Two Cases Concerning Wrongful Death Claims By Families Of Victims Of Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents

 By: J. Hernandez
Way too many pedestrians are killed each year in a motor vehicle accident. Some of these fatalities will give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit. These are sophisticated claims which are generally aggressively defended by insurance companies and involve complicated medical, accident reconstruction and legal issues.

For any fatal car accident case, insurance company adjustors, if they suggest any settlement offer at all, are going to structure the amount dependent not on the plaintiff's damages but instead on the financial risk faced by the insurance company. There are various ways in which insurance companies attempt to control their risk. For example, liability is often denied by blaming the victim. There are often multiple defendants (including drivers, others who contributed to the accident, employer, and vehicle owners). There are also often insurance issues that arise including a responsible driver with no insurance or insufficient insurance, multiple policies, excess policies, and even assets that can be reached. The lawyer also needs to be able to properly value the case. An attorney handling one of these cases thus should have the skill and experience to deal successfully with all of the challenges that might arise in the case. Consider the following:

This matter involved a motor vehicle that was spotted speeding just prior to the accident. The accident happened only a short while after 6:00 in the morning. The police conducted an investigation of the accident and reported that the vehicle was low on break fluid and had no windshield cleaning fluid despite the fact that it had a dirty windshield.

The victim in this case was 66 year old woman who was trying to cross a street. The female pedestrian was thrown 27 feet by the impact from the accident. The impact and her fall left her with a fracture to her ankle, fractures to several ribs, a fracture to her clavicle, and fractures to her skull. She was transported to a hospital where she died from her injuries. She left behind a husband, five children, and six grandchildren. The law firm that represented her family reported that they obtained a $725,000 settlement at mediation.

This case involved a motor vehicle operated by a female during the early evening hours. She took off from the scene of the accident after hitting a male pedestrian. The person she struck, a male pedestrian, died on account of the accident. He was survived by two children. He worked at a part time job. The female driver was located and arrested by the police. The woman was criminally charged. The charges included leaving the scene of an accident. The charges also included the negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in a death. A settlement of $1.15 million was reported by the law firm that represented the family of the victim.

While sharing a number of parallels these cases also differ in various aspects. The law firms that handled each of these cases accomplished substantial recoveries for the families of the victims. Note, however, that the settlement in the second case was over 50% larger than that in the first. What factors might account for that difference? Well, consider that the plaintiff was 66 years old in the first case. While the report of the case does not specify this point, it is likely that she was retired and had no real loss of earning capacity. The plaintiff man in the second case was working even if only part-time. The case report, however, does not indicate his age or how much he earned. It also does not offer a loss of earning capacity calculation. But this alone, especially if his children were minors, could explain difference.

A different factor that might have played a role is the amount of insurance coverage available in each case. Lastly, the jurisdiction where each case would be tried could also have been a factor. Attorneys know that juries in certain jurisdictions award far less amounts that juries in other jurisdictions.

By comparing these lawsuits it becomes obvious that settlements concerning the death of a pedestrian resulting from a motor vehicle accident can be significant. Insurance company adjustors, if they make any settlement offer at all, are going to make an offer based not on the victim's loss but on the risk faced by the insurance company. Thus, a lawyer handling one of these cases on behalf of the victim must never assume that the case will settle. Rather, the attorney can often position the matter to best improve the possibility of a settlement by preparing the case as though it will have to go to trial.
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