What Happens When an At-Fault Driver is Killed in a Car Accident?
When it comes to hopping into our cars and heading off on our journey, rarely do we consider the dangers that can arise from this typically uneventful part of live. But with the number of reported auto accidents increasing by a staggering 1 million instances over the past 10 years and the fatality rate tipping the 40,000 mark for the third year in a row, it’s no wonder that road safety is a hot topic.
Though many car, motorcycle, bike accidents and truck accidents are considered minor, almost half cause injury to drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists. But sometimes, even if it’s a route that the driver is used to, like coming home from work or going to the grocery store, some cases involve more serious injury and even death. This can leave devastating consequences for the injured party or their survivors.
If you’ve been involved in an accident which has impeded your quality of life as a result, you may be able to claim compensation for your injuries. Although this process is relatively simple, with insurance companies and attorneys being well versed in how to manage such claims, you may be considering what happens if the at-fault driver is killed as a result of the accident.
The first question you may ask is whether it’s even possible to make a personal injury claim if the driver who caused the accident died during or following the collision. The short answer is, yes, you can!
Generally speaking, if you have been injured in an accident which wasn’t your fault, you are entitled to make a personal injury claim. That said, it is important to note that Florida is a no-fault state, so how you claim will be affected by the seriousness of your injuries and whether or not they reach the state’s no-fault threshold.
For Minor Injuries
If you have suffered minor injuries which have incurred medical bills under the state’s no-fault threshold, your accident follows the no-fault rules. Simply put, although you may not have caused the accident, the other party cannot be not held liable and you must therefore claim for compensation on your own insurance policy.
In Florida and other no-fault states, you are required to take out Personal Injury Cover to the value of $10,000 as part of your auto-insurance policy, which covers medical bills and other associated costs as a result of an accident. This cover supersedes medical insurance meaning you’ll still be covered for medical expenses incurred as a result of an auto accident regardless of whether you have a valid medical insurance policy or not.
For More Serious Injuries
For more serious accidents, you will be able to file a claim against the at-fault party. In Florida, serious accidents fall into four main categories:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or
It must also be noted that the rules surrounding this threshold are circumstantial and can be considered on a case-by-case basis. The legislation is vague and there are no hard and fast rules as to what is definitively minor and what is considered serious.
So, the question we must ask is, “If my injury exceeds the no fault threshold, how can I claim against a deceased at-fault driver?”
Given the legal requirement to take out auto insurance in all US States, the vast majority of auto injury claims will fall into this category.
If the driver was insured, your claim will be processed in the same way as if the at-fault driver had not died. Usually, you will engage the services of a personal injury attorney who will communicate with the deceased’s insurance policy on your behalf.
In most cases, claims can be settled out of court; the insurance company will present you with a settlement offer which they deem to be fair compensation for your injuries. In the rare circumstance that you are not happy with your settlement offer, and once negotiations have come to a standstill, you may opt to take the claim to court. But be warned, there are a number of negative consequences that you should be aware of before you take this path (you can read about them here).
If the at-fault driver was uninsured or under-insured, you may need to file a claim against the victim’s estate. With probate laws now thrown into the mix, it is strongly advised that you seek legal representation if you need to take this route.
One hesitation often felt by injured parties wishing to file a claim against an at-fault driver who passed away is the implications it may have on the deceased’s family. Since they are already grieving their loss, it is natural for you to consider if and how they will be further affected if you make a claim. Thankfully, claims against deceased at-fault drivers do not financially impact their family as you will claim against their insurance or their estate; no monies can be recovered from relatives.
In some situations, both the at-fault driver and the other involved party may have both died in the accident. In this case, the family of the victim may be able to file a wrongful death suit against the at-fault driver or their estate.
Unlike personal injury claims, compensation (also referred to as damages) for the deceased’s loved ones is not so cut and dry. Under Section 768.21 of the Florida Statutes, survivors can be compensated under eight categories, including for the value of lost support and services, for funeral costs and the deceased’s medical bills and, if there are minors involved, for pain and suffering, lost parental companionship, instruction and guidance.
Your first port of call when it comes to filing a personal injury compensation claim after an auto accident should be to speak to a personal injury attorney who can properly assess your case. Even if you consider your case to fall into the minor category, speaking to an attorney who specializes in these types of claims will help you identify aspects of your case that you may have missed, so you can make sure you’re taking the right course of action.
From here, your attorney will handle your case from start to finish, dealing with the at-fault party’s insurer or estate and getting you the compensation you rightfully deserve.