Losing a loved one in a pedestrian accident is devastating for the family members left behind. Survivors are forced to bear the financial burden of medical and funeral costs and struggle to make up for the family member’s income, all while coping with overwhelming grief and emotional loss. When these accidents happen, it is vital that family members learn everything they can about their legal rights before the chance to file a wrongful death claim passes them by.
What Families Must Know After a Loved One Is Killed in a Pedestrian Accident
The first thing you should know is that a wrongful death claim is different from a criminal case. In a criminal case, the state or federal government brings criminal charges against a negligent party. If the court determines that the defendant committed a crime when he caused your loved one’s death, the defendant may face fines, prison time, or probation. However, you and your family will not receive damages in a criminal case. You will have to bring a separate action known as a wrongful death claim.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death claim, you should know that:
- Survivors can bring a wrongful death claim regardless of whether the criminal case was successful. The purpose of civil death cases—commonly called wrongful death claims—is to get adequate compensation for a loved one’s death. They may also allow the victim’s family to collect punitive damages, or implement actions to prevent the defendant from causing similar harm in the future. There is also a lower burden of proof than in criminal cases, as you must only show enough evidence that the defendant’s actions were not those of a reasonable or prudent person.
- A wrongful death case is an injury case. The majority of states' laws allow an injury victim to bring a legal case to get compensation for the harm she or he has suffered due to someone else’s negligence. However, if someone is killed in an accident, she or he loses the ability to bring this claim to court. A wrongful death claim is a special type of personal injury case, in which the injured person’s family brings the claim on the victim’s behalf.
- Only certain survivors are legally able to file the claim. Tennessee law dictates which parties are qualified to bring a wrongful death claim, as well as how the authority is recognized among relatives. For example, the right to file the wrongful death claim is first placed on the surviving spouse of the deceased. If there is no surviving spouse, the claim belongs to the deceased’s children. If there are no spouse and no children, the right to file passes to the personal representative of the deceased person's estate, then to the decedent’s parents.
- The case focuses on negligence, not intent. People often mistake the term “wrongful death” to mean that someone can only be held liable if they intentionally caused the death of a loved one. However, the majority of wrongful deaths are caused by accidents, such as car crashes, severe falls, or medical malpractice. It does not matter if the person who caused the death didn’t mean to do it; what matters is that he or she was not doing everything possible to avoid the accident from happening. For example, if a drunk driver strikes a pedestrian who was crossing the street, the driver’s illegal and reckless actions can form the basis of a wrongful death claim.
- You only have one year to file a claim. Each state sets its own time limits on how long family members have to file a claim. In Tennessee, all wrongful death cases must be brought to court within one year of the date of a victim’s death. If the case is not filed within the one-year time limit, the court may refuse to hear the case, and the surviving family members may not recover damages. This is a much shorter time limit than in other states, so it is vital that relatives contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that the claim is filed on time.
Whether you need help dealing with insurance companies or intend to file a lawsuit in court, our injury lawyers can take over the burden and allow you the time you need to grieve. To set up a free initial consultation, simply fill out the short contact form on this page. For more information, you can also request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.