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Car Accident Death & Compensation in Michigan

July 23, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

When a car accident results in a death, there is very specific legal compensation that is different from what is available in non-fatality motor vehicle accident collisions, and for that matter, almost all other personal injury cases.

Depending on the state and legal jurisdiction, there will likely be specific wrongful death laws and statutes that a lawyer must comply with.   These wrongful death statutes often have notice provisions and very specific pleading requirements that must be satisfied, and cases must be opened in probate court with the opening of an Estate for the deceased and the appointment of a personal representative.   In some jurisdictions, such as Michigan, there is also overlap with other notice and pleading requirements.  For example, a claim brought under the highway exception to governmental immunity will have its own statutory requirements under MCL 691.1404 for asserting a claim.  Failure to satisfy these all of these notice provisions can bar a very valid wrongful death car accident claim.

Notice pleading, probate, and immunity laws combined with the requirements under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act can often be thought of as a mine field.   And here more than in most other areas of law, an experienced injury lawyer who can help guide the family (the estate) of someone who was wrongfully killed can mean the difference between the claim surviving and the family recovering help and compensation – or not.

Family members of a person who was killed in a car accident in Michigan will generally have a right to sue for their loved one’s wrongful death. Generally speaking, in order to be eligible for compensation, four things must be proved in any wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a car accident:

  1. The other driver — or drivers — caused and, thus, were “at fault” (i.e., liable) for the accident that resulted in the death of your family member or loved one.
  2. The other driver acted negligently in causing the accident.
  3. Your deceased family member or loved one is survived by a spouse or children, or other beneficiaries or dependents.
  4. The death of your family member or loved one has produced monetary damages.

Compensation in a Car Accident Death Lawsuit

There are a variety of types of compensation that may be recoverable in a car accident death lawsuit in Michigan.

First is pain and suffering compensation. This is also commonly called noneconomic loss. Second, there are monetary damages to replace the earnings that the deceased would have contributed to the family. Here is a more detailed list of some of the most common compensation available in a car accident death case in Michigan:

  • Medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses.
  • Loss of projected future earnings.
  • Loss of benefits (pension, medical coverage, etc.).
  • Loss of inheritance.
  • Loss of care, protection, society and companionship of the deceased.

Unfortunately, the probate process has proved to be a frequent source of confusion for family members and lawyers who are sufficiently familiar with representing the families of victims who were killed in car or truck accidents. Again, any of the wrongful death attorneys at Michigan Auto Law would be happy to discuss this with you.

Family members often ask us how long the surviving family member or loved one, or personal representative, has to file a wrongful death accident lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a simple nor straightforward answers. However, it is a very good example of why it’s so important to talk to an attorney who has experience handling car accident death cases.

Typically, the period to bring a car accident death lawsuit (i.e., the statute of limitations) is generally three years. Further, within 30 days of filing suit, notice must be served on all persons who may be entitled to recover from any eventual wrongful death verdict or settlement.

Adding to the complexity, these rules might be modified or supplemented if the lawsuit is being brought on behalf of the decedent’s own auto insurance policy.

Again, I strongly recommend that you talk to a highly experienced attorney to make sure that rights to compensation from a car accident death are not inadvertently extinguished.

Family members also frequently want to know who might be entitled to recovery. The following survivors may entitled to a portion the recovery:

  • The deceased’s spouse.
  • The deceased’s children.
  • The deceased’s descendants.
  • The deceased’s parents.
  • The deceased’s grandparents.
  • The deceased’s siblings.

How is a car accident death claim different from a non-fatal personal injury claim?

When a car accident resulting from another person’s negligence results in a death, the remedies will likely be different than what is available to accident victims of non-fatal Michigan auto accidents. These claims will also involve probate proceedings, and probate court approval of a settlement.

Failure to properly set up an estate or to give proper notice to relatives of a person killed in an underlying wrongful death claim will often further delay and in some cases even jeopardize the settlement of a wrongful death claim.  This applies to almost all states, and it is why even experienced personal injury lawyers will work with an experienced probate attorney in the beginning of a lawsuit to set up the probate estate.


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