Episode 57: Murray Kentucky attorney Jeff Roberts discusses a heavy topic in this episode. A traffic fatality is a tragic situation for everyone involved. He’s handled cases involving various types of traffic fatalities including car wrecks, motorcycle accidents and collisions with tractor trailers. If your loved one was killed in a traffic accident, this information will help you to know where to begin and what steps will be involved.
Where to Begin
These are sensitive discussions. Jeff prefers to have multiple family members come it to talk about the situation. Often, this would include the surviving spouse, any adult children or possibly adult siblings.
Jeff works hard to avoid using “legal terms” when more natural explanations can be more easily understood. The entire situation is highly emotional, so having additional support with you can make it easier. Your family member may be able to help you to recall specifics from the meeting, should you have problems remembering things you covered with Jeff.
This podcast itself is there to be a resource to help people better understand legal situations when they have questions. Obviously, sitting down with Jeff or having a conversation over the phone is the best way to communicate, but you may find it helpful to share specific episodes with other family members who may have general questions.
The Wrongful Death Claim
This type of claim is made when someone either dies at the accident scene, or later passes away as a result of the injuries sustained in the motor vehicle accident.
In Kentucky, any death caused by negligence can result in a wrongful death claim. Jeff comments that typically, the money from the settlement or verdict will go to beneficiaries. As a general rule, the law will specify the beneficiaries to be the spouse and minor children of the deceased.
From a legal standpoint, the “damage” incurred is the loss of earnings capacity resulting from the wrongful death. The administrator (or the executor/executrix) of the estate will usually hire the attorney, often in consultation with the family.
If minor children are involved, it’s a good idea to consider some type of structured settlement. Jeff discussed the advantage of this arrangement in Episode 16. It’s a great way to cover education and other expenses. It enables the funds to grow tax-free and can ensure the funds are preserved for the future.
Wrongful death claims are handled in civil court and will proceed similar to a non-fatal traffic accident claim. The negligent driver’s insurance is a key factor in the amount of the settlement and/or jury verdict. Although when a motor vehicle collision is involved, there are other aspects to consider.
The Claim for Pain and Suffering
If the person survived the collision, but later dies as a result of their injuries, it may be possible to bring a claim for pain and suffering, in addition to the wrongful death claim. The proceeds from this particular claim would go to the estate of the deceased.
Kentucky is a no-fault state, so there should also be money available from the no-fault (PIP) insurance coverage. The wrongful death claim can be a basis to use the PIP funds to cover other expenses. An experienced, personal injury attorney will understand how to examine the various aspects of the claim or claims and how best to approach them on behalf of the family.
The Claim for Loss of Consortium
Under Kentucky law, if the other driver was negligent, this claim would be available for a surviving spouse to bring due to the loss of a spouse. A loss of consortium claim can be brought on behalf of a minor child, having lost his/her parent. Additionally, a parent can bring the claim based on the loss of a minor child.
This type of claim is generally understood to be the loss of love and affection from the deceased spouse, parent or child. It goes beyond the loss of companionship.
The loss of consortium claim can be filed, in addition to the wrongful death claim and the claim for pain and suffering. In Jeff’s opinion, the loss of consortium claim is separate and would increase the damages being sought from the negligent driver’s insurance policy.
As part of the claim, it can be argued that the surviving spouse (or minor child) has incurred a loss of service. The negligent infliction of emotional distress may also apply.
Helping the Jury to Understand the Value of these Damages
This is a significant responsibility on the shoulders of the attorney. It’s difficult to explain how the loss will ultimately affect a minor child who will now grow up without that parent. Certain experts can be asked to testify to make this loss more understandable.
While there may be life insurance proceeds and possibly social security benefits available, if the deceased was the primary bread-winner in the family, the financial situation may still be significantly impacted.
Jeff describes a situation in which the stay-at-home parent was faced with the possibility of having to find a job, rather than raising the minor children full time. Now they could have been faced with child care expense, the possibility of having to sell the home and many other difficult decisions resulting from someone else’s negligence. This is why the attorney hired to handle the wrongful death case carries an immense responsibility.
Jeff may hire a vocational expert and an economist to explain the impact of the loss of the deceased spouse’s earnings capacity not just at the time of death, but on through what would have been the remainder of his/her career.
The Uninsured Motorist or Under Insured Motorist Claim (UM/UIM)
Jeff has explained the value of Uninsured and Under Insured Motorist coverage in various podcast episodes, such as Episode 28. UM and UIM coverage are “policies” you have with your own insurance company. It the driver was driving without insurance, you should be able to file an uninsured motorist claim. If the negligent driver’s insurance doesn’t cover all of your damages, you may be able to pursue an under insured motorist claim. There are exceptions. However, for the sake of this discussion, this could be an additional claim, which could provide a source of funds for the beneficiaries.
Jeff also addressed the issue of PIP and UM/UIM coverage specifically for motorcyclists in Episode 50. Unfortunately, you may be reading or listening to this episode after the fact. However, Episode 50 will provide additional information about the types of coverages.
The Statute of Limitations
In Episode 55, Jeff discussed the statute of limitations and how this can prevent you from filing a lawsuit. In traffic fatality cases, Jeff comments that in his opinion, you have 1 year from the date the administrator of the estate is appointed, but no greater than 2 years. This is a conservative date. Others may argue the fact that motor vehicle claims can be brought up to 2 years from the date of the collision or date of the last PIP payment. Rather than risk exceeding the statute of limitations timeframe, Jeff prefers to err on the conservative side of the timeframe.
When an individual is faced with hiring an experienced attorney for a legal situation, the question of attorney fees comes into consideration. In Episode 56, Jeff explained that most attorneys handle motor vehicle accidents (car wrecks, motorcycle accidents and trucking collisions) on a contingency fee basis. He specifically discusses his personal policy for attorney fees and how his may be different from those of other attorneys.
A contingency fee arrangement enables someone to hire an attorney with no money out of pocket. The fees, court costs and related fees will be paid, at the end of the case, from the settlement or jury verdict.
Other Potential Claims Associate with Traffic Fatality Cases
Before we conclude the episode, Jeff takes time to mention other types of potential claims beyond just the claims against the negligent driver.
- Product Liability Claim – this could be brought against another party, such as the manufacturer of the vehicle or equipment such as the tires.
- Road Hazard Claim – it’s possible there was an issue with the construction or condition of the actual roadway where the traffic fatality occurred, that played a role in the collision.
- Claims against the trucking company or vendor responsible for loading the material or equipment onto the tractor trailer.
Jeff Roberts Represents Injured Clients Throughout Kentucky
With offices located in Calloway County and now Christian County, Jeff has a history of representing personal injury clients, workers’ compensation clients and social security disability clients across the state. He’s represented clients from Paducah, Bowling Green, Louisville, Covington, Whitesville and many other Kentucky locations. He’s not just a Western Kentucky injury attorney.
We hope you found this episode insightful and helpful. Thank you for listening!
Is It Time to Speak with an Attorney Who Understands Traffic Fatality Cases?
The office phone number is (270) 753-0053 or toll free at 800-844-5108. For more information, visit www.JeffRobertsLaw.com. This podcast is meant to provide information and is not legal advice. Jeff’s principal office is located at 509 Main Street, Murray, Kentucky. Co-host Jim Ray is a non-attorney spokesperson. This is an advertisement.