The short answer is, yes. All fatal traffic accidents are potential wrongful death claims. But to have a winnable wrongful death claim, you must prove a wrongful act.
You must also sue within Indiana’s statute of limitations for wrongful death, which is the time frame after the death in which you can file a lawsuit. Finally, you must prove that your family suffered damages that can be recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Here is some information about the elements of a wrongful death claim.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is made against a defendant whose actions have caused someone’s death, either through negligence or intentional action. A wrongful death claim provides two remedies:
If someone injures another person, the injured person can sue. If the injured person dies, the lawsuit should not die with them. A wrongful death claim ensures that a legal claim for injuries can proceed despite the victim’s death.
Replace the Victim’s Financial Worth
Before the accident that led to the death, the victim had a certain financial worth. That worth included the victim’s assets plus their earning capacity for the rest of their working life.
The accident itself might have had a severe impact on the victim’s finances. The accident might have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care after the accident, as well as funeral expenses, in addition to losing the victim’s spouse or children hundreds of thousands of dollars in future income, especially if the deceased was the sole or primary provider.
A wrongful death claim seeks to compensate the victim’s estate and dependents for their losses.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
To prove wrongful death, Indiana law requires the victim’s estate to meet a few requirements.
If a court can pin the cause of the fatal traffic accident on a person or business, a wrongful death claim might succeed. But the cause must be “wrongful.” If it’s not, a wrongful death claim cannot succeed.
Under Indiana law, a wrongful act would have given the victim a claim against the person or business if the victim had lived. In the case of fatal car accidents, wrongful acts could include:
Another driver’s negligence caused the accident. To establish negligence, the victim’s estate must prove that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care while driving, such as if they were driving distracted, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or breaking traffic laws such as speeding or by following too closely.
The other driver intentionally caused the accident. For example, suppose the at-fault driver deliberately bumped the victim’s car in a road rage accident or while fleeing the police. The at-fault driver might have broken criminal laws and committed an assault on the victim.
If the victim’s vehicle was defective and the defect resulted in a fatal crash, the victim’s estate can sue for wrongful death. The defect could arise from the design or manufacturing of the product. Common defects could include defective tires, steering and braking mechanisms, or faulty airbags or seatbelts.
If the traffic accident resulted from medical treatment provided to the victim prior to the crash, medical malpractice might support a wrongful death claim. For example, suppose a pharmacist failed to warn the victim that a medication prescribed to them causes drowsiness and shouldn’t be taken before driving. The pharmacist might be liable for the victim’s traffic death if the victim fell asleep at the wheel.
If a business failed to remedy a blind intersection in its parking garage by placing mirrors or a stop sign, it might be responsible for any fatal traffic accidents in its parking garage.
Examples of Non-Wrongful Acts
Not every fatal traffic accident will support a wrongful death claim. Accidents can happen without any fault. For example, an accident might result from bad weather or an ordinary mechanical failure.
A wrongful death case also cannot result from the victim’s negligence. If the victim ran a red light and was hit by a semi-truck, the truck driver likely can’t be held liable.
However, Indiana uses modified contributory fault. This means that you can still maintain a wrongful death claim if the victim contributed to less than half the fault of the accident. But if the victim’s fault exceeds 50%, you will not receive damages for wrongful death.
Statute of Limitations
The Indiana wrongful death attorneys must commence a claim within two years after the victim’s death. A court will dismiss any wrongful death lawsuit filed after the statute of limitations expires.
The victim’s estate and survivors must have suffered financial damages from the victim’s death. Some of the damages provided under Indiana law include:
- Medical expenses
- Hospital expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost love and companionship
For wrongful death actions in which the victim had dependents, the damages may also include lost earnings.
To see an example of the damages available in a wrongful death claim, see some of our firm’s case results on our website.
Hiring Auto Accident Attorneys
A wrongful death claim can require a careful analysis of the facts of the accident by Indiana auto accident attorneys. Not every fatal traffic accident can support a wrongful death claim.
For more information or to schedule a free case evaluation, contact the legal team at Wagner Reese.