Fatal Car Accidents in Dallas
Have You Lost a Loved One in a Fatal Auto Accident? Our Attorneys Can Help You Understand Your Rights and Remedies
If you have lost a family member or loved one in a fatal car accident, you may wish to bring those responsible to justice by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. This article will discuss how these cases work as well as outlining the common obstacles that you must overcome in order to successfully resolve your case.
Applicable Laws of Wrongful Death Car Accident Claims
Wrongful death car accident cases are built upon several bodies of law that must all be taken into consideration. These include:
Wrongful Death Laws - First and foremost, Texas is a state that has codified wrongful death laws which are found in the Texas Wrongful Death Act. The Act is essentially a group of laws that describe who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, how much time you have to do so, and what types of damages can be pursued.
As it relates to a car accident resulting in a fatality, the spouse, children, and parents of a deceased person can bring a claim against the responsible party. The claim is broken down into two forms of damages: the survival damages and the wrongful death damages; and this leads us to the effects of probate law.
Probate Law - Both the wrongful death claim and the survival claim must be brought in unison, yet accepting a settlement must be carefully approached so that the least beneficial of the two claims does not receive all of the settlement value allocated to the resolution agreement. This is due to the fact that our state's probate laws hold that assets of the estate (the entity who technically serves as the beneficiary of the survival claim) are, in fact, subject to being made available to satisfy certain debts.
For instance, if you settle a case with all of the settlement monies allocated to the survival damages claim, you may find that award is subject to liens in relation to debts of the estate, and your winnings may be garnished. Simply by allocating only the appropriate amount to the survival claim and the rest to the wrongful death damages portion of the claim, you may mitigate the amount of compensation that is subject to liens or other debt.
Texas' insurance laws - The insurance laws must also be understood and taken into consideration. Our wrongful death laws tell you who can file a lawsuit against, but, in practical terms, a Dallas car accident wrongful death claim is generally brought against the defendant driver's insurance policy. This in turn means that you must understand the obligations and duties the insurance carrier has and how to deal with said carrier.
The single biggest mistake made by unrepresented plaintiffs in any car accident case is that they assume the insurance carrier has an obligation to give them fair compensation. This is simply not true. An insurance carrier is not obligated to pay you anything, irrespective of the merit of your claim.
You are, in fact, required to prove and validate your claim in a specific fashion, and the insurance carrier will then settle with you only as a means of protecting their client. That last bit is important. An insurance carrier, under our state's insurance laws, owes a fiduciary duty to their insured customer to protect the customer's financial assets; they are not beholden to you.
When an insurance company settles with you they do so because that particular option affords the most protection to their client. Likewise, if you fail to adequately validate your claim, prove up your damages, issue a demand featuring very specific demand language, or submit a theory of liability that is supported by common law or statutory principals, the insurance carrier will recognize your claim as ineffective and they will therefore be justified in denying your claim or settling it for less than a fair value.
Common Law Theories of Negligence - The vast majority of law applicable to car accident cases is not codified law that you can find online or in a written statute. Most of the relevant law is what we call "case law", which can be thought of as judicial law. Case law is designed to supplement or clarify the vague and general codified laws that are drafted by our law makers. So when some matter comes before the court that features some specific element that doesn't obviously correlate with the codified law, a judge must make a ruling to determine how the issue should be interpreted. This ruling sets precedence and will be applied by all other judges in similar cases unless the ruling is challenged and defeated, typically by a higher court.
Since Texas' wrongful death laws say nothing in particular about car accidents; we rely on case law to determine how different elements of the wrongful death laws apply to car accidents. A non-attorney simply will have no useful exposure or access to case law, whereas an experienced trial lawyer will use case law every day.
What Sort of Damages are Available to a Plaintiff in a Typical Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
It goes without saying that no amount of money can fairly compensate you for the loss of someone you love. The emotional toll such a loss takes on a family can be devastating. But the truth is that, in addition to this emotional turmoil, losing a family member can put a severe financial burden on a family. Notwithstanding the financial hardships that the loss of a relative may take, the law very clearly empowers certain family members to seek compensation as a means of "balancing the scales," so to speak. Since a wrongful death is usually an accident, the defendant will likely never go to jail. Thus, your remedy against the defendant is to sue them and essentially punish them financially.
In a comprehensive wrongful death lawsuit, there are typically two types of damages: wrongful death damages and survival damages. Wrongful death damages can be sought by a spouse, child, or parent of the deceased victim. They attempt to compensate a plaintiff for the plaintiff's own loss caused by the victim's death. These damages typically include:
- Any medical expenses paid prior to the victim's death
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of financial support previously provided by the victim
- Compensation for the loss of companionship and emotional distress caused by the loss of a family member
Survival damages, on the other hand, allow the plaintiff to stand in for the victim in a legal sense, by acting as the executor of the estate of the deceased (the claim technically belongs to the estate). Survival damages provide compensation for the personal injury damages a victim could have sued for if he or she had survived the accident. Survival damages are usually sought by the same family member seeking wrongful death damages, but siblings can also sue for survival damages in certain situations. These damages typically include:
- Medical expenses incurred prior to the victim's death related to the accident
- Physical pain
- Mental and emotional turmoil caused by the victim's injuries
Signs that You Need an Attorney?
Every wrongful death claimant can benefit from the help of a skilled Dallas attorney. However, there are certain scenarios where having a fatal car accident Lawyer is the only practical option. Some of the tell-tale signs that your case is the latter are:
One or more of the drivers involved in the accident is not being cooperative with your questions or with some part of the investigation.
Insurance adjusters are hammering you with questions about your family member or about the accident.
Insurance adjusters are asking to record your statements (this is a huge sign that you need to hire an attorney).
An insurance company is offering you a sum of money if you will sign away your right to file a lawsuit (the document you are asked to sign is often very complicated, so you should seriously consider hiring a fatal car accident attorney before you sign anything or even speak to an insurance adjuster).
The settlement offered by your insurance company does not seem large enough for a fatal car accident case.
One or more of the drivers involved in the accident is protected by an insurance company which you have never heard of.
One or more of the drivers in the accident does not have any insurance.
You just have a bad feeling about the way the accident investigation or your insurance claim is being handled.
More about Insurance Adjusters
Insurance adjusters pose the greatest risk to your case before you have hired an experienced legal professional to represent you. Once an attorney is involved, the insurance adjuster's ability to harm your case diminishes rapidly.
After a fatal car accident, many insurance adjusters will try to take advantage of a family's grief and get them to sign away their rights. Chances are, they know about your loved one's death before you, and they often approach family members at the hospital or the morgue, hammering them with questions and asking for statements. They know that you likely have not yet spoken to an attorney, and they are trying to get you to sign away your rights before you do. Unfortunately, many people fall for these tactics in their grief stricken state.
Ideally, this is how insurance companies should behave in a fatal car accident case: the insurance company estimates the damages caused by your loved one's death discussed above. The insurance provider then offers you and your family a fair settlement to compensate you for your loss. Unfortunately, this rarely happens, if ever, especially in fatal car accident cases. The insurance company almost always works against victims, trying to pay them as little as possible. In many cases, they are successful because people do not realize how difficult their case truly is until it is too late.
Don't Rely on the Failed Tactics of "Conventional Wisdom"
Family members of wrongful death victims often mistakenly believe that they can scare an insurance company into offering a fair settlement by threatening to file a lawsuit. But the truth is that insurance companies are not at all frightened of a lawsuit filed by a non-lawyer, so such a threat is hollow at best. Settling a Dallas-area car accident case is not a matter of negotiating, and your negotiating skills or ability to put on aggressive front are not what makes an insurance company settle. The only thing that precipitates a settlement is the fear that they will lose in court and potentially be liable for moneys beyond the policy limits, and the only way to make that a reality is to file the right type of demand.
Our experienced attorneys, on the other hand, can intimidate an insurance company into offering you a fair settlement. This is due to the fact that we have over twenty years of experience winning these cases. We have handled hundreds of high-profile car accident cases, and we have successfully litigated lawsuits against practically every major insurance company in the nation. These organizations are aware of our successful track record, and they often offer our clients sizable settlements so that they do not have to face our Dallas accident attorneys in court.
We also conduct thorough investigations of every case we accept in order to identify other potential defendants. Was your loved one's accident caused by a defective tire? A malfunctioning traffic light? A drunk driver? In any of these situations, there may be multiple parties liable for your loved one's death, and we will help you bring claims against all of them.
We are dedicated to explaining even most complex subtleties of your case to you in straightforward terms so that you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. We want to help you bring those responsible for your loved one's death to justice. Call us today, toll-free at 1-855-326-0000.