Between 2004 and 2013, accidental injuries were the leading cause of death for Californians between the ages of 1 and 44. Accidents were the third leading cause of death for Californians between the ages of 45 and 64, following cancer and heart disease.
Car accidents, in particular, claim thousands of lives each year. Almost 3,000 people were killed in California motor vehicle collisions in 2012. According to the California Highway Patrol, the five leading causes of fatal traffic accidents that did not involve a careless pedestrian were:
All of those deaths were avoidable. They resulted, at least in part, from careless driving. In the language of the law, they were wrongful deaths.
A wrongful death is a death that is caused without legal justification. In the case of fatal car accidents, a wrongful death is a death caused by negligence. Drivers have a duty to drive with reasonable care and to obey traffic laws. They are negligent when they fail to honor that duty.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the most dangerous acts in which a driver can engage. Speeding is common driving behavior but driving at an excessive speed can make it impossible to stop in time to avoid a stalled car or a child who is chasing a ball into the street. Distracted driving (dialing a cellphone, for example) or fatigued driving can cause vehicles to stray from their traffic lanes, causing head-on collisions. Failing to look for oncoming traffic or to judge the speed and distance of oncoming vehicles is usually the cause of intersection accidents.
Each of those breaches of the duty to drive with care can end a life. It is important for drivers to remember that lives are at stake every time they get behind the wheel of a car. Unfortunately, too many drivers make mistakes that produce tragic results.
When someone dies in a car accident because another driver was careless, the value of that lost life is beyond measure. There are nevertheless aspects of that loss that can be measured. When family members depended on the accident victim for family income, the loss of that income, projected over the victim’s anticipated working life, can be calculated.
Wrongful death lawsuits seek justice for surviving family members by providing them with the income that the victim would have used for their support if the accident had not happened. Spouses and minor children are the usual recipients of that compensation but other surviving members may also be entitled to compensation if they depended on the accident victim for support. Surviving family members are also entitled to recover the value of the services that the victim provided.
The victim’s life can never be replaced, but people can be hired to provide child care, do yard work, clean the home, prepare meals, paint the house, and perform the other tasks that the victim would have handled if the accident had not happened.
The cost of hiring those replacement services is part of the compensation that can be pursued in a wrongful death lawsuit. It is difficult to put a dollar value on lost love and support, but awarding compensation is the way our legal system holds negligent drivers accountable for the losses they caused. When financial compensation is awarded for the loss of companionship, comfort, and care that the victim would have provided to family members, it sends a message to other drivers about their duty to drive carefully.Knowing that the negligent driver will be held responsible for causing a wrongful death also helps family members feel the sense of closure that comes from knowing justice, however imperfect it might be, has been done.
Lost a loved one in a car accident? Call (800) 838-6644 to take advantage of a free consultation from an auto accident law firm with more than 30 years of experience that has helped to obtain over $1 Billion in compensation.