It’s not something you even want to imagine. You never want to think about someone you love getting injured, let alone dying in a motor vehicle accident. Unfortunately, we can’t control all the conditions that could result in a life-changing event happening to a loved one.
A variety of situations present themselves when someone dies. Here are some things you should do, if you should ever have to contact a lawyer about a wrongful death case.
1. If a loved one is seriously injured before his/her death, and experiences great pain and suffering, there may be an opportunity for compensation to be received by your loved one’s estate.
The main thing to keep in mind is to try and document the injuries and pain your loved one experienced prior to death. If you can, take pictures and video, but obviously don’t interfere with any medical treatment that is taking place. Those photos and video will be the proof you need to show what your loved one went through.
2. After your loved one has died, a probate estate must be opened. Under Michigan law, a personal representative of your loved one’s estate needs to be appointed by a probate court judge in the county where your loved one lived. The personal representative would handle everything having to do with the estate, in this case. It’s best to contact an experienced attorney to find out whether your loved one’s accident would allow for a wrongful death.
3. If your loved one had a properly drafted will, he/she already named someone as personal representative of his/her estate. Assuming that person is available, he/she will likely be the individual appointed by the court to represent the loved one’s estate.
However, if your loved one did not have a will, Michigan law determines who should be the personal representative. If a minor child dies, the parents have first priority, with the adult siblings having second priority. If an adult dies, and has no surviving spouse or adult children, then the adult’s parents would have first priority, with the adult siblings coming second. If an adult dies, and has a spouse, the spouse would be the first priority, with adult children coming second.
Once the personal representative is established, that person will work with attorneys, claims adjusters and the court to resolve all claims that can be made on behalf of the loved one’s estate.
4. It is important for the personal representative to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney who regularly handles motor vehicle accidents in Central/Northern Michigan. Obtaining the advice of an attorney who knows local jurors and juries is best! Depending on the facts of your loved one’s death, an attorney is the best person to advise the personal representative what steps to take to best protect the interests of all those involved. The attorney will know exactly what questions to ask and how to find the answers. An attorney is also critical to exploring all the possible insurance coverage options available to adjust the claim.
The attorney will make sure you have gathered all the necessary information to document how the accident occurred, to preserve evidence that could be lost and to hire experts to prove what did or did not happen.
5. Michigan has a statute, referred to as the Wrongful Death Statute. The statute defines who can make a claim for personal individual loss as a result of the wrongful death of another person. A spouse, parents, grandparents, children and siblings are eligible to make a claim for their personal loss.
When a loved one was the wage earner and financially supported others, the estate can seek civil action to compensate those affected by the loss. If someone else’s negligence caused your loved one’s death, monetary compensation can offer some relief and economic support.
6. The personal representative needs to work with the personal injury attorney to document the losses of all the individuals who can make a claim. This could mean gathering written items and photos that show how the survivors are coping with the loss of their loved one. It also includes calculating the economic losses of those that were financially supported by their loved one. These are known as “survivor loss benefits,” and are payable for up to three years after the loved one’s death. There must be documented proof of the loss, and other factors may determine how much the insurance company is liable to pay. The survivors could be receiving other payments, like workers’ compensation benefits and Social Security survivor benefits.
The personal representative can also help the attorney gather photos, records, interviews and memorabilia to help paint a picture of his/her loved one’s life before death.
For more information on wrongful death claims and motor vehicle accidents, download Joe’s book, The Michigan Motor Vehicle Accident Book, for free, or stop into our office to pick up a free copy.