Every day, there are fatalities from serious car accidents caused by the negligence of other drivers. When a loved one has died in a car crash, it may be possible to bring a wrongful death claim depending on the circumstances.
Kentucky has enacted a wrongful death statute, which defines wrongful death as a death caused by the negligent or wrongful acts of another (see Kentucky Statutes § 411.130 et seq.). Different types of behavior may form the basis for a wrongful death action, such as unintentional acts that are reckless or negligent or intentional acts like an assault. In a car accident, a person may be responsible for the death he caused when he passed another vehicle in an unsafe manner and caused a head-on collision with a car traveling in the opposite direction. A driver engaging in aggressive behaviors during a road rage event also may be held liable for the death of an innocent victim.
In order to bring a wrongful death action in Kentucky, the probate court must designate one person as the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. That representative may then bring a civil case to recover damages from the wrongdoer. Any money recovered through the wrongful death action is distributed to the estate and certain relatives of the deceased. Any compensation received is divided as follows:
- The estate is entitled to funds to cover the costs of the funeral and burial, as well as the expenses incurred as part of maintaining the wrongful death action; and
- Surviving family members of the deceased will get the balance of the compensation awarded in the wrongful death case, whether through a settlement or a jury award. The money awarded is intended to compensate close relatives for the loss relating to the death of the victim, including support of his family, as well as companionship, care, and guidance.
Under Kentucky law, there is a specified order of family members who may receive the proceeds of a wrongful death action, which is established by statute. This order, moving down through priority levels, is:
- The surviving spouse, if there were no surviving children, will receive the entire award;
- An equal split between a surviving spouse and surviving children;
- A distribution to the surviving children if there is no surviving spouse;
- The payment of the award to the parent(s) of the deceased if there is no surviving spouse or children; and
- If there are no surviving spouse, children, or parents, the damages award is paid into the estate and passes pursuant to the deceased’s will. If there is no will, then the money will be distributed according to the heirs established under Kentucky law.
Unlike some other states, Kentucky does provide for the award of punitive damages if the person’s death was the result of gross negligence or an intentional act. These damages are distinct because they are intended as a punitive measure, as opposed to compensation for actual economic and noneconomic losses.
There is a one-year time limit to bring a wrongful death action. This statute of limitations starts to run on the day that the victim died as a result of the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of the wrongdoer, so it is critical to seek legal assistance as soon as possible.
Murphy & Associates, PLC Helps Families after a Tragic Crash
Losing a loved one in a horrific car accident means that life forever will be altered for the surviving family members. Although money will not erase the loss, it will provide the financial support that the family needs as it begins the process of moving forward. The compassionate and knowledgeable Kentucky Personal Injury Attorneys at Murphy & Associates, PLC are committed to getting the best results possible for surviving family members. To schedule a free case evaluation, please call us at (502) 473-6464.