Three children and a woman were tragically killed on November 11th, 2016 when the car they were riding in was struck by a semi-truck on a stretch of Interstate 95 in South Carolina. According to a recent report published by the Baltimore Sun, the children hailed from Wheaton, Maryland and were siblings; the woman, from Silver Spring, Maryland, was a family friend. Other victims of the crash include the children’s mother, who was driving the 2001 Ford Taurus and suffered multiple traumatic injuries in the collision. The father was sitting in the front passenger’s seat and sustained minor injuries.
While the cause of the truck accident remains under investigation, the circumstances may lead to multiple lawsuits for personal injury, wrongful death, and a special case scenario called a survival action. There are also multiple defendants that could be liable for negligence in the crash.
It was just before 4 a.m. that the Ford Taurus was struck from behind by the truck. The collision sent both vehicles careening off the highway and into a ravine, where they smashed into several trees. In the impact, the truck crushed the car and drove on top of it, trapping the four backseat passengers.
On the scene, first responders needed chainsaws to cut trees, branches, and other debris from the car. Once they cleared the area, crews were able to cut through the car and free the driver. The woman was air-lifted to a local hospital, and the front passenger was driven to a medical center nearby.
According to relatives, the family was having car trouble in the moments leading up to the collision. They were traveling in the right lane of Interstate 95 with hazard lights flashing, in an attempt to reach a safe zone. The truck hit them from behind, possibly because the driver did not properly assess the speed of the car in front of him. He suffered minor injuries, according to reports.
Wrongful Death Case
When a person has died due to the negligence of someone else, there may be grounds for a wrongful death case. To prove the cause of action, a plaintiff must show that:
The victim’s death was proximately caused by the negligent actions of the defendant;
The death of the victim caused harm to the plaintiff, whether through pain and suffering or economic losses; and,
The plaintiff is a beneficiary that falls within the categories defined by statute.
Who Can Sue
The key to bringing a claim for wrongful death is that the plaintiff must have “standing” to sue because he or she is a beneficiary as defined by law. Under Maryland law, this type of lawsuit can be filed by the spouse, parent, and children of the decedent. In the horrific car crash that killed the three children, their mother and father would have standing to sue.
What is the Potential Compensation in a Wrongful Death Case?
The theory behind damages in a wrongful death case is that the deceased’s relatives suffer harm due to the victims’ death. In general, the losses would include mental and emotional anguish, loss of companionship, comfort, protection, care, guidance, and other relationship factors. In Maryland, there is a statutory cap on these types of damages. As of October 1, 2016, the non-economic damages cap is $830,000. However, if there are two or more plaintiffs claiming a wrongful death case, the cap is $2,075,000.
Another case that stems from death due to someone else’s negligence is a survival action, which is similar to a personal injury case. Maryland law allows compensation for the harm to the actual victim instead of the losses sustained by family members, as would be the case in a wrongful death action.
Who Can Sue?
Only the personal representative of the deceased person may sue in a survival action. This could be a person appointed by a court or designated by the decedent’s will. The representative is a type of agent, acting on behalf of the person that died to obtain compensation to cover his or her losses.
What is the Potential Compensation in a Survival Action?
The personal representative may sue to recover for such losses as:
Lost wages between the time of injury and death;
Pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other non-economic damages.
Note that there is no claim for non-economic damages in survival action if the death to the decedent was instantaneous; a plaintiff can still sue for medical bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses. This rule does not apply for wrongful death cases because the theory of damages is different.
Defendants in a Wrongful Death Case or Survival Action
The person who acted negligently would be a proper defendant in a wrongful death case or survival action. In the car accident that killed the four people, the driver of the truck would be a proper defendant. The driver of the Taurus had turned on flashing lights to make other motorists aware that the car was disabled and acting as a road hazard. The truck driver arguably did not take proper precaution to avoid the Taurus, causing the crash. However, in this case, there are other potential defendants. When motor vehicles are involved, an insurance company would cover losses caused by the responsible party as part of the contract for insurance. The truck driver’s employer might be a potential defendant through a legal theory known as “vicarious” liability. If an employee was acting in the course of his or her employment and caused harm to another person, the employer may be sued for the worker’s negligence.