According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018, 10,511 people died in drunk driving accidents in the U.S. This represents billions of dollars in damages and an incalculable human toll. When a drunk driver causes a crash, state laws allow family members to file a lawsuit to recover from their loved one’s accident-related damages.
If your loved one was killed in a car accident caused by a driver who was drunk, intoxicated, or under the influence of drugs, you may be able to recover compensation on their behalf in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Working With a DUI Lawyer on Your Case
It is understandable if you do not feel up to handling complex legal matters after the death of a loved one. A wrongful death lawyer may be able to manage your case and fight for compensation on your behalf. Every case is different, but a lawyer can:
- Investigate your accident: A lawyer can help you collect evidence, such as police reports or surveillance video, to back up your version of events.
- Identify all liable parties: The investigation may also confirm that the drunk driver was at fault and/or reveal other parties who bear partial responsibility for the crash, e.g., a maintenance crew that left debris in the roadway.
- Negotiate: If the liable party’s insurance company is reluctant to pay a fair settlement, your lawyer can negotiate on your behalf. This may involve meeting with the company representative and showing them the evidence that was collected earlier.
- Go to trial: If negotiations hit a standstill, you and your wrongful death attorney can discuss the possibility of going to trial.
- Advise you on legal proceedings: It can be hard to know when to settle and when to go to trial. If you hire a personal injury lawyer, you can have someone on your side who can provide advice and help you make decisions regarding your case.
You do not have to worry about how you will pay for a lawyer. Many law firms operate on a contingency-fee-basis, where they do not charge attorney fees unless and until you recover compensation.
Recoverable Damages in a DUI Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The types of damages that you may be able to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit depend on the laws of your state and the nature of your losses.
In general, one type of compensation you may qualify for is economic damages. This can help you pay your accident-related expenses. Some specific types of economic damages that may be available in a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Medical bills: If your loved one received medical treatment before they passed away.
- Funeral or burial costs: If you had to pay to lay your loved one to rest.
- Loss of wages: This may refer to money your loved one could not earn after the accident or money they would have earned in the future if they had not passed away.
You may also be entitled to non-economic damages. These are more difficult to calculate, but an experienced lawyer can take this task on for you. Some specific types of non-economic damages that may be recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Pain and suffering: Your loved one may have experienced physical and emotional anguish because of their fatal car accident injuries.
- Loss of society or companionship: You and your family have likely suffered without your deceased loved one’s presence, guidance, and support.
Deadline to Sue After a Drunk Driving Death
Each state has a time limit to how long you have to file a claim:
- New York: according to New York Estates, Powers & Trusts (EPT) §5-4.1, you have only two years from the date of your loved one’s passing to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- New Jersey: New Jersey Statutes (NJ Stat) §2A:31-3 imposes a general two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits in New Jersey.
- Pennsylvania: per Pennsylvania Statutes 42 Pa. C.S.A. §5524, there is a general two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits in Pennsylvania.
If you think you may qualify for monetary compensation after a fatal DUI crash, it is a good idea to start preparing your lawsuit as soon as possible.
DUI Wrongful Death Cases and Insurance Companies
Wrongful death attorneys have experience dealing with insurance companies. It is common for the drunk driver’s insurer to use tactics like:
- Tell the judge alcohol has no relationship to your loved one’s injuries or deny any the cause for their death all together
- Denying your family’s initial claim amount
- Contacting you after the accident and twisting your words and using them against you
- Offering your family a lump sum of money upfront that is much less than the value of your total losses
Insurance companies have a responsibility to offer you the policy limits in return for the full release of their insured. A lawyer can communicate with the insurance company on your behalf and negotiate with them if your claim gets denied.
Proving Negligence in a DUI Case Where Someone Died
In order to show the other driver was liable for your loved one’s car accident, your attorney will need to show:
- The driver’s obligation to do something or not do something, such as stop at a red light or yield before turning left
- The driver failed to uphold that obligation when they ran the red light or turned in front of oncoming traffic
- The driver’s actions, when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, directly resulted in your family member’s injuries
- Damages were accrued as a result of the accident
Accordingly, if a drunk driver ran a red light and hit your family member’s vehicle, your lawyer will not need to prove that they were drunk to establish their negligence, simply that they broke a traffic law. Your wrongful death attorneys can help you investigate the cause of the accident and gather evidence to prove what happened.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim for a DUI?
The following family members of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim for a DUI accident:
- The spouse and/or child of the deceased
- A parent of the deceased if there are no spouse or child
- A sibling of the deceased if there is no spouse, child, or parent
- A grandparent of the deceased if there are no surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings.
After losing a loved one unexpectedly because of another person’s negligence, family members can turn to a wrongful death attorney for details on their rights to justice and compensation.
Call Morelli Law Firm Today for a Free Case Review
If your loved one was one of the many people that die from DUI crashes each year, we may be able to help you. We represent surviving family members in wrongful death lawsuits in New York City, Long Island, New York State up to Albany, Northern New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
Morelli Law Firm believes in holding drunk and intoxicated drivers accountable for their negligent actions. For a free consultation with an experienced and compassionate member of our team, call us today.