In the legal field, we speak about death in technical terms that can feel very removed from personal tragedy. The legal term for a car accident fatality is “wrongful death”. Court filings refer to your loved one as the “decedent”, and discuss “negligent actions” and “punitive damages.”
Because we are so accustomed to this legal language, it’s particularly touching to read a real, heartfelt story of a mother and daughter struggling with a Vancouver man’s unexpected death. He had stopped to help a stranded driver on I-205, and was fatally injured in a hit-and-run crash late last year.
A woman has lost her husband of 40 years. A daughter can never introduce her father to his first grandchild, due in April. Their story of the aftermath of this car crash is moving, and their bravery in sharing their grief is inspiring. *
Violent, unexpected deaths have an effect that is impossible to calculate.
There is no right time to lose someone you love.
But if you have ever seen the aftermath of a fatal car crash, you can imagine that person’s death was very different from passing away in old age, surrounded by loved ones, free from pain.
There is a sense of unjustness: it’s not fair that someone else made a choice to drive drunk, to speed on an icy road, or to run a red light.
There’s nothing that the law can do to remedy this unfairness.
The solutions we do have— criminal and civil lawsuits — are necessary for order in society, because there must be consequences for bad or negligent acts. But no lawsuit can undo what has happened, and no amount of money can replace someone you love: these are simply the only tools we have to try to compensate for loss.
For the family left behind, these lawsuits can be helpful—and sometimes, painful.
Criminal cases force survivors to recount the grim details of the worst day of their lives. Civil lawsuits have to be filed for survivors to get rightful insurance benefits. This added injustice could complicate the grieving process.
Death is always a shock whenever it happens…When it’s unexpected that can lead to some complicated grieving.
-Cory Bolkan, Washington State University, Vancouver
Bereavement groups can help people move forward, and manage some of the complex feelings that accompany a sudden death. It helps survivors to be with others who understand that grief and anger.
Last year alone, there were 39 traffic fatalities in Clark County, Washington. That’s twice as many as in 2013. That means hundreds more grieving spouses, children and parents, and many more friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers.
Survivor stories like the one told in The Columbian remind us that in every town, in every county in Washington, there are real people suffering from the consequences of someone else’s actions.
Remember this every time you get behind the wheel of a car: you are responsible for driving safely, and reducing the risk of harm for everyone else on the road. Your actions, deliberate or accidental, can have a terrible, life-changing affect on so many other people.
*Out of respect for the family, we will not post their names. You can read the article here: Survivors Deal with Complex Layers of Grief