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What Can I Recover When the At-Fault Driver Dies in a Wreck?


Sadly, there are many automobile wrecks in which the at-fault driver passes away. When this happens, the victims of his or her negligent driving will often have serious questions about recovering compensation. While the answer is “yes, the victims can recover compensation,” there certainly are some complexities. Ultimately, your rights do not fundamentally change if you were involved in an accident in which the at-fault driver dies. If he or she had insurance, you are still able to make a claim against that insurance.

To pursue damages in an accident that resulted in the at-fault driver’s death, you will likely need an experienced attorney. Your representative can guide you through the process and help obtain as much as possible through settlement or, if necessary, verdict. 

Negotiating with the At-fault Driver’s Automobile Insurer

Even if the at-fault driver dies in a wreck, you may still be able to negotiate with the insurance carrier. As long as his or her insurance coverage was in effect at the time of the wreck. That is, his or her insurance carrier will likely still attempt to settle claims arising out of the wreck. If you cannot reach a settlement with the insurer, the alternative is to file a lawsuit. That is where things start to get a little tricky.

Proper Defendant

Generally speaking, an injured motorist cannot sue a deceased at-fault driver. Doing so can result in dismissal of the case. However, you can sue his or her estate. An estate is the collection of assets (money, property, etc.) a person possessed at the time of his or her passing, executed by a legal authority. In North Carolina, the Estate will have an “Administrator”. The lawsuit will typically be titled something like this “John Doe, Plaintiff v. James Doe, as Administrator of the Estate of Jimmy Doe, Defendant”. Filing the lawsuit against the Estate will preserve your right to recover compensation from the automobile insurance coverage if you eventually win at trial. 

What if the defendant doesn’t have an estate?

Roughly 36% of Americans today have not set up end-of-life plans. If you are involved in a wreck with someone without a legal estate, your attorney can make arrangements to help set one up. This is a time-sensitive and costly part of an accident investigation. That is why we typically recommend retaining counsel if you have been involved in a wreck with a deceased Defendant. 

Representation when the Defendant Dies

Maginnis Howard’s lead personal injury attorney, Shawn Howard, has helped a number of North Carolinians injured in cases where the at-fault driver died. Many of these cases have involved drunk drivers. For example, Shawn recovered $1,300,000 for victims following a wreck in which a Statesville woman drunkenly slammed into their vehicle on I85. As a result of the Wreck, the at-fault driver died at the scene. After it became clear her family would not be setting up an Estate, Shawn had an Estate set-up for her using the “Public Administrator” and ultimately recovered significant compensation for his clients.

If you have been involved in an accident in which the at-fault driver passed away, we may be able to help. Please reach out to our office by phone at (919) 526-0450 or by email through our contact page. We offer free consultations for personal injury claims, and our fees are contingency-based. This means you don’t pay unless we recover damages on your behalf.