What To Do If Loved One Dies In A Fatal Crash

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in , .

In 2021, Michigan traffic fatalities topped 1,131, the most car accident deaths since 2005. If you are experiencing the devastating death of a loved one as a result of such a fatal car crash, it is easy to feel hopeless, but that should not mean losing out on your legal rights for compensation. Matz Injury Law is here to help. We have logged thousands of miles across Michigan helping people like you. Our legal team fights relentlessly for victims of wrongful death, and we will do the same for you.

Top Causes of Car Accident Fatalities in Michigan

While vehicle accidents are all different in some way, the major causes for ones involving fatalities are often similar each year. The top causes of Michigan fatal car accidents in 2021, per the Michigan State Police, were as follows:

  • Speeding: 215 accidents, or 12%, of all fatal accidents in 2021, were the result of speeding.
  • Failure to Yield: 116 accidents, or 7% of all accidents with fatalities, occurred due to some failure to yield.
  • Reckless Driving: 103 accidents, or 6% of all fatal accidents, resulted from reckless driving.

Additional causes of fatal car accidents in Michigan include disregarding traffic controls (signs, signals, or road markings), driving left of center, careless driving, and other negligent actions. Many of these will be obvious at the scene of an accident, and the report compiled by the law enforcement officer will often include the cause in its content.

What to Do When a Loved One Dies from a Car Accident

When you lose a loved one in an auto accident, you can feel confused and overwhelmed. You may even worry about your finances, especially if medical bills pile up in addition to normal every day expenses. The stress involved can get the better of you if you do not know what to do next. To help, here are three steps that survivors of accident victims can take.

Hire a Trusted Michigan Car Accident Attorney

Your first step after a family member passes away from a car crash should be to hire a trusted personal injury lawyer experienced in handling cases involving motor vehicle accidents. There are several reasons why this is crucial, including that the experienced lawyers can help you deal with the insurance company. Michigan is a no-fault car insurance state, and an insurance company adjuster will try to settle for as low of an amount as possible. It may be tempting to accept the first offer so you can move past this painful experience. Yet, to get the maximum amount for your insurance claim, your attorney will first calculate all damages and fight for the full amount.

Losing a family member is extremely difficult. You are going through immense stress, and you may not have the mental energy to gather evidence. Your car accident lawyer can help with this, knowing where to look and what will be most effective in proving your insurance claim, including the police report, witness statements, and photos from the scene of the accident to show vehicle damage. If the death occurred in a hit-and-run crash, gathering evidence might be difficult, but not impossible, with the right legal team by your side.

There is a defined time limit for filing a claim or lawsuit. Your lawyer will keep track of these time limits for you and file before the deadlines expire.

File for Survivor’s Loss Benefits

Filing for survivor’s loss benefits is available in Michigan by relatives of a deceased person killed in a car crash. Such a filing is allowed under Michigan’s no-fault insurance laws and also under a wrongful death statute. Each of these comes with limitations, and the filer must adhere to strict deadlines. For these reasons, working with an experienced fatal car accident attorney can help you file within those deadlines and receive the benefits available.

File a Wrongful Death Claim

If the car accident resulted from some type of negligence by another driver, a spouse, family member, or another personal representative might be able to file a wrongful death claim against that other driver.

Michigan is a no-fault state, and if your insurance coverage is not enough to cover your needs, you will want to take legal action in a car accident case. With the help of your lawyer, you can identify what damages to seek, and these may include:

  • Loss of income and support
  • Loss of additional monetary benefits
  • Loss of companionship
  • Pain and suffering

It is completely understandable that filing a lawsuit will not be foremost on your mind following the loss of your loved one. It is important, however, to know that there are time limits on when you can file, so seek legal advice as soon as you can to determine if this is the right direction for you to proceed next.

What Benefits Am I Eligible for as a Surviving Family Member?

With Michigan being a no-fault state, surviving family members can receive survivor’s loss benefits, regardless of whoever was at fault in the accident. These benefits will be for amounts comparable to the support they would receive if the deceased were still alive. Specific insurance company benefits that fall under the Michigan law include the following:

  • Payment of any medical bills or expenses incurred following the accident
  • Payment of burial and funeral expenses
  • Payment for lost wages for up to three years
  • Payments for other work-related benefits previously available to the deceased individual and that individual’s family members
  • Payment for replacement service benefits

An attorney can help you understand all the benefits available to you after a fatal car accident case.

What Are the Requirements for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

There are several confusing requirements for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, and you want to be sure you understand and follow them precisely as outlined in Michigan law.

What Michigan Defines as Wrongful Death

Michigan law defines wrongful death as the occurrence of death due to a “wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another,” and if the deceased individual had not perished, there could be a filing of a personal injury claim. Michigan law also considers negligent or wrongful acts that result in a miscarriage of a pregnant woman to be wrongful death as well.

Who Can File on Behalf of a Family Member?

Michigan law specifically defines who can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of deceased persons. Examples of those eligible to file the lawsuit and receive compensation for economic and non-economic damages include:

  • Spouse of the deceased
  • Children of the deceased
  • Other identified descendants of the deceased
  • Parents of the deceased
  • Grandparents of the deceased
  • Siblings of the deceased

In some instances, other individuals may also be involved in the filing of this type of lawsuit. If you are not one of those listed above but believe you have a right to file a lawsuit on behalf of a deceased individual, speak with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible for legal advice and guidance.

Before you sue on behalf of a deceased family member, however, you need to be appointed as a personal representative of the surviving family member’s estate. To accomplish this, you will need to go before a probate court judge.

How Long Do I Have to Sue for Wrongful Death?

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit requires that you know important dates and adhere to them without question. Otherwise, you will lose your right to file such a lawsuit, and your family may suffer financial strain as a result.

As the personal representative, you will have three years from the exact date of death to file this lawsuit in Michigan. Once filed, you will then need to serve notice to all individuals who may legally be eligible to recover damages when and if the lawsuit receives a verdict or reaches some type of settlement.

What Damages Can I Recover in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Following the death of your loved one, benefits and payouts from the deceased’s insurance policy are often not enough to compensate for the loss. Seeking certain damages in your lawsuit can help. Specific damages you can recover in wrongful death lawsuits include the following.

Medical Bills

If your spouse was rushed to the hospital for medical care in an attempt to save their life, you may owe medical bills. These medical expenses will be part of your lawsuit and the damages you seek.

Funeral and Burial Expenses

Following the death of a family member in a car accident, you can seek damages to pay for reasonable funeral and burial expenses.

Pain and Suffering

Damages for pain and suffering are meant to compensate family members for non-economic losses, which include mental anguish, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Loss of Financial Support

With the loss of your loved one, you may also lose the financial support they once provided to you or your family, which you relied on fully or in some capacity. Thus, you can seek loss of financial support in your lawsuit.

Loss of Companionship

Loss of companionship relates to the emotional and psychological aspects of losing a loved one. These damages are complicated to calculate, so seeking the advice of an experienced fatal car accident attorney will be beneficial.

Who is Allowed to Recover the Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When filing a lawsuit, not just anyone can initiate it or recover damages once resolved. Michigan law defines those eligible to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. These include the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, other descendants, parents, grandparents, or siblings.

If all these individuals do not survive the deceased, damages may go to the recipient or recipients of the deceased’s estate as outlined by intestate succession. Others who may receive damages include the children of the surviving spouse and specific individuals who legally qualify as heirs or devisees under the deceased person’s will.

Proving Wrongful Death in Michigan

To prove wrongful death and recover economic and non-economic damages in Michigan, you must first prove that someone was negligent. In a motor vehicle accident, negligence occurs when a driver does something that a reasonably careful individual would not do or fails to do something that a reasonably careful individual would do in such circumstances.

More specifically, negligence can mean that the at-fault driver did one or more of the following:

  • Violated the state, city, or local traffic laws or ordinances with such violation occurring before the accident or at the time of that accident.
  • Violated state regulations where the traffic accident occurred.
  • Failed to exercise ordinary care, that is, act as a reasonably careful individual in the safety interests of others.
    Struck another vehicle from behind, making the driver prima facie guilty of negligence per Michigan law.

In your lawsuit, you will need to show how the other driver was negligent, and this can be by traveling at high speeds, failing to legally yield, driving recklessly or carelessly, or other such cause. Your car accident lawsuit attorney will review and evaluate all factors of your claim and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to determine and prove that negligence did indeed occur.

Seek Justice for Your Loved One

When you have lost someone, it can feel as though no one is in your corner. Making decisions becomes overwhelmingly stressful, and not knowing what to do next can leave you feeling paralyzed. While taking action will not bring your loved one back to you, Matz Injury Law and our steadfast attorneys will do as much as we can to obtain the compensation you deserve.

Unlike most law firms, our contingency fee is only 22%, leaving you and your family with more for your recovery. Schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney at our law office today to learn more. You can reach us at 1-866-22Not33.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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The maximum contingency fee permitted by law is actually 33 1/3%. Michigan court rules require that the attorney fee be computed on the net sum recovered after deducting all disbursements properly chargeable to the enforcement of the claim.

What does 22not33 mean, exactly?

We can charge 22% while virtually all other injury attorneys charge 33 1/3% because we are very, very, good at obtaining results for our clients. 

We do not spend millions of dollars on television ads; instead, we offer a lower fee to all our clients.  We do not have dozens of lower paid associates handling our work. All our clients are represented by Steven and Jared Matz. Steven Matz started the firm in 1977 and since then has dedicated his life to representing injury victims.  Jared joined the firm in 2016 but grew up listening to stories, discussing theories, and generally learning at the dinner table about how to effectively and compassionately represent injury victims. Jared Matz was literally born to represent individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee and all our cases are handled at 22%. Whether the case settles or goes through trial, the fee does not change. While our competitors make excuses as to why they charge so much, we are obtaining results for our clients at a lower fee.

At a typical television advertising law firm, your first call will be handled by a receptionist, who may refer you to an intake person, who will discuss your claim with an intake manager, who then discusses your claim with an associate, who may then report to a partner. You may never speak with the person whose name is at the top of the letterhead. At Matz Injury Law you will always speak with either Steven Matz or Jared Matz.

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