When worse comes to absolute worst, the negligence and recklessness of one party may result in the tragic death of another. Amidst the chaos of consequences, it becomes quickly imperative that fault is assigned so the victims’ families can find closure, peace, and justice. Determining fault in a car accident can be difficult enough, so when such a tragedy is involved, it’s important to have qualified legal professionals on your side. At Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, our Delaware wrongful death attorneys are here to help with offices in Wilmington, Newark, and Seaford.
But how is fault determined? What if the accident in question involves more than two vehicles, or even pedestrians? If you are the loved one of a victim of wrongful death, the last thing you should be worrying about is the wrong person – or no person at all – being held responsible.
Detangling the crime scene
The most confusing accidents are also often the most tragic and horrific, but understanding how they’re dealt with can put you in a more knowledgeable position if you’re ever faced with one. Although they may be slightly less common than typical car accidents, multi-car collisions still happen and tend to be even deadlier.
In fact, towards the end of November, a horrific four-car accident right here in Delaware caused the death of two people. What started as a good Samaritan pulling over to check on a vehicle that had lost control right into the median turned into a grisly nightmare, as an unrelated car swerved to miss the original vehicle and hit the Samaritan across multiple lanes, where he was then hit again by yet another car and pronounced dead at the scene. Worse, the car that hit him the first time continued to veer out of control and forced a fourth car to crash into that same median, causing that driver to also die shortly after.
This is, of course, a tragic and confusing story to sort out. The next-of-kin of those victims may understandably not know who to file a wrongful death suit against. Is it the car our first victim tried to help? The car that hit him first may obviously be to blame, but what about the second? Was there even a chance for that car to get out of the way? Is the victim to blame for trying to help in the first place? So many questions, and still for only half of the casualties involved.
To start unraveling how the law would treat this case, we must first understand what the actual law is. Here in Delaware, we operate under what’s called “modified comparative negligence.” In layman’s terms, this means what you can collect is determined by how at-fault you or the victim you represent was in causing the accident. Recovery of damages at all is only possible if your fault is less than that of the other parties involved, which means it cannot exceed 51% of responsibility.
As a simpler example than the real-life case above, imagine you – while texting and driving – hit another vehicle who just sped through a red light you trusted them to notice and obey. You may be assigned 20% of the fault for texting and driving, as it is illegal and distracting, while the other driver is assigned 80% of the fault for running the red light and speeding. This means, under modified comparative negligence, if you are injured in this accident, you can collect damages, but the other driver cannot, regardless of their injuries.
Insurance companies do not like to pay. This is not news to anyone who has had to deal with them. Because of this, they are usually detached from the damages or death their client is accused of causing, and will do everything they can to prove a lack of fault. No fault means no damages to pay, of course, and as morbid as it is, wrongful death damages can be very costly. This can make your wrongful death suit even more stressful to deal with, especially if the party’s responsibility seems obvious and unquestionable.
Let’s go back to our original four-car accident as an example. How would fault be determined in something like that, with four insurance companies all fighting each other to shift the blame?
There are several factors an adjuster considers to get to the bottom of who is truly at fault, and just how much:
- Police reports. These are important, if applicable, as the officer will usually write who they believe caused the collision, which holds legal weight due to their status.
- Traffic laws. Any laws any party is found to have broken at the time of the accident puts at least some fault next to their name.
- Pictures. Obviously, an adjuster cannot go back and visit the crime scene in person, as it is usually cleaned up by the time they are summoned. Pictures of the scene allow them to study the damage on each vehicle and even their positions to help determine how it happened.
An adjuster can only do so much, though. The assignment of fault is not the end of the case, nor is it the end of the insurance company’s fight. That’s why if you’re filing a wrongful death claim, you need compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys to help you fight right back and get the compensation you deserve.
The death of a loved one is unfairly costly, with everything from medical expenses, funeral charges, lost wages, property damages, and more, but the wrongful death attorneys at Silverman, McDonald & Friedman can help with every bit of it. We have offices in Newark, Wilmington, and Seaford, with virtual meeting options available. Call us at 302-888-2900 or contact us today for more information — even if you don’t need it yet.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Friedman joined Silverman, McDonald & Friedman in 2001. He graduated from Widener University School of Law, and is admitted to practice law in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and in several Federal Circuit courts. He areas of concentration include auto accident and workers’ compensation cases. Read more about Attorney Friedman here.