Who Pays for Funeral Expenses Following a Fatal Truck Accident?
Following a fatal accident with a commercial vehicle, there are a lot of expenses that need to be taken into account. We often get asked who is responsible for the funeral expenses of the deceased. You might expect that this is a cost that the trucking company's insurance company would cover as a matter of course, but as this article will explain in more detail, that's not the case.
Questions Answered in This Article
- Are trucking companies required to pay for funeral expense after an accident?
- How do trucking company insurance policies work?
- What happens if someone already paid for the funeral expenses?
How fault-based insurance works, in a nutshell.
While there are many different insurance products one can buy (health insurance for your cat, home owner's insurance, flood insurance, etc.), most insurance policies can be grouped into two broad categories: no-fault insurance and fault-based insurance.
The main difference between the two is that with no-fault insurance coverage, payouts are based on eligibility and/or a contractual agreement, not based on a court verdict. A good example would be life insurance. Barring a few exceptions centered around fraud and suicide, a life insurance carrier must pay the beneficiaries named on the policy if the policyholder died, because a written contract says they must. There is no consideration of who is at fault: the policy is simply paid because the eligibility terms have been met (i.e. the purchaser of the policy died under circumstances covered by the policy).
Other examples of no-fault coverage would include things like unemployment insurance, disability and dismemberment insurance, health insurance, or workers' comp coverage. None of those policies require a court or jury to evaluate the circumstances and make a determination about what should happen. The insuring authority just pays because they have a contract (or statute) that says they must. While all of these no-fault insurance plans have their own set of catches and caveats that can keep people from getting paid, the bottom line is that they are a part of a system that is designed to fast-track compensation, and they are based on the default assumption that a payment will, in all likelihood, occur.
The exact opposite is true of fault-based insurance. Fault-based insurance (otherwise known as casualty insurance, at-fault coverage, liability coverage, etc.) is rooted in the adversarial court system. This insurance coverage is not a promise to pay whoever files a claim, rather, it is there as a backup plan in case the person who bought the insurance is found liable for damages caused by their (or their employee's) negligence in a court of law or they accept liability in a settlement negotiation.
Think of it this way. Imagine that you could pay someone $500 per month to form an agreement that if you ever get arrested for a crime, they'd agree to go serve your jail sentence for you. In essence, you'd be paying them to pay for your crime. Well, if such a scheme was allowed by law, you can imagine that the person who you pay for this service would work really hard to keep you out of jail. If the crime you're accused of is serious enough and he's looking at enough jail time, your jail substitute would probably even be willing to hire an attorney to defend you. But what is certainly true is that your $500-a-month jail stand-in would benefit from the fact that he only has to pay for your sins if a jury finds you guilty. And, at a minimum, he is protected by the fact that you are innocent unless proven guilty.
Well, that's exactly how an 18-wheeler's liability insurance works.
If a trucker is found guilty of negligence in a court of law, the insurance carrier that he (or his employer) pays every month has in place an agreement with him that they will pay for the damages his careless actions have caused. But they have ZERO obligation to do so absent a jury telling them that they must. So, the answer to the question of, "Why don't trucking companies whose drivers cause an accident automatically have to pay for funeral expenses?" is simply that they have no legal obligation to do so until the matter has been adjudicated (heard by a court and jury and a decision rendered). Are there some trucking company insurers who are willing to pay for things even though they have no obligation to do so? Sure, anything's possible. Is that typical? Not at all.
The bottom line here is that the notion that an insurance carrier has to pay for funeral expenses or anything else is wrong; there is no legal basis for this myth. The insurance carrier's liability only becomes real when a jury says that it is real or when a lawyer convinces them that it will inevitably become real at mediation. Treating any aspect of a truck accident case as if the bad guys are obligated to do anything is a bad strategy because it misinterprets the most basic underlying concept of personal injury and wrongful death law.
What You can Expect from the Insurance Company
As opposed to regular car accident scenarios that deal with a much small dollar figure, trucking companies are required to carry major insurance policies that can be worth millions, and their insurer is all too willing to fight to defend their policy. This is true in injury or fatality truck accident cases. But you can expect them to fight even harder for claims that would cost their company and their clients handsomely.
The insurance carrier and the trucking company are both going to put up quite a fight when it comes to accepting liability for a fatal accident. The main two ways you'll see resistance in these cases are:
- Arguing who is at fault - The trucking company has a lot to lose, so you better believe they will put up a fight to shift the liability for a collision elsewhere. If they can shift blame onto another party or to no one in particular by blaming you, a mystery car, road conditions, etc., it could potentially save them a lot of money.
- Attacking the character of your deceased loved one and/or your family - All too often we see trucking companies attempt to dig up dirt on the victim, or their family members, with the hope that if the jury thinks the victim is a bad person, or the beneficiaries of the case aren't nice people, they won't want to award as much money. Our job as attorneys is to keep this from being successful. The reason trucking companies often employ this ugly tactic is because the value of a wrongful death case is tied to the suffering that the surviving family members feel. If they can paint a picture of a sour relationship between the deceased and their relatives, then most juries would conclude that, despite the death, the family isn't that torn up about losing someone who they clearly didn't care for that much.
Again, our truck accident attorneys know what to expect from insurance carriers and how to keep them from damaging your case, and we've successfully overcome their attempts to evade responsibility hundreds of times.
Call Grossman Law Offices
Grossman Law Offices has over 25 years of experience successfully litigating fatal truck accident cases. To find out how our attorneys can help you hold a trucking company accountable for the loss of your loved one, call (855) 326-0000 today.
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