My spouse was killed in a Georgia car wreck. What are my legal options?

My-spouse-was-killed-in-a-Georgia-car-wreck-300x200Losing a husband or wife in a car accident is devastating in itself, but to have to worry about the legal consequences of this life-changing event in the context of preserving assets or evidence in order to protect yourself or your family can be overwhelming.

Most of the time, it is fine to wait a few days after the car accident to grieve and work out the funeral arrangements and arrange memorial services.  Because of the heightened duties for law enforcement to investigate a car fatality, the police or Georgia State Patrol should be performing a thorough forensic examination of the collision, including obtaining witness statements, taking pictures and video, reconstructing the wreck using computer simulations and examining the vehicles.  Law enforcement can work weeks to produce a complete accident report from a fatality wreck, as compared to the accident report from a non-lethal collision, which could be prepared and available in a few days.

Depending on the circumstances of the wreck, and who the parties involved are, the offending driver whose negligence killed your spouse could be more aggressive in trying to influence the police investigation.  While the police usually do a good job of limiting access to evidence, if the other side controls some evidence, even the police can miss it.

For instance, if the offending driver is a commercial truck driver who worked for a big company, their lawyers may send their own investigative team out to try to get a jump on defending themselves.  For them, taking responsibility for causing your spouse’s death is a financial threat, and they have the resources and money to try to push a narrative favorable to their case.  They may “lawyer up”, denying police efforts to get candid information and frustrating police efforts to charge their driver.

A non-commercial driver who does not work for a big company may have less means to try to influence the investigation, but their insurance company may try to obtain favorable witness statements, scrap their driver’s car in an attempt to destroy the black box or EDR (Electronic Data Recorder) or try to coach their driver as to what to say to police.  None of these tactics are necessarily wrong or illegal under Georgia law.  However, it does demonstrate why you want to get an Atlanta truck accident lawyer.

In order to protect yourself and your family, you should contact a lawyer to preserve the evidence and protect your rights.  A good personal injury lawyer can send a “spoliation” letter, requiring the insurance companies and parties helping the other driver or drivers to preserve the vehicles or evidence, under the penalty of law.

Under Georgia law, there could be two separate cases for the death of your spouse.  The first could be a “survivorship” claim.  If your spouse survived the impact, only to die later, then his or her pre-death medical bills, fear, pain, suffering and horror from the wreck are compensable.  This survivorship claim is brought by the legal representative of the estate.  This would be the executor if your spouse had a will or the administrator if not.  Usually, the surviving spouse serves in this role, and the auto wreck lawyer should set this up for you, and not make you do it yourself.  Along with the survivorship case, our firm assists our clients in the entire probate process, including property like the family home, life insurance and financial accounts.  We do this service as part of our contingency fee for the auto accident, at no additional charge.

The second case is the wrongful death case.  Wrongful death is the legal means to obtain compensation for the “full value of the life” of the deceased spouse on behalf of the surviving family members.  The surviving spouse is the person that legally controls the wrongful death case in terms of retaining a lawyer and deciding the terms of any settlement.

At Scholle Law, our named partner Charles Scholle has 25 years of experience in auto accident litigation and probate law.  In his first few years of practice, Mr. Scholle did almost exclusively probate law, and was appointed by the Gwinnet County Probate Court as an estate representative in many cases.  With cases involving deaths, our firm handles everything we legally can for the survivors, including helping with the paperwork that does not even involve the car wreck, like the house titles, car titles and creditors.  We can answer any questions you have during a free, no obligation case evaluation.  Call 770-717-5100 to set up an appointment if you need help.  We can help with the legal issues, so you can get back to what is truly important–your family.

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