Fatal Accidents

What To Do When You Lose a Loved One in a Fatal Car Accident


A loss of a loved one is devastating. There is no other way to describe it. The pain in unbearable and the desire for answers, the who caused the fatal car accident, the why they caused a fatal car accident and the what can be done to them, is unquenchable. Here is our guide to fatal car accidents.

Types of Damages

There are two types of damages, generally, that you may be entitled to in your wrongful death suit.

The first are the damages that are inflicted directly as a result of the accident and there fallout from it. Medical and funeral expenses, property damage, the value of lost wages (from the time of the death and future earnings had your loved one lived) and services he or she provided. If your loved one lingered before passing, the pain and suffering he or she endured before death may also be calculated as part of the damages. Such damages are generally paid to the estate of the deceased.

The second category of damages pertains to the losses you and your family have personally sustained due to the loss of your family member. Such damages are paid directly to family members after the court has determined the amount and split of the damage award. Such damages include the loss of care and companionship of children, spouses and parents. The loss of consortium (physical and emotional intimacy) by the spouse. The loss of guidance for your loved one’s children. The damages also seek to compensate you for the pain and suffering caused by the unexpected death of your loved one. The loss of household services can also be calculated to a dollar amount based on hours worked.

Medical and Funeral Expenses

Medical and funeral expenses of the deceased are recoverable by a surviving beneficiary only if he or she has paid for these expenses or is liable to pay for them. Otherwise, such expenses are generally recoverable only in a decedent’s action for personal injury which survives the decedent’s death under the survival statute. Lankford and Blaze, id. See also A.R.S. ? 14477. The rationale behind this rule is that a wrongful death action is an action to recover for the surviving beneficiaries’ damages, and not those of the decedent.

Past and Future Economic Support

Economic support and services include everything your deceased loved one contributed to you, his or her parents, and his or her children. This includes past and future damages, dating from the time of the unfortunate passing. Unlike in personal injury cases, the measure of damages is not future earnings, but the loss of economic support you would have received.

These economic damages are typically calculated by an expert that your attorney will hire to examine your loved one’s work history and expenses. The work history will be extrapolated into what earnings he or she likely would have received had the loss of life not taken place and is then offset by how much of those earnings he or she would have personally consumed.

Future earnings are usually based on your deceased relatives, prior earnings, education, life expectancy, and an economic analysis. In calculating lost earnings, the expert will need information from your about your loved one’s work life. His or her year-end pay stubs for the past few years, W-2s, and income tax returns will help establish hours worked and base salary. Union contracts and your lost relative’s employer’s pay history will help determine what promotions and raises he or she likely would have received. Also pertinent are the fringe benefits and retirement plans he or she has and would have likely received had the worst not occurred.

The value of services provided is calculated in a similar respect. You will need to provide an exhaustive list of services that your loved one provided to you and your family in the home. The expert your attorney hires may have a questionnaire to help you in this respect.

Because this is a calculation for the economic benefits your loved one rendered to you and your family, his or her future earnings are offset by how much of them would have been personally consumed. This gives us an amount for what would have been contributed to the family. To calculate the consumption offset the expert will need household spending records and the earning history of his or her spouse.

You and your loved ones may also be entitled to recover for the lost value of an inheritance property that your deceased loved one probably would have inherited had he not died and that you would have thus enjoyed the use of.

The jury is also permitted to take into account your and his or her habits, alternative occupations, intelligence, lifestyle choices, age, and life expectancy. Thus, information showing the race, gender, date of birth for you, your family, and the deceased will need to be provided.

Loss of Consortium/Society Damages

If you are the spouse or child of your lost loved one, you may recover damages that attempt to approximate the loss of love, affection, intimacy, guidance, and comfort you gained from your relationship with the deceased. While this is impossible to truly quantify, the jury will be asked to use its best judgment to consider the entirety of the situation, as well as the relationship you and your family had with your departed family member.

Because of the nature of attempting to quantify relationships down to a dollar amount, this may be the most difficult part of the trial for you. You and your family may be called to testify, and the defendant’s attorney will most likely attempt to cast doubt on your relationship with your deceased loved one. The reasoning behind this, for the defense, is that juries are permitted to reduce the damages if the defense counsel can prove that there was no real loss. Thus, a poor relationship with a loved one can reduce the recovery. This is most commonly seen in cases where there was abuse in the relationship. When the deceased is a child, parents found guilty of child abuse are not permitted to recover at all.

Loss of consortium damages are specifically for the harm coming from the loss of the loved one, not from witnessing the death or the negligent act, which are separate causes of action (negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress). However, if the circumstances of the death are relevant to your or another beneficiary’s suffering, they may be admissible. Your relationship, and your loved one?s relationships with his or her family, will thus be under a microscope if your case goes to trial. Your lawyer will prepare you for this and help you and your family get through the ordeal.

Grief and Fatal Car Accident Claims

In many ways, questions regarding the grief, sorrow, stress, and mental anguish you and your family suffered after your loved one’s death will be similar to those regarding the losses of companionship and society. Grief, however, attempts to put a dollar amount to the emotional harm you and your family suffered after your loss and will continue to suffer. This is usually shown through testimony of friends and family of the beneficiaries (remember, cousins, siblings, grandparents, etc. cannot recover, but they may testify regarding observations). Proof of psychiatric care and medicine prescriptions are also helpful in showing grief.

Punitive Damages and Fatal Car Accident Claims

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, most damages are compensatory, i.e. meant to restore you, as closely as possible, to the state you would have been at had the wrongful act not caused you injury. The damages listed above are all compensatory damages. The award for past and future economic support, for example, seeks to redress the loss you will sustain from that lack of income and services that your deceased loved one would have provided. Likewise, loss of consortium damages seek to quantify the love and care you would have received and restore those to you.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are about the wrongdoer. The goal of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for alleged actions, omissions, or a course of conduct. The purpose of laws establishing punitive damages is deterrence. Specific deterrence seeks to keep the individual offender from performing the same type of act that led to the harm, while general deterrence seeks to send a message to others that that sort of behavior is best avoided. Punitive damages accomplishes both.

Punitive damages are awarded for several types of conduct: acts that are reckless and outrageous (where the actor knows or should know that his conduct created a substantial risk of harm to others); actual intent to cause injury; acts with the intent to defraud or interfere with the rights of others; and acts motivated by spite or ill will. Generally, most personal injury suits (and the wrongful death suits that stem from them) are caused by acts considered to be “ordinary negligence.” Ordinary negligence is merely showing a lack of care. A moment of inattentiveness while driving, or a spill on the floor that leads to an injury. However, where the defendant acts with an “evil mind,” as he or she does in the acts listed above, punitive damages may be imposed.

To show such motives, your attorney may present circumstantial evidence. From such evidence the jury can infer that it’s more likely than not that the defendant acted with reckless or malicious intent. Words, actions, and general reckless disregard can be sufficient to show that the intent existed and punitive damages should be awarded.

Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances

A.R.S. 12-613 permits juries in wrongful death suits to take into account any “mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act” when it is deliberating over damages. This allows the jury to, using its discretion, increase or decrease the award based on its judgment of the factors specific to your case. If the defendant acted in a particularly careless or selfish manner that caused the death of your loved one, your attorney may ask the jury to impose punitive damages (without needing to prove an evil mind standard). An example is when a driver has a history of reckless driving behavior. Likewise, if an accident occurred despite the best efforts of the defendant, the jury may show leniency in its award.


Arizona injury law is a complicated matter, but you don’t have to navigate your way through the Arizona legal system alone.

Let our expert team of injury lawyers at Thompson Law Firm help you with a free case evaluation!


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