How to Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim After a Fatal Truck Accident

December 16, 2020

Large trucks play an important part in the U.S. economy as they transport goods to warehouses, retailers, and consumers. However, the time they spend on the road increases the chances of a passenger vehicle driver being involved in an accident with a large or commercial truck. In 2019, more than 5,000 people died in truck accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The sheer size and weight of trucks make it nearly impossible for a passenger vehicle to withstand damage or occupant injury in an accident. In some cases, drivers or passengers will die from injuries sustained in the truck accident. If a loved one passed away in a truck accident, the surviving family members may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death is one that was caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person or a corporation. Consider wrongful death similar to a personal injury case except that the victim has died and can no longer file their own claim for injuries or other damages. At this point, the victim’s family can step in to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their loved one. A wrongful death lawsuit is often filed after a truck or car accident.

In a wrongful death claim, there must be a defendant who caused the person’s death because of a negligent action. The plaintiff must prove that this person or business was negligent. The latter is when a lawyer is the most beneficial.

Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by a representative of the decedent’s estate on behalf of statutory beneficiaries who are legally entitled to receive compensation for damages. In Virginia, these beneficiaries include the deceased person’s:

  • Spouse, children, and grandchildren.
  • Parents or siblings.
  • Dependent relative.
  • Other family members who are entitled to inherit under the law.

There is a hierarchy for distribution of damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit, with spouses, children, and grandchildren generally receiving compensation first.

What Compensation is Available in a Wrongful Death Suit?

Virginia law requires wrongful death lawsuits to be filed within two years of the decedent’s death. A family should explore how they will be compensated for damages:

Economic Damages: This involves medical bills for treatment of injuries sustained in the accident before the decedent’s death. Loss of income and services provided by the decedent and funeral and burial expenses are covered.

Non-Economic Damages: These damages include sorrow and mental anguish, loss of the deceased’s care, comfort, guidance, and companionship.

Punitive Damages: Damages that are meant to punish the negligent party over and above any awarded compensatory damages.

Who is Liable in a Truck Accident Wrongful Death Claim?

Truck accidents are different from car accidents. In a car accident, generally, the only people involved are the drivers and their insurance companies. In truck accidents, there can be various people and entities that could be held liable, depending on the circumstances. Liability is the legal term for responsibility, duty, or obligation. In a wrongful death lawsuit involving a truck, the driver, trucking company, truck manufacturer, and others all have a duty to ensure the truck’s safe operation and maintenance.

Understanding who is liable in a truck accident is a complicated process, but a lawyer can help. A lawyer will use their skills and experience to uncover all potentially liable parties, including the truck driver, the trucking company and fleet owner, the cargo shipper, and the truck parts manufacturer.

What are Common Causes of Fatal Truck Accidents?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted a large-scale study of truck accident causes to determine common reasons for crashes. They found that 75 percent of all crashes could be attributed to a bad decision made by a driver or to the driver’s failure to pay attention. Reasons for driver error included the following:

  • Prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, or illegal drug use.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Driving too fast for road or weather conditions.
  • Lack of familiarity with roadway or truck.
  • Driver fatigue.
  • Illegal maneuvers, such as unsafe lane changes.
  • Driver distraction, both in-vehicle and external.
  • Aggressive driving, such as tailgating, speeding, weaving.
  • Misjudging actions of other motorists.

Other common causes of truck accidents include:

  • Problems with roadways.
  • Interruption of traffic flow due to accidents, spills, closed lanes, and construction.
  • Hazardous road conditions.
  • Shifting cargo or inadequately secured cargo.
  • Truck is over weight limits.
  • Mechanical problems with the truck.
  • Faulty brakes.
  • Poor maintenance, lack of inspections
  • Fires or other incidents caused by hazardous cargo, such as fuel, dry ice, refrigerant gases, oxygen tanks, electronics with lithium batteries, and fertilizers.

Why Should I Contact a Lawyer After a Fatal Truck Accident?

A lawyer will fight for compensation for the decedent’s loved ones so they can adequately focus on their grief and loss. In addition, a lawyer will:

  • Determine who is liable for the accident. Skill, research, and perseverance are necessary to identify all the liable parties responsible for the wrongful death.
  • Prove negligence. Whether the accident was caused by driver error, truck malfunction, or another reason, the primary basis of a wrongful death lawsuit is to prove negligence.
  • Gather testimony, experts, and other parties to strengthen the claim. Expert witnesses could include crash reconstruction experts, engineers, and more.
  • Interview witnesses. This should be done as soon as possible after the accident while facts are still fresh.
  • Obtain needed documents. Necessary documents include driver logs, maintenance records, and other documentation to build a strong case.
  • Preserve evidence. A lawyer will send an official document to the trucking company and other involved parties, instructing them not to destroy evidence.
  • Calculate damages. Current and future losses and non-economic losses need to be carefully calculated to ensure fair and just compensation.
  • Negotiate settlements with insurance companies and other parties. Sometimes, negligent parties will prefer to settle with the victim’s family instead of going to court. A lawyer can help ensure a settlement is fair and adequate.
  • Prepare for a court trial if a settlement cannot be reached. A lawyer knows how trucking companies, insurers, cargo shippers, and others will defend themselves in court. They will be ready to respond with a strong case on behalf of the decedent’s loved ones.

Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Advocate for Families in Wrongful Death Truck Accident Cases

When a family member is killed in an accident involving a commercial truck, there is often legal recourse. If you lost a loved one in a truck accident, speak to one of our Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers today. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we help the families of truck accident victims. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 757-352-2237. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.


381 Edwin Drive
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Ph: 757-352-2237 | Fax: 757-352-2220