White flowers on top of a car accident victim's casket, with two mourning loved ones in the background.Losing a loved one to a car accident is a sudden, devastating experience. It occurs suddenly, leaving you in shock and struggling to move on with your life while at the same time dealing with everyday concerns like caring for your children. During this difficult time, you may also find yourself facing financial setbacks as well—funeral or burial expenses, final medical bills, and the loss of your loved one’s financial support.

How Can a Bridgeport Fatal Car Accident Attorney Help?

We know how crushing a sudden death can be for the entire family and how hard it is for the deceased person’s relatives to move forward. While nothing can replace your loved one, we want to help alleviate some of the difficulties and financial woes that often accompany a car accident fatality so that you can focus on your family. You shouldn’t have to apply for a second job or worry about how you’ll pay for your child’s tuition while grieving a terrible loss, so we’ll consider all the options for recovering your damages.

Who Can File a Fatal Car Accident Claim in Connecticut?

Because the injured party is deceased, this will be considered a wrongful death claim. Under Connecticut law, only the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. This person is usually named in the decedent’s will or appointed by the probate court if they died without a will. If an administrator has not been named yet, you may be able to petition the court to become the administrator if you’re a surviving spouse or other relative.

Any award in the case will go to the deceased person’s heirs as outlined in their will or according to inheritance laws.

How Long Do You Have to File a Claim After a Fatal Car Accident?

You have two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death claim in most situations. There are a few exceptions, such as when the act of negligence that caused the death is not known right away, but these seldom apply in car accidents. Even when they do, it’s still better to speak with an attorney sooner rather than later, as we will need time to investigate your loved one’s passing and prepare a strong case.

What Damages Can You Seek in a Fatal Car Accident Case?

We’ll review both the economic and non-economic damages your family has suffered and develop an estimate of how much your case may be worth. Here are some of the damages we’ll discuss during your consultation:

  • Loss of financial support. This can be substantial if you depend on the decedent’s income. Even in situations where both spouses work, the family may need both incomes to survive. The value of this damage is based on several factors, including the decedent’s income at the time of their death, how many more years they might have worked, and more.
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering prior to their death. This damage may not apply if the death happened very quickly, but if the decedent survived for some time after the accident, it could be relevant.
  • Medical expenses. If the decedent was taken to a hospital and treated for their injuries before they died, the bills are often extensive. Even a few hours in the ICU can cost thousands of dollars, and health insurance may only cover some of the costs. We’ll seek to recover all your out-of-pocket costs related to the car accident.
  • Funeral and burial expenses. The average cost of a funeral today is around $7,848, although your costs may be higher or lower. Unfortunately, some families find that the funeral takes up a significant portion of any life insurance policy the decedent had.
  • Loss of consortium. This refers to the companionship or emotional support the deceased person would have provided their family and loved ones.
  • Punitive damages. In some cases, the court can award double or even triple damages in order to punish the defendant (the negligent driver). These extra damages are only available if the following criteria are met: The negligent driver deliberately or recklessly ignored specific traffic laws, and this deliberate or reckless behavior was a “substantial factor” in causing the death. Your Bridgeport personal injury lawyer can help you determine if punitive damages might be available in your case.

What Do You Need to Prove Negligence in a Fatal Car Accident Case?

We’ll need to show that the defendant’s actions fulfill the elements of any negligence case:

  • The defendant had a duty of care. In car accident cases, this usually means that a driver has a duty to drive carefully, follow traffic laws, and avoid actions that could cause an accident.
  • The defendant failed in this duty. Here, we’ll need to demonstrate how the other driver failed to follow reasonable standards of safe driving, such as obeying the speed limit, stopping at a red light, or making other arrangements to get home when drinking. To do this, we’ll use evidence such as photos or videos of the collision, witness testimony, electronic data for each vehicle’s event data recorder (EDR), and more.
  • The failed duty of care led to the injuries that caused the decedent’s death. For example, we might need to show that the defendant running a red light caused their car to T-bone the deceased person’s vehicle. That impact caused internal bleeding, which led to the decedent’s passing.
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of these injuries. Since the injured party has passed, it is usually not difficult to show they and their family suffered significant damages from the injuries.

Does the Negligent Driver Have to Be Convicted of a Crime?

No. The negligent driver may be convicted of a crime like vehicular manslaughter, but this is not necessary for a civil claim. There are several reasons for this:

  • Not every negligent action on the road rises to the level of a crime. Certainly, excessively reckless behavior like driving while drunk is often charged as a crime, but in other cases, the defendant simply made a wrong decision that led to a tragedy. This behavior is negligent, and the driver will likely be cited for a traffic violation, but they may not be charged with a crime.
  • Criminal courts require a higher burden of proof than civil courts. In a criminal court, the jury must find the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For this reason, police officers may not have enough evidence to make an arrest, or the District Attorney might feel there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute the case successfully. Even if the DA does take the case to court, the evidence might not be sufficient for a conviction. For all these reasons, the other driver may not be convicted of a crime. However, we could still bring a claim in civil court, where a jury only needs to find the defendant “more likely than not” guilty based on a “preponderance of evidence.”

What If the Insurance Company Claims the Negligent Driver Wasn’t At Fault?

This happens often in car accident cases. Unfortunately, the most common reason given is that the injured party (in this case, the decedent) was at fault, at least partially. If the insurance company can make a case that the deceased person was at least 51 percent responsible for the accident, they have an excuse to pay nothing for your claim (even if their client also drove negligently). If the decedent was less than 51 percent to blame, the insurance company will have to pay, but they can reduce the payout by the injured party’s percentage of fault.

Either way, this creates an infuriating situation for the decedent’s family. It’s hard enough grieving your loss without hearing the insurance company blame your loved one for their own death. While we understand you may want to call the insurance company and set them straight, we recommend against doing so, as it may only complicate your case. Instead, speak with a car accident attorney who can help you prove the deceased had little or no responsibility in the collision.

Where Can You Get Help From a Bridgeport Fatal Car Accident Law Firm?

If you are dealing with the tragic loss of a loved one in a car accident, please contact Bert McDowell Injury Law for a free, confidential consultation about your case. We’ll review the police report, answer your questions, and advise you on your options for seeking compensation. There is no need to worry about upfront costs because we never charge a fee until we win or settle your case.

Bert McDowell Jr. is an experienced trial attorney who has recovered millions of dollars in compensation for injured people and their families. He has been included in 40 Under 40 Connecticut Magazine and the National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40. Additionally, he has been a Super Lawyers Rising Star for four consecutive years. Dedicated to family and community, he was recognized for his nonprofit and community work with the 100 Men of Color Award as well as the Man of Excellence Award from the organization Black People Rocks.