What Happens When Someone Dies in a Car Accident?
Colorado has many people killed in car accidents each year. According to the Colorado State Patrol, there were 329 traffic accident fatalities in 2017, an uptick from the numbers in 2016. These accidents are tragic, leaving behind family members who must try to carry on without their loved ones.
What happens when someone dies in a car accident? There will be an investigation, of course. Police will try to determine whether someone should be held criminally responsible. For example, if the driver who caused the crash was drunk, they could be charged with a crime.
However, not all car accidents result in criminal charges. And family members will want to hold the at-fault driver legally responsible for the death. Fortunately, Colorado law allows family members to bring something called a “wrongful death” lawsuit.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
This is a type of civil lawsuit authorized by statute. It differs from criminal prosecution in several ways:
- The prosecutor brings criminal charges, but family members bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Criminal charges are brought against individuals, but a corporation can be sued for wrongful death. So if a car defect caused the accident, the manufacturer can be sued.
- A criminal defendant can be sent to prison if convicted. Because a wrongful death case is civil, the defendant can only be forced to pay monetary compensation, called “damages.”
- In a criminal case, a defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death case, a jury must only find whether a defendant was more likely than not responsible for the death.
- Criminal charges are usually brought for morally reprehensible conduct, like drunk or reckless driving or for intentional acts of violence. A wrongful death case can be based on mere negligence, meaning the driver did not exercise ordinary care.
Wrongful death cases involve the same evidence as a criminal case, but they are separate. Family members don’t need to wait around for a criminal case to finish before bringing their case, though this is often a strategic advantage to do so.
How Much Compensation Can You Receive?
The amount of money a defendant will need to pay depends on the circumstances. Under Colorado law, family members have received damages for:
- Wages the deceased would have earned had he or she lived
- Benefits the deceased would have earned, such as health insurance
- The loss of companionship, love, affection, comfort, assistance, and care
It can be difficult to fully analyze how much money is at stake. The amount your loved one would have earned over a lifetime depends on the job, education, experience, and salary your loved one earned. It also depends on your loved one’s age at death.
The estate may also seek compensation for certain losses, such as the cost of a burial or funeral, as well as any money spent to treat the final injury or illness. If you serve as the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, you should be aware of this fact as well.
Contact Denver Trial Lawyers ®
A car accident resulting in death is a tragic event. Although no amount of money can ever replace a loved one, you should still hold the driver legally accountable. At our firm, we are prepared to do everything possible to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.