Over the past decade or so, federal, state, and local safety agencies have put considerable effort into spreading awareness of the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving. Anti-drunk driving campaigns are so intensive, it's almost shocking that anyone in this day and age would put themselves and others at risk by getting behind the wheel after having a few too many. But they do, and when they do, fatalities are often the result.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 10,260 people were killed in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver in 2015. That works out to 28 drunk driving-related deaths per day, or one drunk driving fatality every 53 minutes. These statistics are all too real for those who have lost loved ones in crashes caused by intoxicated motorists.
When a loved one dies unexpectedly, surviving family members should be able to step away from their obligations and mourn their loss. Sadly, in the midst of processing their grief, many families are agonizing over financial matters, such as how they'll be able to make ends meet without the income their loved one would have contributed to the family budget.
Fortunately, the law gives certain surviving family members the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court to recoup monetary losses incurred by their loved one's death, as well as compensate them for emotional losses. If your loved one was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver, here's what you need to know.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Not everyone who was close with the decedent is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit; the law reserves that right for survivors who suffered damages as a result of the death. Usually, this is a spouse or life partner, but it might also be:
- A punitive spouse who, in good faith, believe that they were married to the decedent
- The decedent's children, including adoptive children
- The parents of an unmarried decedent
- The decedent's siblings
- The decedent's grandparents
Additionally, in some states, people who suffer a financial loss as a result of the death can bring a wrongful death lawsuit, even if they aren't technically related to the decedent by blood or even marriage.
Proving Wrongful Death
Successful wrongful death personal injury cases require plaintiffs to show that negligence caused their loved one's death and that they personally suffered financial losses as a result. The first part is often relatively simple, as drunk driving is a textbook example of negligent behavior and, after a fatal accident, evidence of the at-fault driver's intoxication is usually ample.
Proving financial losses stemming from the decedent's wrongful death is often easier than it sounds, particularly for plaintiffs who directly relied on the decedent's earnings and benefits. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience handling wrongful death cases can investigate and help plaintiffs gather evidence to build the strongest possible case.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Cases
The damages available in wrongful death cases are largely similar to the damages available in other types of personal injury cases, with a few notable exceptions. As in any personal injury case, plaintiffs can pursue compensation for medical expenses, property damages, and non-economic losses like pain and suffering.
Damages unique to wrongful death cases include:
- Funeral and burial or cremation expenses
- Loss of love and companionship
- Loss of consortium (for spouses)
- Loss of the parent-child relationship
- Loss of guidance and counsel
- Loss of financial support, gifts, and other benefits the decedent would have provided
Did You Lose a Loved One in a Drunk Driving Accident?
McGartland Law's skilled personal injury attorneys can help you fight for the closure and compensation you deserve after the untimely death of a loved one. Contact us today to arrange a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation of your wrongful death case.