

Settlements are generally paid by the insurance company of the negligent party. Remember, however, that insurance holders typically carry policies with a limit. If you settle for an amount that exceeds the negligent party’s liability limit, the negligent party may personally be liable.

If you happen to disagree with the settlement offer, you may proceed to trial. However, trials can be risky as there is the likelihood that you may not seek as much compensation as offered in the settlement. But if you feel that you have valid claim and substantial evidence, you should consider going to trial if the settlement offer is much lower than what you deserve.

How to Calculate the Value of Your Claim?

Compensation is available to compensate for the damages suffered by the family members and the deceased’s estate. The jury or court will decide if damages are to be awarded and how they will be awarded.

Compensation for Family Members

  • the loss of companionship
  • the value of financial support family members would have received if the deceased was still alive
  • the value of household services the deceased would have contributed to if he or she was still alive

Compensation for the estate

  • the medical expenses related to the deceased’s death
  • funeral and burial expenses
  • lost wages and benefits.

Comparative Fault   

Note that some states use a comparative fault rule. This rule states that if the deceased was more than 50 percent at fault in causing the accident, no damages would be awarded. On the other hand, if the deceased was 50 percent or less at fault, the damages will be reduced by that percentage.

Furthermore, some states allow punitive compensation for wrongful death claims. If the negligent party acted especially negligently or with reckless behavior, you might be able to seek a more substantial amount of compensation

Will a Lawyer Get a Larger Settlement for Me?

Lawyers cannot guarantee you anything. If a lawyer says to you that you will certainly win or that he or she will get you a large settlement, it is recommended that you do not select that lawyer. What a lwayer will be able to do for you depends on the facts of your case. If your case has merit, then a lawyer may be able to seek a more substantial settlement because he or she can negotiate more effectively with an insurance company.

Legal Time Limits

Each state has what is called a “statute of limitations,” or time limit, to file a lawsuit. In most states, you must file a wrongful death claim within two years of your spouse’s death for a court to even consider your claim. Note that there some states that only give you one year and some that may give you three years.

Zinda Law Group Can Help You File a Claim

The loss of a loved one can create a variety of pressures and burdens on an individual, whether they are emotional or financial. You do not have to go through this process alone.

The wrongful death attorneys at Zinda Law Group have helped many people file claims for lost loved ones. We seek maximum compensation for the tragedies our clients have endured. For a free consultation, call (800) 863-5312. If we don't win your case, you won't owe us anything.

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