The massive impact of a commercial truck striking a passenger car may lead to a tragic loss of life. When this happens, family members and the estate of the victim may be able to recover damages for several types of losses. A lawsuit seeking compensation for family members is usually known as a wrongful death action, while a lawsuit seeking compensation for the estate is often known as a survival action. A statute in each state designates the people who may recover wrongful death damages. These may include:
A spouse (or sometimes a partner in a civil union or domestic partnership)
Parents and siblings
Grandparents and grandchildren
Anyone else who would have a right of inheritance from the estate under the intestacy laws in the state
Courts may combine wrongful death and survival actions arising from the same accident into a single lawsuit, since the underlying facts regarding liability are the same. State laws determine who can file a lawsuit. Many states allow only the personal representative of the estate to file any lawsuit based on a fatal accident. However, some states allow certain family members to file a wrongful death action for their losses.
Proving liability in a wrongful death or survival action is usually similar to proving liability in an ordinary personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff generally would need to show that the defendant failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances, causing the fatal accident. Distinctive theories of liability may apply in some cases, such as truck defects that result in products liability claims, but these do not depend on whether the victim died. Thus, the main difference separating cases involving injuries from cases involving death is the types of damages that may be awarded.
Some states impose damages caps on wrongful death claims, limiting the total compensation that can be recovered.
Damages Available After a Fatal Truck Accident
The types of damages available to family members and the estate vary from state to state. However, family members usually may recover damages for the loss of future financial support from the victim. This is calculated according to the length of time for which the support likely would have lasted. For example, a spouse probably would have expected to receive support until the victim reached retirement age, while a minor child probably would have expected to receive support until they became an adult, or sometimes through college. Other family members can recover damages for loss of financial support if this can be proven.
In addition, a spouse might obtain compensation for loss of household services and loss of consortium, which is a legal term for the marital relationship. A child might obtain compensation for the loss of affection, care, and guidance provided by their parent. More general types of damages also may be awarded to various family members, such as loss of companionship, comfort, assistance, and society. Funeral and burial expenses may be recovered through wrongful death or survival actions, depending on the state.
Meanwhile, the estate may recover damages such as medical bills and lost income incurred between the accident and the death. If the victim sustained property damage, such as the destruction of their car, the estate may recover this amount. The estate sometimes may recover damages for the conscious pain and suffering of the victim before death, to the extent that this can be proven. The scope of the damages recoverable by the estate thus depends on whether and how long a victim of a truck accident survived the initial impact.
Statutes of Limitations
The deadline for filing a wrongful death or survival action, known as the statute of limitations, may be different from the deadline in ordinary personal injury cases. Family members or the personal representative should find out about the specific deadline in their state.