Immediately after a fatal car, truck, or motorcycle accident, the trauma for family members, especially children, can be unbearable. An Oklahoma legislator is trying to help, filing a bill that would change how the bodies of accident victims are handled at the scene of fatal accidents. Current Oklahoma law requires that the victims of vehicle accidents cannot be moved until medical examiners confirm the death and begin their investigation.
According to The Journal Record, Oklahoma state senator George Burns from McCurtain County says there just are not enough medical examiners (MEs) in the area to promptly respond to calls of a traffic fatality. The delay in arrival can be devastating for family members on the scene. This also impedes investigations and takes up valuable police time. For example, often, the police need to clear the accident site to prevent additional car accidents. Disabled vehicles that remain on the road until the MEs arrive are dangerous for everyone who comes close to the accident scene.
For all of these reasons, Senator Burns is proposing Senate Bill 1123, which would permit emergency medical technicians to move deceased accident victims when the police complete their investigation of the accident. The bodies would then be transported to a local hospital where a medical examiner can finish their work. Senator Burns initiated the Senate bill after a constituent called him regarding a fatal accident in his district.
Senator Burns said:
This bill is about dignity for those who have lost their lives in a car accident, as well as reducing trauma for their loved ones. Family members had arrived on the scene long before the medical examiner, and it was a very distressing situation for them as they waited hours for the body to finally be removed from the accident site.
The senator added that, with 77 counties in Oklahoma, these delays can happen anywhere in the state, causing trauma for a victim’s loved ones. Further, the dangers of traffic accidents or buildups while waiting for MEs to arrive is very real. Burns added, “We need to address this issue for the benefit of law enforcement, first responders, families, and MEs.”
The Senate bill will be reviewed by the state legislature when they reconvene in February 2022.
Car accidents and wrongful death claims
Oklahoma’s wrongful death statute provides that the personal representative of the deceased person’s (or decedent’s) estate can file a wrongful death claim. A personal representative is either the person named in the deceased person’s will or an individual approved by the court. The beneficiaries are generally the people identified the decedent’s will or the people entitled to inherit through Oklahoma’s intestate laws. Common beneficiaries include a spouse, children, and parents.
Wrongful death damages include:
- The funeral and burial costs.
- The grief and loss of consortium of the surviving spouse, which can include the trauma of waiting for a medical examiner to arrive to examine the deceased’s body.
- The grief and loss of companionship that the children of the deceased and parents of the deceased suffer.
- Any pain and suffering the deceased endured between the accident and his/her death, in cases where death is not immediate.
- “The pecuniary loss to the survivors based upon properly admissible evidence with regard thereto including, but not limited to, the age, occupation, earning capacity, health habits, and probable duration of the decedent’s life, which must inure to the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and children, if any, or next of kin, and shall be distributed to them according to their pecuniary loss.”
The judge determines the proportion of damages each family receives. Our lawyers can explain the rights of adopted children, stepchildren, and other family members. We also explain the damages due if an expectant mother is killed in a car accident.
Oklahoma may also award punitive damages as part of a wrongful death claim in cases of reckless disregard of public safety. Punitive damages are meant to punish drivers or individuals who acted intentionally or especially dangerously, and are paid to the estate of the person who died. For example, if the driver drove while under the influence of alcohol, then the driver may be required to pay punitive damages.
Generally, the time limit for filing a wrongful death claim is two years.
At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City car accident lawyers understand the trauma of suddenly and senselessly losing a family member. We respect your need to grieve, remember, and honor your loved one. We understand that no settlement or verdict can ever replace them. Our lawyers also understand that right people must be held accountable. We work with investigators and others to show how the accident happened, who is responsible, and why the death of your loved one is so devastating.
We have the experience and resources to help you get justice. To speak with our caring, strong personal injury lawyers, contact us today in Oklahoma City or call us at 405-232-1212 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll guide you through this difficult time.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More