You're worth more alive than dead

I had someone ask me last week, "What is the family of a car crash victim (who dies in the crash) entitled to?" That was a great question and is the topic of this week's column.

To start, you probably know that if you are INJURED in a car crash, you have a right to sue the driver who caused the crash. In the lawsuit, you are entitled to money (i.e. compensation for your losses).

Generally, injured car crash victims are entitled to an award for 'pain and suffering' and an award for a loss of income (if the victim loses shifts or his/her job). The injured victim is also entitled to an award for medical treatment, which can include medical treatment for the rest of the person’s life. Sounds fair, right?

Well, the situation is MUCH different if you are killed in a crash (rather than just injured).

If you are killed in a car crash, you obviously cannot sue for your losses (because you’re dead). But, some of your family members can: only your parents, children, or spouse can sue the driver.

Now, you are probably thinking, "What can you sue the driver for?" Well, you’ll probably guess that your family could receive money for their 'pain and suffering' (for losing you). If you thought that, though, you'd be wrong.

After you die in a car crash, the resulting lawsuit is controlled by the Family Compensation Act , R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 126. And, in these types of lawsuits, your family can ONLY get compensation for their FINANCIAL loss resulting from your death. That means that there CANNOT be an award for 'pain and suffering'.

I'll explain...

Here is an example: You are 40 years old. You have a husband and two children. Your family depends on your income (as your husband is a 'stay-at-home dad'). One day, on your way to work, you die in a car crash. As a result, your husband and children sue the offending driver (who caused your death). From the lawsuit, they are basically only able to get the money (from the offending driver) that keeps them living the same lifestyle that they were living before your death. In deciding how much money to award, the court looks at how much financial support you provided to your family. It is just a math question. There is no award for loss of love/companionship or for 'pain and suffering'.

Seem unfair? Well, it is. Here is an example to show how unfair it is...

You are 70 years old. You have a husband and two children. Your children are grown up and have left home. You retired five years ago with enough savings to retire comfortably with your partner. One Tuesday, you are killed in a car crash. As a result of your death, your family suffers zero financial loss from your death. As a result, your family would likely receive NOTHING in a lawsuit against the driver who caused your death.

This same situation is applicable to children: if a child (who is killed in a car crash) contributed nothing (financially) to the family, then the family is likely to receive NOTHING in a lawsuit against the driver who killed the child. On the flip side, when a child or an elderly person is injured (and not killed), they are entitled to 'pain and suffering' and potentially a bunch of other money.

Clearly, A LOT of people are worth more alive than dead...

Fortunately, the law may change in the future. Currently, there is a group, the Wrongful Death Law Reform Group, that is working to change this current situation in the law. Among their efforts, they are trying to introduce a new law: the Wrongful Death Accountability Act. This law would allow for fair compensation for deceased car crash victims. You can read more about the group’s efforts to change the law here: Wrongful Death Reform Group.

Drive safe...

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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