When a traffic accident results in a pedestrian's death, the aftermath is usually filled with all kinds of emotions and concerns. At some point, practical questions are likely to come up, including:
In this article, we'll answer these questions, plus a few more.
In almost every state, vehicle owners are required to purchase "bodily injury" liability car insurance in order to register their vehicle. This kind of insurance kicks in when the vehicle owner causes a car accident, and someone is injured or killed as a result of the crash. (Get the basics on the role of insurance after a car accident.)
Bodily injury liability car insurance is meant to cover a variety of losses ("damages" in the language of the law) stemming from a car accident that was the policyholder's fault, including:
In most situations, if an at-fault driver causes a pedestrian's death in an accident, an insurance claim can be filed with the driver's car insurance company (under their liability coverage) by:
Learn more about how to start a car insurance claim.
Keep in mind that just because a driver carries liability insurance, that doesn't mean their insurance company is automatically going to take financial responsibility when the driver is involved in an accident where a pedestrian is killed.
If the pedestrian's family or estate ends up filing a car insurance claim with the vehicle driver's insurer (called a "third party" car insurance claim), the insurance adjuster is almost certainly going to be sympathetic to the situation, and sensitive to the family's loss. But the adjuster is an employee of the insurance company after all, and their job is to make sure the company pays out as little as possible in response to any kind of claim.
It's still going to be necessary for the family (or their attorney) to establish that the policyholder (meaning the driver) was at fault for the accident that led to the pedestrian's death. Along these same lines, don't be surprised if the insurance adjuster tries to argue that the pedestrian was actually at fault for the accident. (Learn more about when a pedestrian might be liable for an accident.)
Proving fault for a vehicle accident of any kind usually means proving that one or more people (i.e. a vehicle driver) was negligent. Every accident case is unique, of course, but in the context of a traffic accident involving a pedestrian's death, negligence can usually be shown by locating, analyzing, and properly framing evidence from a number of different sources, including:
Learn more about evidence to collect after a car accident, and how insurance companies investigate a car accident.
When a car accident results in death, the goal of a car insurance claim against the at-fault driver's insurance company is to seek fair compensation for all resulting losses. These might include:
Wrongful death laws in the state are likely to affect the kinds of losses that an insurance company will consider as "in play" when making a settlement offer. So, for example, if the state's wrongful death statutes would allow a family member to recover compensation for a deceased family member's pre-death "pain and suffering" in court (if they were to file a wrongful death lawsuit), it's fair to expect an insurance company to consider those losses in calculating a fair settlement.
Practically speaking, it might not make much sense to try to "itemize" the kinds of losses that might be included in a car insurance settlement over a pedestrian's death, because it's rare for a driver's liability car insurance dollar limits to cover the true impact the death is sure to have on the family members.
It's true that liability car insurance is required in almost every state. But it's also true that the minimum amounts of required coverage are often fairly low. Under California car insurance laws, for example, vehicle owners are only required to carry bodily injury liability insurance of $15,000 for situations where one person is injured or killed in an accident involving the covered vehicle. (If more than one person is injured or killed, minimum liability coverage expands to $30,000 total in California.) Plenty of other states have comparable minimums.
So, when a vehicle owner carries only enough liability insurance to meet the state's minimum coverage requirements, and they end up causing a pedestrian's death, it's not hard to see how that insurance alone might not be enough to cover the losses suffered by the loved ones left behind.
Imagine that the deceased pedestrian is a married 40-year-old mother of two who's the primary "breadwinner" in the family. In that situation, even if the at-fault driver carries $100,000 in liability coverage, it's probably not going to come close to providing fair compensation to the family's losses.
In situations like this, additional insurance sources might be available to help cover the losses resulting from the pedestrian's death.
If the pedestrian carried their own car insurance policy, and that policy included uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage, that protection will apply if:
Whether you're filing an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim, the first thing to do is report the accident to the insurance company whose policy covers the pedestrian who was killed (usually that means the pedestrian's own car insurance policy, but it could mean a family member's policy which also extends to cover the pedestrian).
Hopefully, the insurance can help you get an idea of the driver's insurance status, and explain your options if it looks like you'll need to make an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim.
But remember, with an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim, there are still coverage limits in place. In most states, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage can't exceed the amount of the policyholder's liability coverage.
In states that follow a no-fault car insurance system, vehicle owners are required to carry a minimum amount of "personal injury protection" (or "PIP") coverage, which kicks in automatically to provide the vehicle owner (and others) with certain economic benefits after an accident, regardless of who caused the crash.
In these states, a vehicle owner's PIP insurance almost always extends to anyone who is injured in an accident involving the covered vehicle. That includes pedestrians. And when anyone (including a covered pedestrian) is killed in an accident, their family is entitled to certain "death benefits" under the PIP policy.
Remember that unlike a claim filed under a driver's liability car insurance, when a pedestrian is covered under a driver's PIP insurance (as is the case in all no-fault states), these benefits are automatic, and there's no need to prove who was at fault for the underlying accident.
So far we've discussed potential sources of car insurance coverage when a pedestrian is killed in a car accident. But it's certainly possible that there's no available coverage at all. This can happen if, for example:
In the first example above, where the at-fault driver is uninsured, there are still options for trying to get compensation for the pedestrian's death (and for the resulting losses experienced by the pedestrian's family), but the chances of actual financial recovery might be pretty low. Learn more about legal options after an accident with an uninsured driver.
If criminal charges are brought against a driver over their part in causing a pedestrian's death, that could have an impact on the car insurance picture, but it's not likely to change things. There's a chance that the driver's car insurance company (or the pedestrian's own insurer) will try to deny coverage for a claim brought over an accident that led to criminal charges (or a criminal conviction), especially if the driver was participating in street racing or some other inherently dangerous criminal activity.
The insurance company's argument here would be that since the driver's conduct was criminal (and intentional), it's specifically excluded from coverage under a liability insurance policy. But these insurance company tactics don't usually work, especially if the accident resulted from driving under the influence (DUI) or reckless driving. This kind of conduct, though criminal, will almost always be covered by liability car insurance when an ensuing accident results in someone's death.
If you're thinking about taking legal action over the death of a loved one, there's too much at stake to try handling the matter on your own (even putting aside the emotional side of things, which will only add another layer of complication).
As we touched on above, in many situations, even when an insurance company is willing to accept financial responsibility for a pedestrian's death after a car accident, the driver's policy limits can act as a low ceiling for the amount of compensation that's recoverable in an insurance settlement.
Additional steps are often necessary if the pedestrian's family or estate wants to leave no stone unturned in getting a fair outcome. That often means exhausting all other potential sources of insurance coverage, and/or taking the matter to court by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
All of this means that, in these kinds of cases, there's simply no substitute for having an experienced lawyer on your side to fight for the best result. Learn more about how a lawyer can help with a car accident case, and get tips on finding the right injury lawyer.