Wrongful death in a car accident is a terrible burden for families to bear. No amount of financial compensation can make up for a loved one’s death, but the legal system tries to make a family whole again through wrongful death claims.
Here is what you need to know about how wrongful death car accident settlements work.
Most Wrongful Death Cases will Settle
Approximately 70% of personal injury cases, including wrongful death cases, will settle outside of court with an insurance company. This is because going to court costs both sides time and money and involves a certain amount of risk.
Taking a case to trial puts the fate of both sides in the hands of a jury, which can be extremely unpredictable. Settlement helps minimize this risk for the insurance company and can spare the victim’s family additional pain of a long, drawn-out, trial.
but you don’t have to settle quickly
Even though most cases will settle, insurance companies typically won’t roll over and play dead. Insurance companies are notorious for trying to lowball victims and their family members. They like to settle cases quickly and cheaply before the full extent of damages and costs are known.
Instead of accepting a quick wrongful death settlement, wait. In Alabama, the statute of limitations to file a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the person’s death. This gives you time to review the facts of your case, look at all the costs, think about what your claim is worth, and hire an attorney who can help you maximize your damages.
Families are Entitled to a Variety of Damages
Family members of people killed in wrongful death car accidents are entitled to several different types of damages, including economic and non-economic damages.
These are damages that families can request as part of their lawsuit, but families can also request compensation when they negotiate a settlement with an insurance company.
Economic damages, also known as specific damages, are fairly straightforward. They cover any expenses a family incurred as a result of the car accident.
Economic damages include:
- All medical bills, such as the ambulance fee, surgery bills, and hospital stays
- Burial costs
- The cost to repair or replace the car and everything inside it, including cell phones or laptops, and
- Lost wages, including future potential earnings.
Some of these items are easy to prove. A hospital bill or an invoice from an auto shop is black and white proof of expenses that can’t be contested.
Other items, such as future potential earnings, are trickier. We can’t know how much money an adult would have earned during their lifetime. However, accountants can make educated guesses, based on the age of the person who was killed. An older person may have less future potential earnings than a younger person just starting their life.
Non-economic damages, sometimes called general damages, refer to losses that are harder to quantify after a loved one passes. In a wrongful death case, they would cover items such as:
- A family’s pain and suffering after an untimely death,
- A surviving spouse’s loss of consortium with their husband or wife, and
- If the victim of the accident was left with a debilitating condition before dying, loss of enjoyment of life.
These pains do not come with a price tag, so it’s impossible to prove the lost value of a parent, son, or wife. In many cases, insurance companies and courts base the value of non-economic damages on economic damages.
Often, insurance companies will assign a number that represents all of the non-economic damages a wrongful death case presents. This number is multiplied by the number of economic damages a family is entitled to.
For example, if economic damages totaled $50,000 and the multiplier was set at 2, the non-economic damages will total $100,000. Adding your economic and non-economic damages will give you $150,000 in damages.
Settling a Case and Filing a Lawsuit aren’t Mutually Exclusive
Settling involves having discussions about resolving a case outside of court. They can involve several volleys between the victim’s family and the defendant’s insurance company, with each side providing counter offers until the parties can agree on a number. This can happen quickly, or it may take some time.
Often, settlement negotiations are successful, but sometimes the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement at this stage.
This could be for several reasons. An insurance company might try to argue that the defendant wasn’t wholly at fault, or the victim contributed in some way to the accident. The insurance company may only be willing to pay a fraction of what a case is worth.
When insurance companies don’t pay what they should, the plaintiff may decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit in court to begin litigation. In the early stages of litigation, both sides may take depositions or seek written discovery to gain more facts to support their arguments. Once more facts are on the table, the insurance company may decide to cut its losses and settle with the victim’s family.
Sometimes, settlement fails because of inadequate insurance coverage. Alabama requires private drivers to carry insurance coverage minimums of $25,000 for bodily injury liability and an additional $25,000 for property damage per accident. If the defendant doesn’t purchase higher levels of insurance, then the insurance company won’t be able to pay out the full value of a wrongful death claim.
If this is the case, then the family members of the victim can try to negotiate a settlement directly with the defendant to claim what they’re owed. They may also need to file a lawsuit against the defendant to claim what they are due.
Work with an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
If your loved one was killed in a car accident, our wrongful death lawyers can help you get the compensation you deserve. Settlement negotiations can be stressful, especially when the insurance company doesn’t want to budge.
Our law firm can guide you every step of the way. Working with an experienced attorney can provide legal advice about your case and will negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company. To learn more about your options, contact us for a free consultation today.