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What to Know About Wrongful Death Claims

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Fatal accidents are on the rise. Will wrongful death claims rise with them?

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this month shows a 7.7 percent increase in motor vehicle traffic deaths in 2015.

While the NHTSA continues to analyze the data, the agency reports that the most significant increases occurred with pedestrians and cyclists.

NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind reported that 94 percent of crashes can be tied to human choice or error. Distracted driving, reckless driving, and drunk driving qualify as human errors.

Although we often associate high speeds with fatal crashes, some of the states with the highest fatal crash rates had lower than average speeds. On the other hand, Oakland, California, clocked in with the third-highest average speed (64.04 mph) for fatal accidents. San Jose ranked seventh.

When to file a wrongful death claim

When a fatal accident does occur, the family, legal beneficiary, or dependent of the deceased may be able to file a wrongful death suit. When a person's negligence caused a fatal car crash, wrongful death comes into play. In a wrongful death suit, surviving family members or a court-designated trustee can seek compensation for the loss of a loved one.

Every state has its own wrongful death statute. In general, to prove wrongful death, the claim should meet the following criteria:

• You must prove someone or some entity is at fault. If an individual caused the crash, you may be able to prove he or she was at fault. If the deceased crashed because of unmarked road construction or a pothole, the city or state may be at fault.

• You must prove your relationship to the deceased. A spouse, a child, legal beneficiaries or dependents may file suit, but they will need to prove their relationship with a birth certificate, insurance policy, a will, or other relevant document.

• You must prove the death will result in a monetary loss. The spouse or children must show that they will be financially burdened from the loss. Proof of the decedent's income and the amount he or she would have made during his or her lifetime is one way to prove this.

No matter how slow or fast you drive, avoid becoming an accident or fatality statistic. Wear your seat belt, eliminate distracted driving, and use common sense driving tactics.

Photo courtesy of Tom Fassbender, Flickr

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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