In 2016, there were more than 34,000 fatalities due to car accidents nationwide, and 962 Arizonans died in car crashes that year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In many of those accidents, the driver who was responsible for the accident died. Death does not absolve the driver from liability, but it does create complications in an injury case.
When a plaintiff has a claim against a defendant who died in the accident (or shortly thereafter), the normal process is to file a claim against the Estate of the deceased. Typically, a family member of the decedent will be appointed to handle the deceased driver’s Estate including any assets and debts the decedent had. As a practical matter, if the only asset the deceased the driver had is his/her liability insurance policy, then the injured victims will submit their claim through that insurance policy.
In Arizona, every car owner is required to have liability insurance. The minimum requirements are $15,000 for bodily injury and $10,000 for property damage. The car owner, if different than the driver, is usually liable if the driver is at-fault (provided the owners gave the driver permission to use the vehicle). Owner liability does not end even if the driver dies.
Injury victims also have the right, in Arizona, to file car accident claims through their own UM/UIM policy. UM/UIM is short for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This means that if the deceased driver did not have enough insurance to pay your claim, then your own insurance carrier is obligated to pay the balance of the claim – up to the UM/UIM policy limits.
Proving liability when a driver dies
The death of a driver does make it somewhat harder to prove how the accident happened. For starters, dead people can’t be questioned (orally or in writing) about the accident. Many times, a living driver will either admit that he/she was responsible or will provide answers that help show he or she was responsible.
Liability in a car accident case can be proved without the testimony of either party. Often, liability can be proved by physical evidence, including where the vehicle was damaged, the layout of the streets, and other physical evidence. If the deceased driver was drunk at the time of the accident, toxicology reports may be able to verify that the driver was intoxicated when the crash occurred.
Independent witnesses, people who don’t have an interest in the case, are generally allowed to testify. For example, police officers should be able to testify even if the driver dies. Injured victims, even if they can’t testify about liability issues, can usually testify about their medical condition, pain and suffering, and economic damages.
If you or anyone you love was injured in killed in a car accident, you have the right to hold everyone who was responsible for the crash accountable. This includes holding deceased drivers accountable. At Plattner Verderame, P.C., our Phoenix car accident lawyers have the experience and resources to help you get justice. To arrange a free consultation, please call us today at 602.783.8793 or complete our contact form. We represent car accident victims on a contingency fee basis.