Losing a loved one in a traffic accident is tragic and unfortunately all too common in California. While any number of circumstances can result in a traffic fatality, some are more common than others. Understanding the cause behind your loved one’s accident is an important step in ensuring you can recover the financial damages you deserve from the at-fault party. Read on to learn more about the common causes of traffic fatalities in California and how to recover damages from the responsible party.

Traffic Fatality Statistics in California

In the most recent year for which data is available, 36,560 deaths took place due to motor vehicle crashes in the United States. Additional statistics include:

  • More than 1,000 children were fatality victims;
  • Nearly 5,000 were motorcycle fatalities;
  • More than 6,000 victims were pedestrians, a 3 percent increase from the prior year; and
  • There were 857 bicycle deaths, representing a more than 6 percent increase.

In California, 3,563 deaths resulted from motor vehicle crashes. This number represents nine deaths per 100,000 members of the population and 1.02 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The largest group of victims were car occupants, making up 35 percent of fatalities, while pedestrians constituted 25 percent of fatalities. Additionally, 70 percent of motor vehicle crash fatalities occurred in an urban area.

Leading Causes of Traffic Fatalities

Many factors cause traffic-related fatalities, and more than one factor can contribute to any particular accident. Some causes more frequently result in fatalities than others, including:

  • Drug and alcohol-impaired driving. There is no doubt that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol drastically increases the risk of an accident. Alcohol reduces brain function and impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. In the most recent year for which there is data, California led the country with 1,120 drunk-driving fatalities. Thirty-four percent of traffic fatalities in California involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.01, 29 percent involved a driver with a BAC at or above 0.08, and 19 percent involved a driver with a BAC at or above 0.15. Driving under the influence of drugs—prescription, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs—is also a serious issue in California. Forty-two percent of drivers killed in California motor vehicle accidents who were tested, tested positive for drugs.
  • Speeding. Speed limits exist for a reason. And obeying speed limits is important, but a driver must adjust their speed for weather and road conditions. For example, a snowy day might require a speed below the speed limit for safe driving. Driving too fast for the roadway or conditions increases the risk that a driver will lose control of the vehicle or strike another vehicle or a stationary object like a railing or tree. Nationally, speeding killed9,378 people in a recent year. Speeding has been a contributing cause of one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities for the last two decades.
  • Failure to stay in the proper lane. Failure to stay in the proper lane was the third-most-common driving behavior associated with fatal crashes in the most recent year for which there is data, with over 3,700 drivers committing this error. Failure to maintain the proper lane is often paired with other driver mistakes, including speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way. Drivers are required to understand the rules of the road, including when they must yield the right-of-way to another vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian. Drivers have a responsibility to ensure that no vehicles approach before turning into traffic and must be especially cautious when making left turns against oncoming traffic. Failure to yield the right-of-way is the fourth most common driving behavior for drivers involved in fatal accidents. More than 3,500 drivers exhibited this driving behavior in fatal motor vehicle accidents in a recent year.
  • Improper turning. Any improper turn increases the risk of a fatality because other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians do not anticipate it. An improper turn includes any turn not authorized by traffic laws. For example, executing a turn in violation of a “No Turn on Red” sign or making a U-turn when not authorized are improper turns. Drivers also need to use their signals when making turns. Failure to signal properly leaves others on the road in the dark about the driver’s intentions.
  • Failure to obey traffic signs. Traffic signs and signals serve an important function on roadways. Signs and signals declare the rules of the road, ensuring all drivers and pedestrians understand the appropriate operating procedure. When drivers take actions in violation of signs and signals, like running red lights or disregarding yield or stop signs, they put other drivers and pedestrians at risk.

The above is not an exhaustive list of the actions that cause motor vehicle fatalities but highlights some of the most common driver mistakes that result in traffic deaths. A lawyer can work with you to analyze evidence related to the specific accident to determine the cause and who was at fault for your loved one’s death.

Who Is Responsible?

The loved ones of a traffic fatality victim are often left distraught and confused. In addition to the emotional distress, these loved ones also must deal with the economic impact of losing a family member. If someone else acted negligently or intentionally in a way that caused your loved one’s death, you can bring a wrongful death claim against the responsible party. The responsible party may be:

  • Another driver: If another driver acted negligently, they can be held responsible for injuries or death their negligence caused. A driver’s failure to obey traffic rules and regulations can be evidence of negligence, including speeding or driving under the influence.
  • The other driver’s employer: If the negligent driver was working at the time of the accident, their employer may be responsible for the accident. You’re better off pursuing recovery from a driver’s employer, who is more likely to have a more robust insurance policy, than from the driver.
  • The vehicle manufacture: If a malfunctioning vehicle, such as faulty brakes, causes an accident, the manufacturer may be responsible for the accident.
  • The local government: In some instances, roads become unsafe because the local government fails to maintain the roadway and traffic signals. If you believe the local government caused your loved one’s death, speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Governmental entities often protect themselves from lawsuits and, if not, you must follow certain administrative procedures.

An experienced lawyer will work with you to understand the facts surrounding the victim’s death and advise you on the strength of your case against the negligent party. A lawyer will also help you compile and assess evidence for your case. Compiling a strong case against the negligent party is the only way to recover the full damages you deserve.

Recovering Damages

California law allows a deceased victim’s personal representative or certain survivors, including the victim’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, to bring a wrongful death action against the person or entity who caused their loved one’s death. The wrongful death law in California allows survivors to recover any just damages, but cannot include the victim’s pain and suffering or emotional distress. The damages available to survivors will depend on the facts of the case, but common damages include:

  • Actual expenses: If survivors incurred costs related to the victim’s final medical expenses or a funeral or burial, they are entitled to seek reimbursement of these expenses from the defendant.
  • Lost earnings: Many motor vehicle accident victims were an important economic contributor to their families. After their death, the survivors are left without this economic support and can seek to recover the victim’s lost earnings, including anticipated future earnings, from the defendant.
  • Loss of support: If survivors relied on the victim for support services, such as childcare, cooking, cleaning, or driving, the defendant is responsible for the cost of replacing these services. The most common measure of damages is the cost of hiring others to perform these services.
  • Non-economic losses: The damages demand should include non-economic damages the survivors have suffered including loss of love, moral support, and guidance from the victim. These damages are likely to be particularly acute for children who have lost a parent.

Identifying and assessing damages and communicating them with the personal representative for the victim can be complicated and confusing. The claimed amounts will need to take into account the victim’s:

  • Age, health, and life expectancy before the accident;
  • Work position and work habits;
  • Future earning capacity;
  • Opportunity and potential for career advancement; and
  • Number, age, and life expectancy of survivors.

If necessary, your lawyer will involve experts to provide input on the above factors to make sure your damages demand is comprehensive. Prepare a complete damage assessment so you can accurately evaluate any settlement offers you receive from the defendant. Your lawyer will help you assess any settlement offers from the defendant or their insurance company. Accepting a settlement offer resolves the matter more quickly and reduces the uncertainty of proceeding to trial, but you are unlikely to receive the entire amount of your damages if you choose to settle. Be sure to have an attorney help you to assess any settlement offer against the strength of your case. Additionally, you will need to consider the structure of any wrongful death settlement. There are two common methods for payment:

  • Lump sum payment: This type of settlement is generally preferred by survivors. In a lump sum settlement, the defendant offers a lump sum payment of the entire settlement amount as a single payment. This option provides survivors the money necessary for immediate payment of medical and other expenses and provides financial flexibility.
  • Structured settlement: Because wrongful death settlements reflect the impacts that survivors will suffer over time, another settlement option is a structured settlement. In these types of settlements, the defendant pays the settlement in agreed-upon amounts over time. Structured settlements don’t provide the same flexibility as a lump sum payment but do assist the survivors in ensuring the settlement is used to manage long-term expenses. Structured settlements are very difficult to change after they are accepted, so make sure the terms work for you before accepting the settlement offer.

When considering a settlement offer, the personal representative for the estate will also have to consider debts the victim owed. Any settlement the estate receives will need to first repay creditors before anything left over goes to the victim’s loved ones. A lawyer can work with you to evaluate the structure of the settlement offer and to ensure your interests are fairly represented.

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

The time after a loved one’s death is confusing and full of emotional and financial demands. One step you can take to ease this stress and protect your interests is to contact a lawyer who is experienced in securing results for wrongful death survivors. The May Firm has a history of securing results for our clients. The May Firm helps its clients navigate the complicated twists and turns of a wrongful death claim, including communications from insurance companies looking to resolve the matter with a fast settlement. Our firm has a proven track record of earning our clients the wrongful death settlements they deserve. We secure these results with our meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of California’s wrongful death laws. While we cannot guarantee results in any specific case, the May Firm works with each client to understand their unique goals and to create a strategy that is aimed at achieving those goals. With more than 22 years of experience and a 99 percent recovery rate, the May Firm has been the trusted advisor for numerous wrongful death clients in California. If you lost your loved one because of someone else’s negligent or intentional actions, contact The May Firm today at (844) 629-3472 or through our website for a free consultation. We don’t collect any fees unless we recover money on our client’s behalf.