What Happens if Someone Dies in a Car Accident?
Fact checked by Clayton Hasbrook J.D. | Updated on March 2, 2016
Nothing could be more devastating than losing a spouse or family member to a fatal car accident in Oklahoma, especially if the crash was caused by the other driver’s careless actions. Depending on your relationship to the victim, it may be possible for you to file a lawsuit on his or her behalf – not only to obtain compensation, but even more importantly, a sense of closure, accountability, and justice for your loss.
Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Action in OK? Are There Time Limits?
Not everyone possesses the necessary legal authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit, even if they have been personally devastated by the loss. Under Okla. Stat. § 12-1053, you must be the personal representative of the decedent’s estate in order to take a case to court. As personal representative, you represent not only the interests of the decedent him- or herself, but also any heirs or beneficiaries who might exist.
In addition, it is critically important that the personal representative abide by legal deadlines. In accordance with a strict time limit known as the “statute of limitations,” the action must be brought within two years of the date of death.
While absolutely encourage you to prioritize self-care, and to take all the time you need to mourn your loss, we would also point out that the sooner you feel able to start working with a wrongful death attorney, the more time will remain to build the strongest case possible on your loved one’s behalf. If you wait until the two-year deadline is almost about to pass, there may not be enough time remaining to prepare a case adequately, and you will lose your legal recourse forever.
What Compensation is Available for the Family Members of the Decedent?
In personal injury and wrongful death litigation, compensation for harm is also referred to as “damages.” (For instance, you might have come across news articles stating that plaintiffs were “seeking damages” in certain amounts.) In wrongful death cases, there are two separate groups of damages:
- Damages being sought on behalf of the decedent him or herself.
- Damages being sought on behalf of the decedent’s surviving spouse and/or family members.
In Oklahoma, as in many states, the type of damages to which a plaintiff is entitled depends, among other factors, on the type of claim being brought. With regard to wrongful death, Okla. Stat. § 12-1053 specifies the following as recoverable damages:
- Burial expenses and medical expenses, which will be distributed to the person or people responsible for paying these costs.
- The grief and loss of companionship experienced by the surviving parents and/or children of the decedent.
- The grief and “loss of consortium” (loss of a marital relationship) experienced by the decedent’s surviving spouse.
- The mental pain and anguish suffered by the decedent prior to his or her death, which will be distributed to the decedent’s children and/or spouse. If no spouse or children survives the decedent, damages for mental pain and anguish will go to his or her next of kin.
- Various financial losses to the survivors, which are calculated based on factors like the decedent’s “age, occupation, earning capacity, health habits, and probable duration of the decedent’s life,” among others.
Importantly, the statute notes that these provisions “shall also be available for the death of an unborn child,” which would be applicable to a situation where a pregnant accident victim lost her developing baby due to traumatic injuries, such as a spinal cord injury or large third degree burn injuries. The statute also provides, where appropriate, for the recovery of “punitive” (punishing) damages, which are sometimes ordered in cases where a plaintiff’s death or injury was caused by exceptionally extreme and egregious misconduct on the part of the defendant.
Once the amount of damages has been confirmed, it is the judge’s responsibility to determine how compensation should be divided amongst the decedent’s surviving loved ones.
Finally, survivors should understand that civil matters are completely separate from criminal matters, which sometimes causes confusion. A criminal investigation can involve victim restitution, but is its own, additional legal proceeding, initiated not by the decedent’s loved ones, but only if and when a prosecutor decides to file charges. Even if no charges are filed against the driver who caused your loved one’s death, know that you still have a right to pursue civil action.
Hasbrook & Hasbrook Has the Knowledge to Help With Your Case
If one of your loved ones was killed in a car accident, please accept our sincerest condolences for your loss. We know that it is incredibly difficult to talk about such a painful event, but whenever you are ready to start looking into your legal options, the attorneys of Hasbrook & Hasbrook will be there to provide compassionate support and guidance. Call our law offices at (405) 698-3040 to schedule your initial legal consultation. You will not be charged any fees, and we will keep your family’s information completely confidential.