Your loved one has died in a Kentucky car crash, but do you have the grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit? The answer is more complicated than you may think. While every fatal collision is tragic, not every fatal car accident can, or should, result in a wrongful death case.
As a survivor, you have the right to know if you have a potential wrongful death claim, how to pursue a claim, and why to pursue a claim. However, your time to take action is limited by law. Accordingly, we encourage you to browse the information provided in this article and reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer at Gray and White Law as soon as possible with your questions.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case?
You may have a wrongful death case if you can prove that someone else’s negligent or intentional actions caused your loved one’s death.
In a wrongful death case, an “intentional action” occurs when the person doing the act knows that it could cause harm, performs the act, and causes your loved one’s death as a result.
More frequently, however, the person who causes a fatal accident is negligent. “Negligence” occurs when:
- The person who caused your loved one’s death owed your loved one a duty of care. This is typically easy to establish. For example, other drivers, mechanics, and auto makers owe motorists a duty of care.
- The person who caused your loved one’s death breached the duty of care. In order to prove this element of negligence, you will need to establish that the person failed to act like a reasonable person would in similar circumstances.
- The breach of the duty of care was the cause of your loved one’s death. In other words, your loved one would not have died but for the breach of the duty of care.
- You have the legal right to pursue damages. An attorney can help you determine if this is true in your case.
Some examples of negligence that result in wrongful death car crashes include:
- DUI. Drunk driving, as well as driving while under the influence of drugs, is a leading cause of fatal crashes in the U.S.
- Distractions. Studies estimate that a quarter of all fatal crashes involve some form of driver distraction.
- Speeding. Speeding is a major factor in car accident deaths. Speeding means drivers have a shorter reaction time and need more time to stop their vehicle to avoid a collision.
- Car malfunction. In some cases, a car manufacturer may be held liable for a fatal accident if the vehicle failed to perform normally. For example, the car manufacturer may be liable if there was a sudden acceleration that was not caused by the driver, if there was faulty steering, or if there was a braking problem.
Know Who Your Lawsuit Is Against
It is often, but not always, the other driver who has caused your loved one’s accidental death. However, it is important to identify whose negligent or intentional actions resulted in your loved one’s death so that you can pursue a lawsuit against the proper defendant. This might include, for example, a drunk driver, a negligent driver, a car manufacturer, a car mechanic, or an employer who allowed or encouraged dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
Wrongful Death Claims Are Different Than Murder or Manslaughter Cases
The Commonwealth of Kentucky may bring criminal charges, such as manslaughter or murder, against the person who killed your loved one. Those charges may result in jail time, fines, or other consequences. However, those charges will not result in compensation for your loved one’s estate. Instead, the administrator of your loved one’s estate needs to pursue a civil wrongful death case in order to make a recovery.
How to Pursue a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky
In order to file a lawsuit, you must have:
- A cause of action. If you can prove that negligent or intentional actions caused your loved one’s death, then you may be able to file a lawsuit.
- Standing. You need to have the legal right to sue for wrongful death. Typically, this right belongs to the administrator of your loved one’s estate, who has the right to sue on behalf of the estate.
- Time. The statute of limitations typically provides you with one year to file a wrongful death case in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Your case will formally begin when you file a complaint with the court. A wrongful death lawyer can help you investigate the accident, gather evidence, draft pleadings, make compelling arguments in motions or oral argument, negotiate with insurance companies, and protect damages in court. Accordingly, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Why Your Wrongful Death Case Is Important
Wrongful death lawsuits serve three distinct and important purposes:
- First, you may hold the person who killed your loved one responsible for his or her actions.
- Second, you may deter others from being negligent and causing other families to mourn the loss of a loved one in a fatal wreck.
- Third, you and your family may be able to recover financial damages for the great loss that you have suffered.
Potential Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Your damages in a wrongful death car accident case may include:
- Medical expenses. All your loved one’s healthcare costs related to the accident may be included in a recovery.
- Lost income. A reasonable estimate of your loved one’s lost income can be established by taking into account your loved one’s earning potential, health prior to the accident, estimated life expectancy had he or she not died in the car crash, and other factors.
- Out of pocket costs. Any out of pocket costs incurred as a result of your loved one’s injury or death should be compensated.
- Pain and suffering. Physical pain and emotional suffering are often significant in a wrongful death case and may be included in a recovery.
In some cases, the victim’s own insurance will pay for things such as funeral costs, medical bills and lost income pursuant to the no-fault car insurance system. While these insurance benefits are non-negotiable for auto insurers, getting payment is rarely an easy process. Insurers may attempt to deny benefits by claiming that the death was not directly connected to the use of the vehicle, or that the limits prohibit death benefits beyond a certain dollar amount.
Punitive damages may be possible in some wrongful death cases. Section 411.130 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes allows punitive damages to be awarded in wrongful death cases if the act that resulted in the death was either willful or the result of gross negligence. The purpose of punitive damages is not like the purpose of other types of damages. It is not to compensate your loved one’s estate, you, or other family members for your loved one’s death. Instead, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the person whose willful or grossly negligent act resulted in your loved one’s death, and to discourage other people from doing similar acts that could result in future deaths.
Five specific factors should be considered in determining the amount of punitive damages to be awarded. Those factors include:
- The likelihood at the relevant time that serious harm would arise from the defendant’s misconduct
- How aware the defendant was of the likelihood that serious harm would arise from his or her misconduct
- How profitable the misconduct was to the defendant
- How long the misconduct went on and whether it was concealed by the defendant
- Any actions the defendant took to remedy the misconduct once the defendant knew about it
Of course, punitive damages are typically awarded with compensatory damages for the actual losses suffered by the person who died, his or her estate, and his or her loved ones.
You Are Not Alone
In 2016, 823 people died in Kentucky motor vehicle accidents. Other families are mourning the loss of their loved ones, but every loss is unique. Every family must decide whether or not pursuing a wrongful death case is what’s best for them.
Our lawyers understand that your family’s loss is like no other, and we want to provide you with the individual attention that you deserve so that you can make an informed decision about how best to proceed. Please contact us at your earliest convenience—either via this website or by phone—to schedule a free, no obligation consultation. We also invite you to download a free copy of our report, Critical Information to Know Before Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky.