A fatal car accident is a nightmare. There is no sugar coating that fact—having a loved one who should be alive ripped suddenly from your life as the result of an accident is one of life’s most disorienting events. It is always unexpected; your walk through the traumatic experience may begin with a phone call from a hospital, the police knocking on your door late at night, or a panicked phone call from another family member. If you are enduring the sudden loss of a loved one due to a motor vehicle accident, confusion is one of the multitudes of emotions that you are bound to experience. No one prepares you for this—how do you handle a fatal car accident in New York?
This situation is one that the New York City wrongful death and car accident attorneys at Hoffmaier & Hoffmaier, P.C. are all too familiar. For nearly twenty years, we have been representing the other victims of fatal car accidents—the ones left behind to pick up the pieces. While no one article could cover all of the intricacies of what must be done following a deadly car accident in New York, here are some tips to consider:
1. First things first: Take care of yourself
Losing someone special to you in a car accident is a horrendous experience. Be gentle with yourself as you go through the process of planning the funeral and burial, collecting records, and contacting an attorney. Leave time for rest. Make sure you eat. Understand that your healing will take time and that the grieving process is something that moves at its own pace. Get help if you need it.
2. Gather records and evidence
It is essential to gather and safely store every bit of evidence about the event and its aftermath that you can. If possible, take pictures of the vehicle and the scene of the accident, or delegate that task to someone you trust. Save every bit of paper and any email or text traffic that you receive, no matter how insignificant. If there are witnesses, get them to write down what they saw.
Down the road, you might find yourself surprised at what a good New York City wrongful death attorney will find useful. You’ll want to locate your loved one’s life insurance and auto insurance policy information, but hold off on discussing any settlements until you’ve talked through your case with a lawyer.
3. Find an experienced New York wrongful death and car accident attorney
This is a critically important step. Someone is deceased who should not be, and therefore someone is liable for that death. Even if you are faced with a situation where the police blame your loved one for the accident in which they died, you should still consult with an attorney—the police can make mistakes. Your attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of the accident and the surrounding circumstances to determine what actually occurred. Someone needs to speak for the deceased, and the best person to do that is a lawyer experienced in these matters. It is important to note that you only have two years to file a wrongful death claim in New York courts.
Also, you can rest assured the insurance company will be seeking to settle any claims for as little money as is possible. Their job is to make money—not spend it. Therefore, having an attorney who will look after the interests of your loved one’s estate is of paramount importance.
4. Determine who can represent the deceased in a fatal car accident case
In New York, the only person who has standing to bring a case to court on behalf of the victim of a deadly car accident is the representative of that person’s estate. Commonly called an “executor,” this is the person who is assigned by the deceased’s will or by the court as the individual responsible for handling someone’s assets after they die. Even if you are named in a will as a beneficiary, that does not mean that you have standing to sue someone who caused an accident. The representative for the estate acts for all of the beneficiaries. If your loved one died without a will, an attorney can help you figure out who should act as the estate’s representative.
What can you Expect when you Speak with a Lawyer?
Your New York wrongful death attorney will look at the details of your loved one’s accident and seek to answer three basic questions:
- Was the death the cause of wrongful conduct by another party?
- If the deceased had survived, would there have been a claim that they could have pursued in the New York courts?
- Where their financial losses incurred by others as a result of the individual’s death that the estate can recover
If the answer to these questions is yes, and a personal representative has been assigned to the deceased’s estate, then a case can be brought to recover damages. The amount that the estate will be awarded depends on the circumstances of the death and the liability of the parties involved, but you can generally expect to receive compensation for:
- Final expenses, such as funeral, burial, or cremation
- Medical expenses that resulted from the injury that caused the death
- Lost wages and benefits between the when the injury occurred and the date of death
- The value of the support that the deceased provided to his or her family
- If children are involved, child care expenses incurred as a result of the death
- Lost inheritance by surviving beneficiaries
- Pain and suffering endured by the deceased. New York law does not allow for compensation for the pain and suffering of the surviving family.
- Nine percent interest on any award, as calculated from the date of death.
No amount of compensation, no matter how great, can make up for the loss of a loved one in a motor vehicle accident. If you are enduring a tragedy such as this, there is no need to navigate the process alone. The compassionate attorneys at Hoffmaier & Hoffmaier, P.C. are ready to stand between you and the insurance companies zealously and to ensure that a measure of justice is enacted in memory of your loved one. Reach out to us today via our website, or call us at (212) 777-9400.