This article gives an overview of how insurance companies compensate the victims of fatal car and truck accidents.
- Georgia wrongful death cases arising from car or truck accidents are typically paid by the at-fault driver or company’s insurance company.
- Motor vehicle accident Insurance companies and personal injury law firms measure monetary damages in a fatal crash case based on the “full value” of the life lost in the crash.
- Other insurance policies, such as underinsured motorist coverage, may be available that can provide reimbursement greater than the at-fault driver’s primary insurance.
- Large businesses, such as trucking or delivery companies and retailers often have excess insurance coverage or assets from which a settlement or verdict may be paid.
If your questions are not answered in this article, please feel free to contact our Atlanta car accident lawyers for a free, no-obligation consultation. Even if you do not wish to hire an attorney, we can answer most of your questions at no cost.
What is a Georgia Wrongful Death Claim?
When it is determined that someone’s negligence caused a fatal accident, family members of the deceased driver, passenger, or pedestrian may file what is known as a “wrongful death” claim against the at-fault driver or company under O.C.G.A. 51-4-2.
In Georgia, a wrongful death claim may typically be brought by a family member or, in some cases, a representative for the deceased’s estate.
Whose Insurance Pays After a Fatal Collision?
In most cases, the at-fault driver or that driver’s employer is responsible for paying settlement compensation or a monetary award in a Georgia wrongful death case. This payment is usually made through the auto insurance company of the driver or business.
When someone is killed in a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, the heirs and the estate are entitled to make a claim for the full value of the life of the deceased. Damages for a loss of life in Georgia include medical and final expenses, lost future earnings, pain and suffering, and the future enjoyment of life.
In cases where the at-fault policy limits are low, the deceased’s or in some cases, their family’s, under-insured or un-insured motorist coverage may provide an additional insurance payment.
Fatal crash cases in Georgia often undergo a much more thorough police accident investigation. Some fatalities are investigated by Georgia’s Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT), which may create a special report.
The SCRT team may investigate more thoroughly than local law enforcement. The State Partol may block off roads and take photographs and measurements for several hours. Law enforcement and accident reconstruction experts will examine every detail to accurately determine what happened and who is liable for the accident.
A detailed investigation can be beneficial to the deceased’s family because it makes it more challenging for others involved in the accident to be dishonest about what transpired, and it encourages insurance companies to act in good faith. It is, therefore, important to obtain the full SCRT report, not just the preliminary report, that may be issued at the records window at your local police precinct.
What Damages Can be Recovered in a Georgia Fatal Accident Case?
In Georgia, family members may recover the full value of the life of their loved one. Compensation for wrongful death can include the loss of the victim’s enjoyment of life and damages beyond medical care and life-saving measures provided to the family member at the scene of the accident or hospital.
Damages in a wrongful death case involving a car accident may include:
- Funeral costs
- The deceased’s pain and suffering prior to death
- Lost future wages that the deceased may have otherwise contributed to the family
- Loss of the deceased’s future family life, love, and companionship
- Loss of the deceased’s contribution in the raising of any children
It is immensely difficult to put a dollar amount on damages such as pain and suffering and the loss of a loved one’s future of love and companionship. A skilled fatal accident lawyer can properly calculate the full value of all damages and ensure that policy limits, and sometimes additional compensation, are obtained when appropriate or available.
How Fatal Accidents are Compensated When There Are Insurance Policy Limits
The at-fault driver’s insurance company is often the primary source of compensation for the victim’s family. In many cases the loss of life or value of loss of life is worth more than the policy limits,. However, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is often only required to pay the liability policy limits.
This is why discovering all of the insurance available to cover a loss is critical. First, one must demand verification that the at-fault driver or company has disclosed all policies that can or should apply to the crash. Additional insurance from excess policies should be requested as well. Some people and businesses have more than one layer of coverage.
In the event that there is only a small insurance policy, or no insurance at all, the victim or family may be able to recover additional money under Georgia UIM coverage.
What is Bad Faith by an Insurance Company in a Fatal Car Accident Claim
Insurance companies are required to act in their insured’s best interest by appropriately investigating, negotiating, and settling accident claims. When an insurance company fails to exercise this duty, they may be acting in bad faith. An insurer found to have acted in bad faith can, under certain circumstances, be required to pay an amount greater than the insurance policy limits.
For example, Georgia Code Annotated Section 9-11-67.1 sets forth very specific requirements for submitting a settlement demand to an insurance company. An insurer may not have an obligation to respond to an improper demand. A personal injury lawyer may submit an offer to settle the case that complies with the law and obligates the insurance company to use good faith and promptly consider the offer. If the insurer fails to do so, this could result in bad faith penalties or an “open policy” situation, meaning that policy limits may be lifted and your family may recover more than policy maximums.
Does our Family Need a Lawyer if we Are Entitled to The Maximum Policy Limits?
There are many reasons to obtain the assistance of a personal injury lawyer, even if you have been led to believe the insurance company will pay your family the maximum policy limits.
First, payment of full policy limits is never guaranteed, even in a fatal car accident. The insurance company may offer an amount less than policy limits if they dispute their driver’s liability, believe the deceased was partially responsible for the accident, or an adjuster simply thinks they can bully you into accepting less than limits.
A lawyer can help ensure that all policy limits are discovered and paid by conducting a thorough investigation and using legal tools, such as depositions and independent accident reconstruction experts.
Finding all Insurance Coverage
A personal injury lawyer can also find all insurance policies that may provide additional coverage after an accident. In some cases, other policies, such as underinsured motorist coverage, may be available that can offer reimbursement greater than the at-fault driver’s primary insurance. And, in commercial truck accidents, there may be excess layers of insurance coverage. But, insurance adjusters don’t typically offer this information willingly.
Insurance from Additional Parties
If there are other parties at fault for the accident in addition to the driver, you may be able to receive compensation from other insurance policies. For example, if the accident was caused by an intoxicated, underage driver, the bar or liquor store who served or sold the alcohol to the underage driver may have some liability for the accident. In that case, the business owner’s assets or insurance may be additional sources of compensation for the deceased’s family.
How Underinsured (UM) or Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) May Provide Additional Compensation
Oftentimes, the value of a life is not fully compensated by the at-fault driver’s policy limits.
If the at-fault driver was underinsured, the family might be able to file a claim with the deceased driver’s own insurance company, depending on the type of coverage they had. Underinsured motorist coverage may be accessed when the at-fault driver’s policy limits have been exhausted, but the family’s damages exceed those limits.
If the at-fault driver had no insurance at the time of the fatal vehicle collision, then UIM coverage would provide compensation.
In Georgia, it is not mandatory for a driver to obtain either of these coverages. However, all insurance companies must at least offer these options when someone applies for insurance. Therefore, a skilled attorney will ensure that the insurance company offered this coverage and has proof that the deceased driver declined.
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Deadlines to File a Georgia Car Accident Related Wrongful Death Case
Georgia law contains strict deadlines, known as the “statutes of limitations”, for filing wrongful death claims. If your family’s claim is not settled by agreement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company and you must pursue damages in Court, a lawsuit must be filed within a certain time after the fatal car accident.
In most cases, this deadline is two years from the date of the accident or the wrongful death. Claims of the Estate of the deceased driver must usually be filed within two years of the date that the Estate Administrator was appointed.
In all Georgia wrongful death cases, it is recommended that you have the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer to timely file the action as well as ensure that it is properly filed and with all of the correct claims pled.
The Millar Law Firm Can Help
If you have lost a family member in a car accident, we understand this can be an extremely challenging time. At The Millar Law Firm, we can provide a free consultation to review your loved one’s case and help you determine the best course of action.
Our experienced injury attorneys can take the burden of investigating and talking to the insurance companies off your plate. We can also provide you the support of collecting necessary evidence, witness testimony, accident reconstruction reports, and insurance policy documentation to ensure your family receives a full and fair settlement for the loss of your loved one.
We understand the complexities of wrongful death cases and have the knowledge of wrongful death laws in the Georgia legal system. Contact us today at 770-400-0000 or using our online form.