If you’ve lost a loved one due to an auto accident, figuring what to do next is difficult. Attorneys Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough, of Mazow McCullough law firm, talk about the legal steps to take after a wrongful death caused by an auto accident. Listen or read more to find out what to do after losing a loved one in a car accident.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today, we’re going to be talking about wrongful death auto accident cases. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Kevin McCullough: Thanks, John.
Robert Mazow: Thank you, John.
John: You know, in a wrongful death case where an auto accident is involved, how is fault or liability determined? Is there such a thing as shared fault between both parties?
Kevin: Yes, John. The analysis and investigation into determining fault in wrongful death claims can be difficult and complex. They may involve an accident reconstruction, witness statements, pictures of the scene, pictures of the vehicles, damage analysis — and it can be assessed against multiple parties. Some of the differences between Massachusetts and New Hampshire can be strategic differences in that, here in Massachusetts, we have a rule of law called joint and several liability, which means that you can sue multiple parties and recover your damages against those multiple parties.
If there are two people at fault for a wrongful death claim in Massachusetts, regardless of the percentages of fault between the two defendants or responsible parties, you can recover 100% of your damages against one or both of those defendants. In Massachusetts, if you’re a defendant in a wrongful death claim, you could be paying more than your proportionate share of the damages of which you caused in that particular incident. Then, it’s on you as the defendant to pursue other defendants to be reimbursed. It’s actually pretty good for a plaintiff or a family in Massachusetts pursuing a wrongful death claim to have multiple parties available to you, which may lend to additional coverages or insurance coverages that may be available to you.
In New Hampshire, it can be different. New Hampshire has what’s called a pro rata payment. What that means is, as a defendant, you’re only responsible to pay the exact proportionate share or monetary amount that the jury finds to be directly attributed to you. They do separate out those damages on verdict slips in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. They can be different and they can impact the strategy of how the attorney for the family of the loved one who was lost in pursuing their claim and pursuing multiple defendants and how they do that.
John: Okay, so in New Hampshire, if you’re found to only be 50% at fault for a claim, then you’d only be responsible for paying 50% of the damages. Does that work out that way?
Kevin: That’s correct, John. In Massachusetts, if you’re found to be 1% or more at fault as a defendant, you can be paying 100% of those damages.
How to Determine Damages in an Auto Accident Wrongful Death Case
John: Okay. How are damages different in a wrongful death auto accident type of case, versus other types of accidents?
Robert: When you’re dealing with a wrongful death case, your damages can be much broader than in your standard personal injury case. First of all, if a person has some period that they have lived . . . some period after the accident that they’re in the hospital or that they’re alive . . . there’s that period of pain and suffering that’s part of the damages. The wrongful death damages themselves could include the loss of care and comfort that they provided to their loved ones, to their beneficiaries, any financial advice or financial support that they provided to their loved ones.
Certainly, if they were working at the time, their loss of future earning capacity can be a significant damage that we’d have to bring in a forensic accountant to give us an idea of what those numbers could look like. The damages, obviously — there’s burial expenses and funeral expenses and medical bills, if there was some period of time where the person received some medical treatment. There are many, many different elements of damages that will be available to the estate and the family of the loved one who passed away.
When to Talk to an Attorney
John: When should the family of a loved one involved in a wrongful death auto accident case talk to an attorney, and what happens after that?
Kevin: They should talk to an attorney immediately after the incident or after the loss of the loved one. It’s so important to gather information early on in a wrongful death claim, not only with just what happened and how it happened, but also having the documents available to calculate those recoverable damages. As Rob mentioned, whether it is lost wages that are no longer available to the family, those future earnings, those are things that experts need to be involved in to quantify and calculate, and the sooner that the attorneys can get involved in the case, the sooner they can determine and assess those damages and help present those damages to the at fault party.
John: Robert, any final thoughts on wrongful death auto accident cases?
Robert: I think that, you know, when you’re dealing with the serious emotional overload of the death of a loved one, it’s important to be able to go to some place where you can feel comfortable with the advice that you’re given — feel that there is not going to be any pressure put on you to do something — but to a place that’s going to take the situation very seriously. Here at our office, we clearly get to work right away. We work with families to make sure that all avenues are gone down and every stone is turned over to make sure that we can get the family what they can get.
John: All right, that’s great information and advice. Robert and Kevin, thank you for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: For more information on personal injury cases and wrongful death cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.