Losing a loved one in a fatal accident is devastating, regardless of the circumstances. That grief is often compounded when the death results from a driver's carelessness or reckless behavior. You may feel lost, confused, and unsure about what to do next.
Acting after losing a loved one in a fatal vehicle accident is imperative. Taking control of the situation can help you come to terms with your loss and start healing. Our attorneys at Johnson Attorneys Group are available to help guide you through the process.
Common Causes of Fatal Accidents in California
Fatal vehicle accidents are far too common on California roadways. The Federal Highway Administration reported 3,847 fatal car accidents in the state in 2020. The following are some of the most common contributing factors to vehicle accidents.
Distracted driving is a significant contributor to fatal car accidents in California. This can take any of the three following forms:
- Physically, such as when a driver removes a hand from the starting wheel to eat or manually adjust a vehicle setting
- Cognitively, such as when a conversation causes a driver to lose focus on driving or interrupts his concentration
- Visually, such as when the driver's attention is taken from the road and his surroundings
Driver behavior contributes to fatalities at an increasing rate. For example, the National Safety Council lists aggressive behaviors, such as failure to yield the right of way, erratic lane changes, and reckless driving, as significant contributing driver behaviors in fatal crashes.
Driving Under the Influence
Using alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications reduces a driver's ability to react to traffic and road conditions. It also lowers inhibitions, which may contribute to excessive speeds, and impairs judgment. These all increase the likelihood of a fatal accident. For these reasons, it is unlawful to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Excessive speeds are often a contributing factor to fatal car accidents. According to the NSC, speeding was a factor in 29% of fatal car accidents in 2020.
Poor Road Conditions
Road conditions can vary greatly. Flooding, poor visibility, and snow are all factors that must be considered when a driver gets behind the wheel. California drivers are expected to operate vehicles at safe speeds for current road conditions. This often means a speed lower than what is posted, especially during severe weather events that affect road conditions.
There are many contributing factors to traffic accidents, and, as you can see, many of them are considered driver errors. When driver negligence contributes to a crash, you may be able to hold the responsible party accountable for his actions. For example, fatalities that result from failing to adjust for road conditions might be attributable to driver negligence.
What You Must Do Immediately After a Fatal Vehicle Accident
Report the Accident
Fatal accidents are handled differently than others. You must notify authorities immediately. All vehicles should remain at the crash scene, even if that means obstructing roadways. Do not attempt to move anyone stuck in a car since you could cause additional injuries. Emergency responders will address all injuries and damage and clear the roadway once it is safe.
Get Medical Attention
If you were in the vehicle, you must get medical attention. If the crash resulted in a fatality, there is a good chance you also have injuries, some of which may be obscured by shock. Request copies of all medical notes and records. You may need them later during legal proceedings.
Take care to save everything related to the accident. This includes:
- Accident reports
- Medical records
- Photos or videos
- Receipts related to the accident
Make Final Arrangements
Sadly, this is one of the most important tasks you must complete after a fatal vehicle accident. It is also often the start of your healing process. If your loved one left instructions for final arrangements, honor those to the best of your ability. Keep in mind that California insurance laws mandate liability coverage. The bodily injury portion of the policy includes a death benefit.
Seek Emotional Support
Survivors' guilt, loneliness, and elevated stress levels are just a few examples of emotional trauma associated with fatal accidents. Left untreated, they can lead to significant mental and physical health conditions. Seek appropriate support and counseling during this time. It can make a world of difference in how you move forward after the accident.
Speak With a Personal Injury Attorney
Speaking with an injury attorney after a fatal car accident is a good idea. An initial consultation can establish your options and clarify any confusion surrounding the crash. It is also an excellent way to avoid insufficient settlements put forth by insurance companies.
Remember that speaking to an attorney does not signify filing a legal suit. It is also not expensive. At Johnson Attorneys Group, one of our attorneys will perform a free case evaluation and discuss our results. Additionally, if you decide to pursue litigation, you never pay a fee until after you are awarded compensation.
Steps To Take in the Weeks Following the Accident
File a Wrongful Death Claim
Regardless of the exact cause of an accident, someone is responsible for it and, therefore, the loss of life it caused. California laws allow surviving family members to file wrongful death suits to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. A claim is usually based on negligence but may also be filed against someone who intentionally causes harm. You have two years to file a wrongful death claim.
Filing a wrongful death suit also allows you to recover compensation for your loss. Although it won't bring a loved one back, it can help restore financial stability and facilitate healing. According to California civil statutes, certain family members or a domestic partner may seek the following types of compensation in a wrongful death suit:
- Loss of companionship, affection, and financial support
- Reasonable lost future wages
- Funeral expenses
- The cost of medical care the deceased received before his death (as a result of the accident)
Although you may represent yourself in a wrongful death claim, it is generally not advisable. Therefore, hiring an accident attorney is the first step in filing a wrongful death case. Your attorney will investigate the accident, negotiate with the defendant's attorneys and insurance company, complete and file all paperwork related to the case, and represent you in court.
Find a Way To Memorialize Your Loved One
Memorials help you remember a lost loved one and process your grief. Many also help draw attention to issues such as distracted driving or dangerous road conditions. There are many ways to memorize a loved one lost to a fatal accident, including:
- Awareness campaigns are especially effective if the accident was related to a social concern, such as drunk driving
- Charitable donations to a cause that was special to your loved one are a way to honor her passion
- Roadside memorials attract attention to areas of concern, such as dangerous intersections, and are allowed in California through a special Caltrans program
Explore Your Options With a Personal Injury Attorney
You do not have to navigate the loss of a loved one alone. The attorneys at Johnson Attorneys Group work diligently to seek justice for victims and their family members. Contact our office for a free, confidential case evaluation to learn more about what to do after a fatal accident.