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Wrongful Death Actions as a Result of a Car Accident

Motor vehicle accidents are tragic, especially when the result of the accident is that someone or several people die or suffer injuries in connection with the incident. When someone passes away as a result of a motor vehicle accident, the family of the deceased could recover under what is known in Massachusetts as a “wrongful death” claim.

Take the following examples of motor vehicle incidents that might trigger a “wrongful death” action:

  1. A 22-year old college student driver on his way home from his school vacation is struck and killed by a teenage driver who was texting while driving.

  2. A parent of three children and one of her children are struck and killed by a man driving under the influence of alcohol.

  3. A woman drives through a stop sign and kills a pedestrian.

  4. A man, under the influence of drugs while driving, strikes the rear of a vehicle driven by an elderly man and causes the elderly man’s vehicle to be pushed into oncoming traffic and killed instantly.

  5. A man driving his motor vehicle strikes and kills a bicyclist and then flees the scene.

In Massachusetts, when someone negligently causes the death of another, the family of the deceased victim may sue and possibly recover compensation against the person who caused the death. The law also allows the family of the deceased victim to recover against the wrongdoer if the one who caused the death did so by performing a wilful, wanton, or reckless act. The family of the deceased victim may also recover punitive damages, which are damages intended to punish the negligent actor for wrongful conduct.

The above fact patterns are examples of possible wrongful death claims because someone died as a result of someone else’s negligence. If someone is merely injured in a car accident, the family of the deceased cannot make a wrongful death claim, because wrongful death claims necessarily require that someone pass away in order to be valid. Wrongful death claims in the context of a motor vehicle accident also require that the defendant have caused the accident due to his or her negligence or his or her “wilful, wanton or reckless act” or conduct. In the examples above, the person who caused the accident did so as a result of negligence or wilful, wanton or reckless conduct:

The teenage driver in the first example listed above texted while driving and struck the vehicle driven by a student. This driver’s decision to text and drive is reckless. As such, the family of the deceased 22-year old could sue teenage driver or the teenage driver’s insurance policy holder for the wrongful death of the college student.

Likewise, the man driving under the influence of alcohol was negligent and reckless. That recklessness triggers the requirements for a wrongful death claim, so the family of the mother and her children could sue for their wrongful death.

The woman in the third example who drove through a stop sign was negligent because she did not obey the rules of the road and caused the death of a pedestrian. This negligence triggers the wrongful death requirement, so the family of the pedestrian could make a wrongful death claim on behalf of the pedestrian.

The man in the fourth example who caused the elderly man to be in the way of oncoming traffic was negligent and reckless because he drove while under the influence of drugs, so the family of the elderly man could sue for wrongful death.

Finally, the man in the fifth example who struck and killed a bicyclist and then wilfully left the scene of the accident was negligent, and thus open to suit for wrongful death.

Wrongful death claims are made by surviving spouses or relatives. The claims allege that the wrongdoer is liable for the death of their family member. Massachusetts law may also provide surviving family members the option to obtain payment for costs accumulated as a result of the death, such as funeral expenses. In Massachusetts, if someone passes away within the wrongful death action context, the surviving spouse or family may also recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent party for wrongful conduct.

If you are seeking a competent personal injury law lawyer or wrongful death action attorney, please contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours or complete a contact form on our website. We will respond to your phone call or submission promptly.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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