Does Car Insurance Cover a Pedestrian's Death?

When a pedestrian is killed in a car accident, potential insurance sources include the at-fault driver's policy, and the pedestrian's own uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

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:

  • Will car insurance cover the pedestrian's death?
  • If car insurance comes into play, whose policy will apply?
  • Does a car insurance claim require proving fault for the pedestrian's death?
  • What happens if there's not enough (or any) insurance coverage to pay for losses associated with the pedestrian's death?

In this article, we'll answer these questions, plus a few more.

The At-Fault Driver's Liability Insurance Will Cover a Pedestrian's Death

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:

  • medical bills for treatment of accident-related injuries
  • lost income, future lost earnings, and other kinds of financial harm resulting from car accident injuries or death
  • mental and physical "pain and suffering" caused by the accident, and
  • funeral and burial expenses.

Can Family Members File a Liability Car Insurance Claim After a Pedestrian's Death?

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:

  • a representative of the deceased pedestrian's estate, and/or
  • a surviving loved one (such as a spouse, parent, or adult child).

Learn more about how to start a car insurance claim.

A Liability Car Insurance Claim Requires Proof of the Policyholder's Fault

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:

  • the police report prepared in connection with the crash, particularly any findings, opinions, or conclusions the responding officer might have included in the report
  • the statements and stories of witnesses who saw the car accident and how it happened
  • the scene of the accident, including the location of vehicle debris, skid marks, the pedestrian's belongings, and other evidence
  • any traffic law that might have been violated in connection with the accident
  • phone records of those involved in the accident (to determine whether phone use/distracted driving played a part in the crash)
  • security video, dashboard cameras, or other forms of video that might have captured some or all of the accident.

Learn more about evidence to collect after a car accident, and how insurance companies investigate a car accident.

What Losses Are Covered In a Liability Car Insurance Claim After a Pedestrian's Death?

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:

  • the cost of any medical treatment the pedestrian received before succumbing to their injuries
  • financial support the deceased pedestrian would reasonably have provided to family members left behind
  • the mental and emotional impact that the loss of the deceased pedestrian will have on family members, including loss of "guidance and support", and
  • the cost of burial and funeral expenses.

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.

The Driver's Liability Insurance Might Not Cover the Family's Losses After a Fatal Pedestrian Accident

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.

The Pedestrian's Uninsured Motorist (or Underinsured Motorist) Coverage Might Apply

If the pedestrian carried their own car insurance policy, and that policy included uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage, that protection will apply if:

  • a vehicle driver ends up being at fault for the accident, and
  • that driver carries no car insurance, or their coverage isn't enough to cover the compensable losses resulting from the pedestrian's death.

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.

Learn more about how uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage works after a car accident.

Funeral/Burial Expenses Might Be Covered In No-Fault Car Insurance States

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.

For example:

  • Under New York's no fault car insurance system, pedestrians injured by motor vehicles are covered under the vehicle owner's insurance, meaning that any time a pedestrian is injured in an accident, the vehicle owner's no-fault coverage will apply to the pedestrian. In a situation where a pedestrian dies after a traffic accident in New York, their estate is entitled to a $2,000 "death benefit" from the vehicle owner's coverage.
  • Florida no-fault car insurance also covers pedestrians, and if a covered person is killed in a traffic accident, the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate, or the deceased person's relatives, can receive $5,000 in "death benefits" under the policy of the driver involved in the accident.

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.

What If No Insurance Covers a Pedestrian's Death After a Car 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:

  • the at-fault driver carries no car insurance
  • the accident is a "hit and run" where the driver can't be identified, and/or
  • the pedestrian has no car insurance of their own.

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.

Will Car Insurance Cover a Pedestrian's Death If the Driver Is Charged With a Crime?

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.

Do I Need a Lawyer For an Insurance Claim Over a Pedestrian'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.

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