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Can early settlement offers in wrongful death litigation be fair?

Readers of this personal injury blog may appreciate some of the challenges that a plaintiff may face in convincing a jury that another driver was negligent. If the allegation were distracted driving, a subpoena of phone records might reveal whether the defendant was using his or her cell phone at the time of the crash. If the car was not equipped with hands-free technology, a presumption of distraction might attach.

Yet various stimuli, not just smartphones, may cause distraction. In a recent example, a New Jersey State Police officer’s dash camera showed a taxi inexplicably losing control as it passed another car on the New Jersey Turnpike. Unfortunately, its famous passengers -- mathematician John Nash and his wife -- suffered fatal injuries when the taxi smashed into a guardrail. The impact threw the passengers from the vehicle. According to a 911 call from a witness, the driver also suffered injuries.

Although surviving loved ones may be wrapped up in their grief, it is also important to remember to consult with an attorney after a tragic motor vehicle accident. If the deaths were wrongful and caused by the tax driver’s negligence, then survivors may be able to seek compensation via a civil lawsuit. However, in some cases, insurance companies may attempt to avoid personal injury litigation by making a settlement offer, especially in instances where the issue of fault seems clear. 

In this case, the dash camera does not show any other vehicles cutting off the taxi, so jurors might assume the driver became distracted or was at fault. Yet accepting an early settlement offer may deprive surviving loved ones of the full compensation that they might have recovered in a lawsuit. There are many calculations that go into a request for damages, such as lost wages, funeral expenses, pain and suffering, and other factors. An early settlement offer might not fully account for each of those injuries.

Source:  WPVI-TV, “Dashcam Video Released From NJ Turnpike Crash That Killed ‘A Beautiful Mind’ Mathematician John Nash,” July 18, 2015

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