More than 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2013, according to data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Not partial in victims, drunk driving accidents have taken the lives of children and adults, men and women, family members and more.
When a drunk driving accident leads to a fatality, surviving family members of the victim can file a wrongful death claim against drunk driver to pay for their damages. Often, a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver covers more costs associated with the wrongful death than filing a claim with the insurance company alone.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim is a type of civil action that is filed on the behalf of the deceased, and resembles a personal injury lawsuit in that damages for an injury could have been sought had death not befallen the individual. In other words, a wrongful death action is a type of legal action that’s filed against an at-fault party for a wrongful act that caused injury—resulting in death—to the victim.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
In Pennsylvania, only the personal representative of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim for damages. However, the damages—if recovered—are payable to the deceased’s beneficiaries, namely a surviving spouse, parents, or children.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
The components of a wrongful death claim are identical to those of a personal injury claim. The personal representative of the deceased must prove the following listed below.
- The defendant acted negligently
- The negligence led to the victim’s death
- The death resulted in damages
One difference between a personal injury claim and a wrongful death claim is the type of damages that need to be proven. In a standard personal injury claim, damages may include pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages; in a wrongful death claim, damages may extend to loss of guidance and companionship, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of income.
How to Prove Negligence
Proving negligence is one of the most important parts of a wrongful death claim. If you cannot demonstrate that the defendant acted negligently, then you will not be able to recover damages.
Drunk driving in itself is an act of negligence, and therefore negligence will be easy to prove if you have evidence that drunk driving occurred. You can substantiate drunk driving and negligent behavior using these types of evidence.
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Physical damage from the accident scene
- Blood alcohol content test results (assuming the at-fault driver was given a Breathalyzer or had his or her blood tested at the police station immediately following the accident)
You will also need to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the direct cause of injury and death. For instance, a common wrongful death defense is to say that the victim’s actions contributed to the accident.
Is there a statute of limitations?
Yes, in Pennsylvania, there is a statute of limitations of two years for filing a wrongful death claim for damages. A claim must be lodged with the court no more than two years after the date of the accident. The court may not hear anything that’s filed after the two-year statute of limitations, and the right to compensation may be forfeited.
Meet with a Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Filing a wrongful death claim when a drunk driver has killed your loved one can be an emotional thing to do. To make sure that your case is filed on time, and that all of the evidence that you need to prove negligence and damages are obtained, contact the attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLP. Our wrongful death team will work with you to help you recover the compensation your family needs. To learn more, call us now at 215-642-2335.