How Auto Insurance Companies Compensate Fatal Car Accident Claims

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- Pamela Jean Bourassa

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Key Points:

  • When someone’s negligence causes 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.
  • An insurance company may try to use the concept of comparative negligence to reduce or even deny your family’s claim for compensation.
  • Policies, such as underinsured motorist coverage, may be available that can provide reimbursement greater than the at-fault driver’s primary insurance.
  • In most cases, this statute of limitations, or deadline, to file a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the accident or the victim’s passing.
  • A lawyer can help ensure full compensation by conducting a thorough investigation and using the legal tools necessary. 

When a family member has been killed by a negligent driver, we understand you and your family will have many questions. This article, written by our Georgia personal injury lawyers, may help answer some of those questions and give an overview of how insurance companies investigate and compensate the victims of fatal car and truck accidents.

If your questions are not answered in this article, please feel free to contact the law firm 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.

Questions Answered in This Article: 

  • What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
  • Does Georgia Have a Special Accident Report for Fatal Accidents?
  • Why Is Comparative Negligence Important in a Wrongful Death Case?
  • Is Georgia an Especially Dangerous Place to Drive?
  • What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Georgia Fatal Accident Case?
  • How Are Fatal Accidents Compensated When There Are Insurance Policy Limits?
  • What Is Bad Faith by an Insurance Company in a Fatal Car Accident Claim?
  • Does Our Family Need a Lawyer If We Are Entitled to the Maximum Policy Limits?
  • Finding All Insurance Coverage
  • How Underinsured (UM) or Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) May Provide Additional Compensation
  • Compensation from Automobile Product Liability and Manufacturing Defects
  • Deadlines to File a Georgia Car Accident-Related Wrongful Death Case

What is a 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. 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.

Does Georgia Have a Special Accident Report For Fatal Accidents? 

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), who may block off roads and take photographs and measurements for several hours. Law enforcement and accident reconstructionists 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.    

Why is Comparative Negligence Important in a Wrongful Death Case? 

If you have lost a loved one in a car accident, it is important to understand that the insurance company may try to use the concept of comparative negligence to reduce or even deny your family’s claim for compensation. 

Georgia follows the law of modified comparative negligence. This law states that if the insurance company determines that the deceased was 50% or more to blame for the accident, then the company may deny any damages. If the lost family member was 49% or less to blame for the accident, but still partially responsible, the insurance company may reduce their offer to an amount less than the at-fault driver’s policy limits.

Therefore, the accident investigation and proper determination of liability are crucial in a fatal accident case.

Why is Georgia an Especially Dangerous Place to Drive? 

Fatal car accidents in Georgia are tragic for everyone involved, especially the family members who are left with the pain that comes with losing a loved one.

Sadly, motor vehicle accidents take the lives of people of all ages almost every day on Georgia’s roads. From 2017 to 2019, Georgia had an average of 1,517 fatal car accidents per year.  2021 has thus far been an especially dangerous time for motorists, with Georgia currently fourth in the top 10 states with the most fatal car accidents.

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. If the insurance company is acting in good faith, the case is often settled by payment of the amount of coverage under the policy.

Even though the loss of life or value of loss of life is more than the policy limits, 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. 

You must demand verification that the at-fault driver or company has disclosed all policies that can or should apply to the crash. There may also be exceptions that may obligate the insurance company to pay more than the policy limits.

What is Bad Faith by an Insurance Company in a Fatal Car Accident Claim 

An insurance company’s obligation is always 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 full compensation 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.

Compensation from Automobile Product Liability and Manufacturing Defects 

In some cases, a manufacturer may also be partially responsible for an accident if any of the vehicles involved in the collision were defective, and that defect contributed to the accident and fatality. It is essential in every fatal car accident case to look for such defects.

It is important to know that, in Georgia, there are 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’ve 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 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.

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