If you lost a family member or loved one to a car crash, you could be entitled to compensation for their loss. Obviously, a wrongful death suit will not bring them back, but it can do a lot of good for your family when it comes to paying for bills and expenses, especially if you were left with medical bills, funeral costs, and lost income.
NJ law allows certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit if their loved one was killed in a car accident. Unlike non-fatal car accidents, where a lawsuit is only allowed for certain types of injuries, a fatal car accident can always go straight to a lawsuit. However, only a particular party is permitted to file this lawsuit on behalf of the family and the deceased under NJ law.
For help with your case, contact Legal Care New Jersey’s NJ car accident lawyers at (732) 838-9769 today.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Fatal NJ Car Accident?
As mentioned, the law in NJ is strict about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. You might think that as the deceased spouse, child, parent, or other next of kin, you should be given the right to sue for their death, but that is not the case. Instead, the law gives this right to the administrator of the deceased person’s estate, according to N.J.S.A. § 2A:31-2.
The administrator of the estate is named in the victim’s will and is essentially the same as an “executor” or “personal representative.” If they died without a will, the court will usually appoint an “administrator ad prosequendum” to bring the case.
The administrator could be you – it could be any family member, friend, or acquaintance the deceased had named in their will. In this case, you could personally bring the lawsuit for your loved one’s wrongful death. Otherwise, it could be an attorney or some other neutral party set to advocate on your deceased loved one’s behalf. No matter who actually files the lawsuit, our Elizabeth, NJ car accident lawyers can advocate for you and seek to have your best interests carried out in the lawsuit.
When Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Loved One Killed in a Car Accident in NJ?
Lawsuits like this can only be filed within 2 years of the victim’s death under N.J.S.A. § 2A:31-3. This law is called a statute of limitations – a law that puts an outside limit on how long you have to file a lawsuit. It does not mean that the lawsuit needs to be taken to trial within 2 years, just that you file the case and get it into court before 2 years from the date of death.
If the car accident is found to be manslaughter or murder and the defendant was tried and convicted for that crime, then you can actually bring the case any time. Often, the family of a victim killed by a criminal act can also bring a civil action for their death regardless of whether any criminal charges are filed and no matter what the outcome of that criminal case is.
If there was a criminal case related to the accident – such as DWI charges for the other driver – then that conviction can help your civil case. However, even if the charges were dropped or the defendant was found not guilty at trial, that does not stop you from filing a civil case. The burden of proof is lower in a civil case, so a wrongful death lawsuit can still succeed even if manslaughter, murder, or DWI charges against the driver resulted in acquittal.
Types of NJ Car Accident Cases that Qualify as “Wrongful Death”
“Wrongful death” is a broad term that covers all sorts of accidental deaths and early death. Unless your loved one died in the crash because of natural causes – e.g., a heart attack that caused them to crash – then there is likely some “wrongful act” that can qualify as the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
N.J.S.A. § 2A:31-1 says that an action for wrongful death can be filed any time there is an accident that would have allowed for an injury lawsuit if the victim had survived the accident. So, if a regular car accident lawsuit would have been available if this wasn’t a deadly case, then there should be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit in this deadly case.
To be able to file a lawsuit under this rule, you have three hurdles to clear:
Serious Injury Threshold
Usually, car accident lawsuits can be filed in cases where there are “serious injuries” or the victim has an “unlimited right to sue” insurance policy. Under NJ law, “serious injuries” constitute all sorts of permanent injuries, displaced fractures, or death. So, any case of death clears that first hurdle. It does not matter what type of car insurance the victim had, which would be important in a non-fatal car accident case.
If the driver who caused the crash did so through “negligence,” then the victim is permitted to sue them for their injuries and damages. If the victim died, then negligence is sufficient for a wrongful death lawsuit, too.
Negligence is based on someone doing something unreasonable or unreasonably failing to do something that a reasonable person in the same situation would have done. In the case of car accidents, this often includes things like distracted driving, failing to watch out for other drivers, or making other egregious mistakes behind the wheel. Negligence can also be based on a traffic violation, so that speeding, DWI, reckless driving, texting while driving, running a red light, and other violations can all lead to wrongful death lawsuits if the traffic violation killed your loved one.
Beating Comparative Negligence Claims
If the defendant was at fault, but your loved one also did something wrong, then the court could be required to look into apportioning fault between both drivers in a system called “comparative negligence.” If the court finds that your loved one was no more than 50% at fault for the crash, then you can still win your case. If, however, the victim shared more than half the fault, then you actually cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Call Our NJ Car Accident and Wrongful Death Lawyers Today
If you lost a loved one in a car accident, call New Jersey Legal Care today at (732) 838-9769 for a free review of your potential case with our Jersey City car accident attorneys.