When a loved one is killed in a bicycle accident, you may find yourself wondering what you can do next. Not only are you most likely dealing with a police investigation, but you are also dealing with the loss of a loved one. You may have outstanding debts, medical bills, and even lost wages – all from the loss of that loved one. When someone causes these types of accidents and kills someone in the process, they are liable for all losses associated with it.
These types of cases are known as wrongful death claims. While they are part of personal injury law, they are not the same. Therefore, it is critical that you understand the differences, and that you speak to an attorney. The laws for wrongful death claims are strict, so you need someone who is up to date on the statute and who can represent you and your family in a civil lawsuit.
Why a Bike Accident Could Be a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If your loved one was riding a bicycle and they were injured in an accident with a motorist, and the motorist was at fault for the accident, your loved one would have had a personal injury lawsuit against that party. However, they died from their injuries, which means that certain loved ones can now file a wrongful death lawsuit against that at-fault party instead.
Wrongful death lawsuits are basically personal injury claims that were not brought to court, because the victim died before they could file a lawsuit. While the deceased cannot serve as the plaintiff in a personal injury claim, their loved ones, as long as they are a qualifying family member, can still receive compensation for any losses that relate to their loved one’s death.
Not all accident deaths qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit; therefore, you need to speak with an attorney to see if you have a valid claim.
To have a valid wrongful death case, you must be able to show that someone caused the accident that led to your loved one’s death, and their actions were negligent, malicious, or purposeful in the process. You must also ensure that the right party is held accountable. For example, a motor vehicle strikes a cyclist, and that cyclist is killed in the accident. Later, it is found that the manufacturer is responsible for the faulty brakes on that car. While the driver and vehicle were the cause of the death, the cause of the accident was a defective product, which means the manufacturer (and not the driver) is responsible.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case in Accidents Involving a Cyclist?
The law is specific on who can file a wrongful death claim and receive compensation from that claim. In Washington, only the following parties can file a claim and receive compensation:
- The Estate’s Representative – This can be a representative for the entire estate, such as the executor who is also handling the estate’s will. This person represents the collective family members who are part of the lawsuit.
- The Spouse or Partner – A spouse or domestic partner of the deceased can also bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. A domestic partner must be state registered, however, to qualify. Simply living together does not mean that someone is a state-recognized domestic partner.
- The Surviving Child or Children of the Deceased – If there is no surviving spouse, then the children of the deceased may file the wrongful death lawsuit.
When Can Other Relatives File a Suit?
The only time other relatives, other than those above, can file a lawsuit is when there is no spouse or domestic partner and the deceased has no surviving children or stepchildren. If that is the case, then parents of the deceased or siblings may file a lawsuit.
There Is a Statute of Limitations
Whether there is a criminal trial underway or not, the clock is ticking on how long you have to file a lawsuit. From the date of your loved one’s death or the accident that caused the death, you have only three years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Three years can seem like a long time, but the longer you wait, the less likely it is that you will have the evidence you need to succeed.
Eyewitnesses can move or even forget what they saw. Medical records may be harder to obtain, and compiling a full record of all costs incurred becomes harder unless you keep meticulous receipts for years.
The Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
The damages in a wrongful death case are not the same as those in a personal injury lawsuit. However, there is some overlap between what you would receive in a personal injury settlement, such as:
- Lost Wages – You can receive compensation for any lost wages you incurred while taking care of a loved one, but also their lost wages up to their death. Furthermore, if the loved one was contributing to the family financially, you may seek compensation for future wages lost.
- Medical Costs – You can receive compensation for all medical expenses related to your loved one’s care that stem from the accident.
Compensation that is unique to a wrongful death case includes:
- Funeral and Burial Costs – You can receive compensation for all funeral and burial expenses, within reason, including the service, plot fees, and headstones.
- Loss of Care or Companionship – You have lost a loved one, and with that comes an emotional burden just as much as a financial one. You may have lost a companion, someone who can care for you and help you grow as a child, etc. You can receive compensation for that emotional void created by that loss.
- Loss of Benefits – If the deceased provided benefits, such as health insurance, you may receive compensation for losing those benefits (up to a specific amount).
The only way to see what compensation you and your family could receive in a wrongful death case is to talk to an attorney. Right now, you are coping with the loss of a loved one, and the last thing you need to worry about is the statute of limitations. Instead, contact the team at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, to see if you have a case. You can schedule a free consultation with our team or contact us online with your questions.