Can You Sue Someone for Killing a Family Member in a Car Accident?

mom comforting her kid while holding on to her hands
Posted: January 22, 2024

Many consider the daily commute to and from work to be relatively mundane activities. Some may listen to their favorite radio program, others talk with carpooling buddies, and a select few may simply ponder in silence. The drive may be an opportunity for calm reflection or, depending on traffic, a source of irritation. Whatever the daily commute may represent, few consider it the most perilous thing they do that day.    

For many, it just might be. According to the New York State Department of Health, over 1,000 New Yorkers die each year due to motor vehicle crash related injuries. In other words, every day three people lose their lives on New York roads – often needlessly, due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another.  

Car accident deaths are preventable. Rules of the road govern the safe and orderly operation of motor vehicles on our streets and highways. These rules, codified in the Vehicle and Traffic Law and interpreted by judges and juries, aim to keep the daily commute mundane and reduce unsafe driving behaviors that can injure, maim, or even kill other motorists.  

Anyone behind the wheel of a New York registered motor vehicle knows this because they had to learn these rules to acquire a license. Unfortunately, some motorists consciously choose to imperil others by violating basic safety rules. Whether it is driving over the speed limit, blowing past a stop sign, or driving while under the influence of alcohol, every day some New Yorkers choose to elevate perceived self-interest over the safety of others.  

How much sooner do you really arrive at your destination by traveling 15 miles over the speed limit in a 55 mile per hour zone? Is it worth it? Why not come to a complete stop at the stop sign to make sure no other cars are coming? Can’t you call a taxi instead of driving drunk?  

Someone who violates the rules of the road does so at other people’s expense. In the case of a fatal car accident, those other people may not have even been on the road when the risky behavior occurred. Actions have consequences, and those consequences can be felt for generations to come.  

Nobody should be wrongfully deprived of the company and companionship of a loved one. When a car accident death is a wrongful death caused by the negligence of another, surviving family members may be entitled to compensation.  

You can sue someone for killing a family member in a car accident. The lawsuit will generally require evidence that people at fault (known, in legal terminology as “tortfeasors”) acted negligently or recklessly, resulting in the wrongful death. Negligence is lack of due care. It is unreasonable behavior. Someone who behaves in this manner on New York roads may be liable for any resulting wrongful death.  

A survival, or survivorship, cause of action is governed by the Estates, Powers & Trust Law, which provides that “no cause of action for injury to person or property is lost because of the death of the person in whose favor the cause of action existed.” In other words, if someone experienced pain and suffering or pre-impact terror before succumbing to injuries negligently caused by another, that person’s family, through an appointed personal representative, can assert a claim for such damages. The deceased person’s damages are not diminished or relinquished because of the death. The responsible party or parties are legally obligated to pay.  

A wrongful death cause of action, also governed by Estates, Powers & Trust Law, is a bit different. That is a claim for damages sustained by family members by virtue of the death. Under current New York law, family members are entitled to “fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries resulting from the . . . death.” It should be noted that New York is a comparative fault state, meaning that if the person who died engaged in conduct that may have partially contributed to the death, surviving family members can still recover compensation, though it may be reduced in proportion to the person’s share of fault.  

Someone who flouts the rules of the road, leading to a wrongful death, should be held accountable for all losses. The attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. have extensive experience helping families who lost loved ones on New York roads receive maximum compensation. We know what it takes to establish all components of the survival and wrongful death causes of action so that surviving family members can receive maximum compensation and, hopefully, find a way to carry on without their loved one. 

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