Any vehicle accident can potentially cause fatal injuries, but accidents involving large commercial trucks tend to cause fatalities at a higher rate due to the size and weight of most large commercial vehicles. If a tractor-trailer, flatbed truck, or commercial delivery vehicle causes a fatal accident, the victim’s family must know their legal options under California state law.
A personal injury claim is the typical mode of securing compensation for injuries caused by another party’s negligence, but this is not viable if the victim dies from their injuries. A wrongful death claim effectively replaces a personal injury claim the victim could have filed had they survived their experience.
Determining Fault for Wrongful Death
One of the most complex factors of any truck accident claim is determining liability. If you have lost a loved one in a fatal trucking accident, the first step in taking any legal action toward recovery is determining the party or parties responsible for the accident. This is more complex in trucking accidents than accidents involving smaller passenger vehicles, due to the legal concept of vicarious liability, which defines any situation in which one party is legally liable for another’s actions.
Trucking companies that hire truck drivers to complete delivery routes must ensure their drivers possess the required licenses and credentials. Trucking companies must also run extensive background checks on all drivers they hire to ensure drivers do not have past criminal records indicating unsafe driving patterns. If a trucking company failed to verify a driver’s credentials, experience, or criminal history and the driver causes an accident, the trucking company is very likely to absorb vicarious liability for the driver’s actions.
It is also possible for a fatal trucking accident to occur due to a third party’s actions. For example, if a negligent driver suddenly sideswipes a tractor-trailer and causes the truck to swerve into a third vehicle, the victims in the third vehicle would have grounds for legal action against the first negligent driver. Ultimately, it can be very difficult to determine liability for a fatal trucking accident without an experienced attorney’s assistance.
Elements of Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim
Once the surviving family members of the victim of a fatal truck accident determine the party or parties responsible for their loved one’s wrongful death, they must establish four elements of negligence to hold them accountable for the death under California state law:
- First, the plaintiffs must establish that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. This could apply to a truck driver’s legal duty of care to operate their vehicle free of the influence of alcohol or drugs or another driver’s duty of care to pay attention to the road.
- Second, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care in some way. This could include speeding, a negligent maneuver, aggressive driving, or driving under the influence.
- Third, plaintiffs must prove a complete accounting of all damages resulting from the fatal accident. This can be extremely difficult for a wrongful death claim. It is vital for any plaintiff in this position to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney to determine the full scope of their claimable damages.
- Finally, the last element of proving negligence is establishing clear causality between the plaintiff’s damages and the defendant’s breach of duty. This means proving the death in question resulted from the defendant’s actions and not some other cause.
These elements of negligence are essential in any wrongful death claim, but plaintiffs mourning the sudden loss of a loved one may not know how to fully explore all the damages available in these claims without legal assistance.
Pursuing Wrongful Death Action for a Fatal Truck Accident in California
Wrongful death claims are functionally similar to personal injury claims in many ways, but each state upholds unique laws for wrongful death actions. The first regulation a plaintiff must navigate is eligibility to file a wrongful death claim. California state law gives the deceased individual’s spouse or domestic partner the primary authority to pursue a wrongful death claim, followed by the deceased’s surviving children. Parents and siblings of the deceased follow. If the deceased has no living kin, anyone who can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased or holds a valid claim on the deceased’s estate contents may pursue a wrongful death action.
Wrongful death claims are emotional and complex, and having the right attorney to guide you through this legal process can be invaluable. If you recently lost a loved one in a fatal truck accident, contact the Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC, today and schedule a case evaluation with our team.