Losing a loved one in a fatal car accident is a tragedy beyond comparison. Yet, in New Jersey, hundreds of families are confronted with this very reality every year. For example, in both 2018 and 2019, there were 524 fatal car accidents. And, year to date, there have already been 130 traffic fatalities in New Jersey, putting the state ahead of the pace set in previous years. Families facing the loss of a loved one will never be able to bring their loved one back; however, they can pursue a wrongful death claim. Not only will a successful wrongful death claim allow grieving families to recover meaningful compensation that will alleviate some of their burdens, but it can also hold the negligent driver responsible for their loss accountable.
Some wrongful death claims proceed to trial, where a jury determines whether the named defendant was responsible for the victim’s death. However, most end up getting resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations. When a family accepts a settlement, they give up their right to pursue a claim against the at-fault party. Thus, it is essential that any settlement offer fairly compensates grieving family members for their loss.
Factors Affecting Settlement Value in an NJ Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases are a type of injury claim. Thus, these cases are appropriate when a family member’s death resulted from another person’s negligence. Typically, in a wrongful death claim, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is the party defending against the family members’ case. This is because the insurance company is contractually obligated to do so under the terms of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.
Insurance companies rely on complex formulas when calculating settlement values. We will now identify some of the things an insurance company considers.
The Number and Ages of the Surviving Family Members
Wrongful death cases are for the benefit of surviving family members who relied on the deceased both financially and for comfort and support. As such the loss of a younger, wage-earning family member such as a father or mother with 2 minor children will typically command a higher settlement than an older, non-wage earning family member who is not financially responsible for another’s support. That is not to say the loss of a parent with grown children or a grandparent does not have value for the loss of the comfort and guidance they may have provided for the surviving family members in addition to any financial support.
The Income-Earning Capacity of the Accident Victim
One of the considerations in a wrongful death settlement award is the victim’s lost earnings. Thus, the more money an accident victim makes, the greater the lost-wages claim will be. Also relevant is the age of the accident victim, as younger victims will have a much longer work-life expectancy. However, that presumes that the victim was financially responsible for the support of the surviving family members, be it a husband, wife, children, or some other family member.
This is the type of claim that can be brought on behalf of the estate of the deceased for the losses that the deceased sustained as a result of the accident. For example, if the deceased was on a motorcycle and was hit by a car and lived for five days following the accident during which time he was hospitalized for the injuries sustained, the estate can make a claim for the pain and suffering the deceased sustained during those five days. With severe injuries, these types of claims can oftentimes be substantial.
Whether the Accident Victim Was Partially at Fault
New Jersey law requires courts to reduce an accident victim’s damages award by their own percentage of fault under the modified comparative negligence law. This means that the insurance company will offer family members less money in a settlement agreement if their loved one shared responsibility for causing the crash. Under the New Jersey modified comparative negligence law, if an accident victim is more than 50% at fault, their family will not be able to recover at all.
When it comes to a fatal car accident, an experienced NJ wrongful death lawyer can estimate average settlement figures. The lawyer will review each of the above factors and, using their experience, produce a rough figure that approximates what they believe the insurance company would be willing to settle the case for. Of course, settlement is not the only option, so it is essential to work with an attorney who has significant litigation experience. Doing so ensures that your family is prepared if the insurance company is not willing to extend a fair offer. It will also allow your attorney to use their experience as leverage in hopes of commanding a higher settlement figure.
How Long Does a Family Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in New Jersey?
Of course, losing a loved one is an incredibly traumatic experience. However, families must keep in mind that there is a limited amount of time to file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey. Under the applicable statute of limitations, families have just two years from the death of their loved one to initiate a claim. Notably, this does not mean the claim needs to settle within two years, only that it is filed. However, the sooner you can reach out to a lawyer, the easier it will be for them to gather the necessary evidence supporting your claim.
Trust Petro Cohen, P.C. with Your Personal Injury Case
At Petro Cohen, P.C., our injury attorneys have decades of experience handling thousands of personal injury cases with successful outcomes for our clients, fighting hard to recover fair compensation and appropriate medical care for their injuries. Petro Cohen, P.C. Managing Partner Susan Petro heads the Personal Injury Department, which includes experienced injury attorneys Rich Gaeckle and Mike Veneziani. Whether your injury resulted from a slip and fall, construction site mishap, or an accident involving an automobile, truck, motorcycle, boat, or bicycle, we can help, even if it means litigating against big corporations or public entities. Petro Cohen, P.C. has offices to serve you in Northfield, Cape May Court House, Cherry Hill, and Hamilton, NJ. To determine if you may have a potential personal injury case, schedule your free and confidential consultation with a Petro Cohen, P.C. lawyer. You can contact us through our online form or via 24/7 live chat at PetroCohen.com.