Large trucks and busses are involved in about 5,000 fatal crashes per year. Two-thirds of the victims who die in truck accidents are passenger car occupants. Motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians make up most of the remaining victims.
Since trucks are heavier than passenger cars, a truck accident is more likely than a car accident to result in a wrongful death. The weight disparity overcomes the safety features, including airbags and crumple zones, that usually save lives in collisions.
Truck drivers are negligent when they text while driving, drive while fatigued, drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speed, drive aggressively, fail to maintain control of their vehicles, or disobey other traffic safety laws. Truck owners are negligent when they fail to inspect and repair defects, including tires and brakes.
When acts of negligence cause a fatal accident, the victim’s family can bring a wrongful death claim. The mechanics of bringing a claim for wrongful death, as well as the measurement and distribution of compensation, is determined by state law. Since those laws vary widely, consulting a truck accident injury lawyer is the best way to protect the right to bring a wrongful death claim.
People Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim After a Truck Accident
States generally take one of two approaches to determine who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Some states allow family members to bring the suit, while other states require the victim’s estate to sue.
With narrow exceptions, no state allows someone who is unrelated to the victim to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. The exceptions generally involve minor children who are not related to the victim but depended on the deceased accident victim for financial support.
States that allow a family member to bring a wrongful death lawsuit always allow a spouse to bring the suit. Some states require the spouse to distribute a share of wrongful death compensation to the victim’s children while other states allow the victim’s children to join the lawsuit.
Other relatives who might be eligible to join the lawsuit, or at least to share in the compensation that is awarded, include the victims’ parents and children of the victim’s children who are no longer living. In some states and under some circumstances, siblings and other relatives may be able to join the lawsuit.
When all eligible relatives can participate in a lawsuit, states usually require them to join or to affirmatively opt-out of the lawsuit. Those laws prevent some family members from bringing a lawsuit or making a secret settlement without giving other family members a chance to participate. States generally do not permit multiple wrongful death lawsuits for the same death.
When a state requires one family member to bring the suit, that family member must distribute compensation according to state law. A judge will oversee the distribution of compensation and resolve any disagreement about the share each eligible family member should receive.
Estates Can Bring a Wrongful Death Case After a Truck Accident
In some states, only the victim’s estate can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In those states, the lawsuit is initiated by the victim’s personal representative (sometimes known as an executor).
States generally allow the victim’s estate to bring a related lawsuit for the pain and suffering the accident victim endured before dying. That lawsuit is known as a survival claim. A wrongful death claim and a survival claim are often joined in the same lawsuit.
Compensation that is paid to an estate for a wrongful death or survival claim is distributed pursuant to the terms of the victim’s Will. If the victim died without a will, compensation is distributed according to state laws governing the disposition of the property of a person who dies without a Will.
If you have questions about a wrongful death case, please contact a wrongful death attorney today.