A sad story appeared in the news recently–a 61-year-old mother and former news producer from Chevy Chase, Maryland, crashed her Audi Q5 sedan into a tree back in September 2021. When an off-duty police officer and a good Samaritan arrived on the scene, the vehicle was engulfed in flames and suffocating smoke; she was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries. Fortunately, a 14-year-old passenger in the car was able to escape with only minor injuries. Four months later, however, in early February, the driver passed away from complications stemming from her injuries in the accident.
How Car Accident Injury Claims Become Wrongful Death Claims
The reason we bring up this tragedy is that, if her accident had been the fault of someone else, what would’ve been a personal injury claim up until early February of this year could very well have become a wrongful death suit–and the difference in consequences are noteworthy. Under Maryland law, a “wrongful death” is a death that is caused by an act, neglect, or default, including a felonious act which would have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued. Car accidents fall under this law.
It’s important to understand that a wrongful death lawsuit is not the same as criminal prosecution for vehicular homicide or manslaughter. In that type of criminal case, guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, which is never a simple task. However, for a civil lawsuit, such as a wrongful death case, the defendant’s liability must only be shown by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that it’s likely that the defendant is responsible for the death and can be sued in civil court.
Of course, a defendant could face both criminal and civil charges for the same accident-related death. In regards to this specific accident in Chevy Chase, had someone else been at fault in this accident, that person could have faced criminal charges for causing the injuries sustained in the accident–once the victim died of her injuries, however, those criminal charges could quickly include homicide or manslaughter. In a civil case, it would change from a personal injury lawsuit to a wrongful death lawsuit.
How Is Fault Determined in an Auto Accident?
The simple answer: an investigation. Of course, investigations are rarely simple, and a lot of factors are taken into consideration when investigating the cause of a car accident. There are statements to police by those involved in the accident (when possible) as well as eyewitnesses. There is camera footage to review. There are forensics to examine, such as tire skid marks, debris at the crash site, and the damage to the vehicles, just to name a few. There are toxicology reports to determine whether anyone was intoxicated or impaired at the time of the accident. Cell phone records can be reviewed to see whether someone was distracted when the accident occurred. Everything is reviewed before any charges are made and fault is found.
In the case of a single-car accident such as the one in Chevy Chase, investigators will take a close look at the vehicle to ensure that nothing malfunctioned and caused the driver to lose control and crash–if the investigation were to find something along these lines, the deceased’s family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the automobile maker/manufacturer because its defective equipment, systems, or parts led to the accident.
What to Do If You’re in an Auto Accident
As you can see, gathering evidence and information is extremely important in determining who’s at fault in a car accident. But so is your well-being. If you are involved in a car accident:
- Gather whatever evidence you can. If you’re able to, take some pictures of the crash scene with your phone; if not, see if someone else can. If you believe another vehicle was at fault, try to get an eyewitness statement. Make sure the police are involved so they can make an official report of the accident.
- Get medical attention as soon as you can, even if you think you only have a bump or a bruise. Sometimes injuries don’t surface until hours or even days later. Getting checked out at the scene by an ambulance is ideal, especially if there’s a serious injury–if you’re not transported by ambulance, get yourself to an ER or your physician as soon as possible and be sure to keep your diagnosis and medical records.
- Call the experienced car accident attorneys at The Lapidus Law Firm.
Car Accident Attorney in MD
At The Lapidus Law Firm, we have decades of experience with every type of car accident there is. We’ve handled thousands of personal injury claims as well as wrongful death lawsuits and we know how to navigate them. If a loved one has been involved in a car accident and is injured–or worse–call us at (202) 785-5111 or (301) 852-7500 for a free, no-obligation consultation. If we take your case, we will fight for you and for the memory of your loved one by leaving no stone unturned and getting you justice.
Written by Larry Lapidus