Motorcycle Accident Wrongful Death

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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The death of a loved one is always a tragedy, but knowing that it may have been caused by someone’s fault or negligence can be devastating. In such cases, the next of kin may file a claim for wrongful death.

What is Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death is when a person is killed due to someone else’s negligence. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that can be filed by the deceased victim’s next of kin against the negligent party. This civil action is separate from criminal charges that he or she may also be liable for in a fatal motorcycle accident.

Each state has its own statutes governing wrongful death claims. You can check your state’s laws here.

There were roughly 170,000 wrongful death cases in the US in 2017. The majority were caused by road accidents and medical malpractice. 

Who Can File the Claim?

A wrongful death claim can only be filed by surviving family members who are affected by the victim’s death, known as “real parties in interest.”.  This can vary per jurisdiction. 

In all states, the following are eligible to file the claim:

  • Spouse
  • Offspring
  • Parents (if the deceased was unmarried)

Other states may also allow these relations:

  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Putative partner
  • Financial dependents

Most states require a personal representative or executor of the decedent’s estate to file the claim. In case the victim’s last will does not designate an executor, the court may appoint one.

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What Type of Damages may be Claimed?

Economic damages – These include medical and funeral expenses; loss of income and family support; lost household contributions; and lost prospect of inheritance. Offspring may also be entitled to loss of parental guidance, depending on their age at the time of the victim’s death.

Noneconomic damages – These can include pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages in cases of gross negligence or egregious behavior (such as intoxicated driving) resulting in the accident. 

Survival action – In cases where the victim does not die immediately and files a personal injury lawsuit, eligible family members can file a survival action that covers the victim’s pain and suffering before dying. The compensation is determined by the severity of the victim’s pain, and their awareness of their terminal condition.

Challenges in Wrongful Death Claims

  1. Award distribution – Some states can limit how a settlement can be distributed among beneficiaries. Others follow a prioritization process, where funeral and administration costs are paid first before surviving members and heirs.
  2. Laws of intestacy – This is when the victim dies without leaving a will. In such cases, some states dictate that settlement distribution follow local laws on intestacy. 
  3. Limited compensation – Some states like Arkansas only allow the estate to file claims for economic losses, while the family can only file claims for the loss of financial and emotional support.
  4. No non-economic damages – Some states such as New York only allow for “pecuniary injuries” or economic losses. No recovery is allowed for noneconomic damages such as lost companionship and mental anguish.

Since wrongful death is a very complex legal process, it’s highly recommended to get a motorcycle accident attorney in cases of road accidents resulting in wrongful death. A lawyer that specializes in this specific field can navigate the legal intricacies of motorcycle safety laws and wrongful death statutes, coordinate with insurance, and negotiate with the at-fault party so that loved ones can focus on grieving and moving on from the incident.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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