An off-duty Orange County firefighter was struck and killed while riding his bike in Mission Viejo earlier this month. According to reports, 44-year-old Mike Kreza was training for a triathlon early one morning when a van suddenly swerved into the bike lane. Kreza suffered severe injuries to his head and body. He was transported to the hospital but died from his injuries the next day.
Police believe that the 25-year-old driver of the van was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident. A search of his vehicle uncovered “multiple prescription medications.” He was promptly arrested for his role in the accident and is facing serious criminal charges, including those for DUI and murder.
No one is prepared for the sudden and unexpected loss of a family member. This is certainly true when that family member is only 44 years old. The family may consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the young DUI driver. While money will not bring the father of three back, it can help the family cope with its tragic loss.
The Firefighter’s Estate Can Bring a Survival Action
There are two types of lawsuits that can be filed after a deadly accident. The first is a wrongful death claim, which is brought by the victim’s family members. This allows family members to recover compensation for losses that they personally experience in the wake of an unexpected death.
The second is a survival action, which is brought by the accident victim’s estate. This allows the estate to recover compensation that the victim would have been entitled to, had they survived the accident.
Survival actions aren’t always pursued after a fatal accident. They’re typically reserved for situations when victims don’t succumb to their accident-related injuries right away. Why? Survival actions permit estates to recover compensation that the victim himself would have been entitled to receive.
These damages are limited to those a victim incurs between the time of the accident and time of death. If a victim dies immediately, there are no recoverable damages with a survival action.
The Costa Mesa firefighter did not immediately die from the injuries sustained in the bicycle accident. In fact, the victim did not pass away until the next day. As a result, his estate will have grounds to file a survival action to recover compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Emotional trauma, and
- Any other damages the victim suffered.
The existence of a survival claim doesn’t prevent a family from filing its own wrongful death lawsuit. They are separate and distinct legal claims.
What Do Families Have to Prove in Wrongful Death Claims?
Wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions filed by those who were closest to an accident victim. A wrongful death claim can be successful if the family can prove that the defendant’s negligent or wrongful actions caused their loved one’s death.
Since the driver of the van was illegally under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the accident, the family won’t have the burden of proving he was negligent. Instead, they’ll just have to provide evidence to show that his drugged driving caused the fatal bike accident.
What Can the Family Recover From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a powerful tool for family members of accident victims. It can allow them to recover compensation for the losses they personally experience in the wake of their loved one’s tragic death.
This can be particularly important when the victim was primarily responsible for supporting his or her family financially.
The firefighter’s family may be entitled to compensation for:
- Funeral and/or burial expenses
- Financial support the firefighter would have contributed to his family during his normal life expectancy
- The loss of benefits or gifts that the family would have expected to receive from the firefighter
- The value of household services the firefighter would have provided
- Loss of companionship, affection, protection, training, guidance, and moral support, and
- Loss of consortium (sexual relations) with the firefighter.
Family members are not permitted to recover compensation for their own pain and suffering.
When Do Wrongful Death Claims Have to Be Filed?
The family will only have a limited amount of time to file its wrongful death claim against the drugged driver. In most cases, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is two years from the date of the accident or death, whichever is later. The family can be prohibited from getting the money it deserves if it does not file its claim on time.
Losing a loved one unexpectedly can be devastating. In addition to extreme emotional and psychological pain, families often face significant financial burdens. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help to reduce your stress and suffering after a fatal accident.
It’s important to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer and consider your legal options. Contact our Orange County lawyers to schedule a free consultation today.