Car accidents are rarely fatal, but when they are, it’s a good idea to know what happens at the scene and how to respond. Many steps of protocol are carried out by emergency medical services, firemen, and policemen that arrive on the scene.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Happens Immediately After a Car Accident When Someone Dies?
- What Happens After the Accident Scene?
Here’s an overview of what you might experience, whether you happen to be a bystander, experience the accident yourself, or arrive on the scene to aid a loved one or friend, you should be prepared for what you might experience. Here is what you’ll encounter when a car accident results in death at the scene.
What Happens Immediately After a Car Accident When Someone Dies?
For anything involving emergency medical services including fire, police, and medical personnel, there are strict protocols that must be followed. Though by no means exhaustive, this list will give you insight into steps taken at the scene of an accident.
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EMTs and paramedics arrive
For any significant car crash where injuries are involved, 911 is often called. Along with the fire department and police, an ambulance will arrive with EMTs and paramedics. These medical professionals are equipped to perform lifesaving measures, administer medication, and transport accident victims to a hospital.
They have a strict protocol to follow when arriving on the scene to determine who needs help and in case of an accident victim’s death. They’ve been trained to handle scenes like this so you can be sure that medical professionals attending to your friend or loved one can handle any type of injury or circumstance they face.
Once on-scene, EMTs and paramedics perform triage to determine who is the most critically injured and who requires immediate help. During this process, they also determine if any of the accident victims are deceased. If a deceased person is present, the emergency medical staff will cover the body with a white sheet and will then treat others in the area.
People often wonder why dead bodies are covered with a sheet. This is done for several reasons.
- Covering a dead body helps to preserve the dignity of the deceased.
- It preserves the accident scene for the coroner.
- It provides an extra measure of privacy and gives medical staff time to identify the person and alert family members about the accident. The last thing medics want is for a bystander to snap a picture of a deceased person, post it to social media, and have the deceased’s family find out about the accident before the authorities were able to alert them.
The coroner arrives
When paramedics or another emergency medical personnel have determined that a death has occurred at the scene, they call the coroner.
Due to the method of inquiry and investigation that the coroner must carry out, emergency medical professionals will not remove or otherwise move the body until the coroner gives permission to do so. Once the coroner arrives on-scene, they begin a scene assessment. They try to piece together what caused the person’s death, determine how the accident occurred, interview eyewitnesses, take pictures of the scene, and otherwise document everything involved with the person’s death.
The coroner is the one person who must determine what caused the person’s death, if the death was directly related to the accident, and how the accident occurred. These are critical elements and the answers can mean the difference between a driver at fault, pressed with criminal charges, or changed with a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even if a driver is “at fault” he or she may not be chargeable with criminal activity. For example, if an “at fault” driver crashed because of a mechanical failure, the car is “at fault” because they caused the crash, but it was through no ill intent or criminal means.
If, however, the person was at fault and driving over the legal alcohol limit, they may be charged with vehicular manslaughter and be liable for a wrongful death lawsuit. The coroner is the person who gets to the bottom of each of these factors when determining how the accident occurred and whether it was the cause of someone’s death.
The coroner also determines whether the accident was the cause of death. If, for example, the deceased person had a heart attack prior to the accident, then the heart attack could have caused the accident, not the other way around.
Family members notified
If possible, the coroner will identify the deceased person and ensure their nearest relative is notified such as a wife or child. Sometimes family members will be asked to the scene or the morgue to positively identify the accident victim.
A police report is filed
A police report will be filed as soon as the police arrive on the scene. This occurs simultaneously when the coroner carries out his duties. Police take down eyewitness statements of anyone who saw the crash in addition to statements from anyone in the crash who is able to give one.
The initial police report forms the first of many paper trails that may be used to determine who is “at fault” and whether the driver may be held liable for the person’s death.
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Victim transported to the morgue
Once the coroner is finished at the scene, the dead body is transported to the morgue under the coroner’s care. At the morgue, further investigation may be needed to determine the cause of death.
If it looks like the accident didn’t cause the person’s death, a full autopsy may be needed. An autopsy will help determine if the person died because of a non-accident-related incident such as a blood clot, aneurysm, or heart attack, or if the accident caused bleeding in the brain, hemorrhaging, or another cause of death that wasn’t immediately recognizable at the scene.
Family members prepare for the funeral
Once the person’s cause of death is determined, the body is then released to the family to begin preparations for burial. At this point, family members may coordinate with a mortuary or funeral home to transport the body.
What Happens After the Accident Scene?
After the accident scene, the family has time to prepare for a loved one’s funeral and memorial services. Depending on the cause of the accident, families may choose to take the opportunity to highlight the importance of items like road safety or other related causes.
Memorial and funeral
Unless there is cause for a delay, family members can begin planning their loved one’s memorial and funeral as soon as the coroner is finished examining the body and determining the cause of death.
During this time, notices will be sent out alerting friends and family to the time and location of both events. Most memorials, wakes, and funerals will be held within a week or two. If you are a close friend or relative, do all you can to arrange time off of work so you can attend.
It can be difficult to know what to say when someone dies unexpectedly. Most of the time, your presence, more than your words, provides comfort to someone who is going through a traumatic experience. Your friend or loved one might ask questions about what happens when you die, but don’t feel like you need to provide all the answers. Sometimes it just helps to have someone to talk to.
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Some families opt to set up a roadside memorial to remember their loved ones. For accident victims whose death was caused by a faulty guardrail, a drunk driver, or a dangerous stretch of highway, memorials might be set up to both remember the victim and draw attention to changes needed on the roadway or in society.
Most public highways permit a roadside memorial display so long as it is small enough that traffic is not impeded. These memorials can be placed off the side of the road near the area where the person passed away.
Some families find comfort in donating to charity in their loved one’s name for causes that were important to their loved one or directly related to the cause of death. The family might also ask for donations to the charity in lieu of flowers on memorial or funeral invitation cards. Charity donations are one way to bring meaning to a loved one’s tragic and unexpected death.
If the cause of their loved one’s death was something that could have been avoided, some families carry out awareness campaigns.
Awareness campaigns bring public attention to the cause of a loved ones’ death, highlight how the death could have been avoided, and champion for change to prevent future deaths resulting from the same issue. These types of campaigns are particularly popular when fighting against drunk driving, driving while high, and driving without a license.
Around one person every 50 minutes dies as the result of a driver who is intoxicated. Drunk driving awareness campaigns aim to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on the road. For every person that decides not to drive after drinking, one family might be spared the untimely and unnecessary loss of a spouse, sibling, or friend.
Navigating Unexpected Death
A car accident that results in an unexpected death is tragic and traumatic for all involved. If you’re the loved one of an accident victim, it’s vital to keep family and friends around you. Remember that you’re never alone as you navigate your way through this difficult time.
- “Management of the Deceased.” Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020. https//www.chemm.nlm.nih.gov/deceased.htm.
- “Drunk Driving.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020. https//www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving.
- Clark, Stephen, and Meeks, Rachel. “EMS Crash Sight Responsibility.” StatPearls, NCBI, 10 September 2020. https//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537069/.
- Levin, Gabriel. “What Happens When Someone Dies Due to a Car Accident?” Auto Accidents, The Levin Law Firm, 24 January 2020. https//www.levininjuryfirm.com/car-accident-death/
Once the coroner is finished at the scene, the dead body is transported to the morgue under the coroner's care. At the morgue, further investigation may be needed to determine the cause of death. If it looks like the accident didn't cause the person's death, a full autopsy may be needed.
What do you say after a fatal accident? ›
What happens to a body in a car crash? ›
What to Say to Someone After a Car Accident
- “I'm Glad You're Okay” ...
- “How are you feeling” ...
- "Is there anything I can do to help you right now?" ...
- "I can't imagine what you're going through, but know that I'm here for you." ...
- "Take all the time you need to recover. ...
- "I'll be praying for your quick recovery."
Studies show the intense impact a car crash has on the human body even at 15 or 20 miles an hour. It can bruise tissue, cause microtears in muscles and ligaments, and even cause blood vessels in the brain to tear.
What does died on impact mean? ›
In a collision during which a person dies on impact, the death is usually caused by severe trauma to vital organs, such as the brain and the heart. This impact is often caused when a car slams into an immovable object at high speed, like a wall or tree.
Are autopsies performed on car crash victims? ›
The forensic pathologist deems a forensic autopsy is necessary to determine cause and/or manner of death, or document injuries/disease, or collect evidence. The deceased is involved in a motor vehicle incident and an autopsy is necessary to document injuries and/or determine the cause of death.
Where does the soul go after death? ›
The Catholic conception of the afterlife teaches that after the body dies, the soul is judged, the righteous and free of sin enter Heaven. However, those who die in unrepented mortal sin go to hell.
What not to say in a car crash? ›
Don't say “I'm sorry”
What is the main cause of death in a car crash? ›
DON'T! A simple “I'm sorry” can be used to show that you admitted guilt and responsibility for the accident. Even if you mean “I'm sorry you're late for work” or “I'm sorry you are hurt” – try to avoid using the words “I'm sorry”.
What Is the Most Common Cause of Death in Car Accidents? Internal injuries are the most common injuries that cause death in car accidents. These injuries include traumatic brain injuries from head trauma or damage to internal organs.
How does a car crash feel? ›
It's a generalized pain. What's really unexpected for many people is that pain will feel like it's moving around. At one point in time of the day, it will feel like it's your shoulder, then it's in your back, and then it's back in your shoulder, then it's in your neck, and it's in your back again.
Can you survive a 70 mph crash? ›
High Risk of Death: More Than 70 MPH
A motor vehicle traveling over 70 MPH is a fatal car accident near certainty if it crashes with another vehicle or any other object. At that speed, there is almost no time for reactions, very little chance to regain control, and a huge amount of force that few people could survive.
When someone is dying, their heartbeat and blood circulation slow down. The brain and organs receive less oxygen than they need and so work less well. In the days before death, people often begin to lose control of their breathing. It's common for people to be very calm in the hours before they die.
What does it mean to be killed instantly? ›
: unexpected death that is instantaneous or occurs within minutes from any cause other than violence. sudden death following coronary occlusion.
What speed of impact is fatal? ›
When a car is going slowly, the risk of serious injury is about 1%. At 50 mph, the risk increases to 69% for injury and the risk for serious injury increases to 52%. A fatal car accident is practically inevitable at speeds of 70 mph or more.
Do insurance companies pay for autopsy? ›
No. Private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid do not pay for autopsy examinations.
Who pays for an autopsy when someone dies? ›
Unless ordered by the state, families are required to pay for an autopsy. It's important to note that medical insurance does not cover this procedure. Autopsies may cost between $3000 and $5000, although that amount may be worked into a wrongful death lawsuit payout should the case go to trial.
Why is the tongue removed during autopsy? ›
"I remove your tongue during an autopsy - we need to make sure you didn't bite down on it, need to make sure you don't have drugs at the back of your throat."
How many days does the soul enter the body? ›
In the time of Aristotle, it was widely believed that the human soul entered the forming body at 40 days (male embryos) or 90 days (female embryos), and quickening was an indication of the presence of a soul.
How long does it take to go to heaven after death? ›
We enter heaven immediately upon our death, or our souls sleep until the second coming of Christ and the accompanying resurrection. Most have chosen to believe what the Bible appears to overwhelmingly propose: our souls (spirits) penetrate heaven immediately after we take our final breath.
Can you attend your own funeral? ›
However, it truly is possible to attend your own funeral / memorial service / celebration of life. What Next Avenue calls a “living funeral,” perhaps better called a “living tribute,” is becoming more common every day.
How do you say sorry after a car accident? ›
What to Say to Someone Who's Been Critically Injured in a Car Accident
- “We're here for you, and we'll be here every step of the way. ...
- “I'm so very sorry this happened to you. ...
- Simply sit with your friend or loved one. ...
- Bring a care package. ...
- “I'm proud of how you've been handling everything.
Take some deep breaths to get calm.
Why shouldn't you apologize in a car accident? ›
After a crash, a person may feel a wide range of emotions — shock, guilt, fear, nervousness, or anger — all of which are normal. But take a few deep breaths or count to 10 to calm down. The calmer you are, the better prepared you will be to handle the situation.
While it may be polite to apologize for a car accident, doing so can be seen as an admittance of fault. If you want to bring your accident to the attention of a civil judge, the defendant may use the fact that you apologized for the accident as evidence of your accident liability.
What does a car crash smell like? ›
The smell of burning rubber is a unique odor that most drivers notice right away. It's common after collisions in which the driver didn't think there was a need to take their vehicle to a repair shop.
What is a fatal claim? ›
A Fatal Accident compensation claim arises when someone dies as a result of the negligence of another person or an organisation following an unexpected or unforeseen event.
What is fatal accident? ›
Definitions of fatal accident. an accident that causes someone to die. synonyms: casualty. types: collateral damage. (euphemism) inadvertent casualties and destruction inflicted on civilians in the course of military operations.
How do you pop out a fender bender? ›
Use a hairdryer or a heat gun to heat up the dented area. Then, freeze it with compressed air. As heat expands the body panel, cold will shrink it, pulling the dent out. This works best on shallow dents in plastic body panels but may work on metal panels.
What are 3 things you want to keep in mind if you get into a fender bender accident? ›
Share insurance, contact and vehicle information with any other drivers. And then snap pictures, note accident details and jot down the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
Why is it called a fender bender? ›
These accidents are called fender benders because the fenders of the vehicles typically sustain the most damage.
What type of crash is most fatal? ›
When looking at collisions between motor vehicles, angle collisions cause the greatest number of deaths (about 9,000 in 2021).
What is most common accident death? ›
The top three leading causes of preventable injury-related death – poisoning, motor vehicle, and falls – account for over 86% of all preventable deaths. No other preventable cause of death—including suffocation, drowning, fires and burns, and natural or environmental disasters—accounts for more than 5% of the total.
#1. Ford F-Series (F-150, F-250, F-350) The F-150 is the most popular vehicle of any kind in the U.S., a distinction it's held for many years. But along with its stablemates, the larger F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks, the F-150 accounts for more fatal accidents than anything else on the road.
Do people in car crashes feel pain? ›
Car accident pain can vary a lot per case. You might feel pain immediately, or it might be days before you realize all your injuries. Always see a doctor and contact a lawyer to understand your case, no matter your situation.
Which body parts are hit first during a collision? ›
What happens to a body in a high speed crash? ›
First Collision: Vehicle
- Back and Head injuries. Drivers are susceptible to head injuries due to hitting the steering wheel, roof, windshield. ...
- Neck injuries. ...
- Facial injuries. ...
- Collarbone. ...
- Lower extremity injuries.
The physical force of the crash can send your internal organs slamming forward into your rib cage. The organs that are commonly injured in high-speed accidents include the liver, spleen, kidneys, lungs, and even the heart. A serious internal organ car accident injury that can occur is a rupturing of the bowels.
What is the highest speed you can survive a car crash? ›
According to research, the highest speed at which you are likely to survive a head on collision without serious injury is 43 mph, assuming the proper use of safety belts in a well-designed car with crash structures like crumple zones and airbags, (discussed above).
At what speed can you survive getting hit by a car? ›
The factors that play a role in surviving a high-speed collision can include wearing a seatbelt how you sit in your seat and the angle of impact. In a head-on collision, for example, many crash experts assess that 43 miles per hour is the line for surviving.
What is the fastest car crash someone has survived? ›
Daredevil Valerie Thompson Survives 343 MPH Crash in World Record Attempt.
What happens to the body 1 hour after death? ›
What Happens One Hour After Death? At the moment of death, all of the muscles in the body relax (primary flaccidity ). The eyelids lose their tension, the pupils dilate, the jaw may fall open, and the joints and limbs are flexible.
Does a person know when they are dying? ›
A conscious dying person can know if they are on the verge of dying. Some feel immense pain for hours before dying, while others die in seconds. This awareness of approaching death is most pronounced in people with terminal conditions such as cancer.
What does a dying person think about? ›
Visions and Hallucinations
Visual or auditory hallucinations are often part of the dying experience. The appearance of family members or loved ones who have died is common. These visions are considered normal. The dying may turn their focus to “another world” and talk to people or see things that others do not see.
Is sudden cardiac death painful? Some people have chest pain during the initial seconds of sudden cardiac arrest. However, once you lose consciousness, you don't feel pain.
How does sudden death feel? ›
The most overwhelming and common reaction to a sudden death is shock and uncertainty. This results in feeling disconnected to your feelings or to other people; it can seem as if you are living in a dream. The initial news and stages of grief are often characterized by disbelief.
Is sudden death worse than expected death? ›
Many conclude that unexpected death is easier on the person who dies, but harder on the survivors. Expected death gives time to prepare and say goodbyes, is predictable, makes sense, offers chance to wrap up unfinished businesses, provides an opportunity to honor wishes, stretches out grief, etc.
What are the odds of surviving a 70 mph car crash? ›
While getting hit by a car going 15 mph only carries a 1.8% chance of death, getting hit by a car going 70 mph increases the mortality rate to 75.3%. Most people know that driving at high speeds is dangerous, but even they may be surprised that relatively average speeds can result in pedestrian deaths.
What speeds are survivable? ›
The internationally accepted speed to greatly reduce the chances of a pedestrian being killed or seriously injured is 30km/h.
How bad is a 40 mph crash? ›
The human femur can break when it's hit with the force of 4,000 N. A 40mph car accident far exceeds that amount, which is why they can be so deadly.
What happens to insurance after death? ›
An insurer may give an estate executor 30 days or the remainder of the policy to secure the appropriate homeowners insurance coverages in the future as a new policyholder. During this time, the executor must continue to pay the current premium or risk a coverage lapse, leaving the home uninsured.
What happens if someone dies after getting life insurance? ›
When the policy owner dies, the life insurance company will pay the death benefit to the named beneficiary. The death benefit will be paid to the deceased's estate if no named beneficiary exists.
What happens when someone dies and no one claims the body? ›
When next-of-kin refuses to claim the deceased, the person is asked to authorize a county cremation or burial and waive future claims to the body and remains. If there is no response, a follow-up letter is sent with a deadline, after which counties move forward with disposal.
What is the death claim process? ›
Obtain and certify the death certificate. A certified copy of the official death certificate is the most important document to start the claim process. The Home Affairs office where you report the death will issue you with the official death certificate.
What happens to a car insurance policy after the policyholder dies? After a person dies, their car insurance policy will need to be canceled, or they will need to be removed from the policy if there are other drivers on it.
What insurance pays out on death? ›
Life insurance, also called life cover, pays either a lump sum or regular payments when someone dies. The amount paid depends on the level of cover the person bought. Life insurance gives financial support to people who depended on the person who died, like their partner or children.
How long after death does insurance pay? ›
How long does it take to collect a life insurance claim payout? Depending on the type of policy, it can take as little as three to five days to receive a death benefit payment once you've filed a life insurance claim if you're a named beneficiary.
Who you should never name as beneficiary? ›
Avoid naming children as direct beneficiaries of life insurance at all costs! The insurance company would be unable to distribute the funds to a minor, and the proceeds would end up in the courts. (You can name a minor as the beneficiary to a bank account, just be cautious if the balance is high.)
Does life insurance pay if someone is murdered? ›
Homicide in itself is typically covered by life insurance, but the circumstances surrounding the death may dictate who receives the life insurance payout. If the primary beneficiary murders the insured or is involved in their murder, they are no longer eligible for the death benefit due to the Slayer Rule.
How much is a death benefit? ›
Surviving spouse, age 60 — through full retirement age — 71½ to 99% of the deceased worker's basic amount. Surviving spouse with a disability aged 50 through 59 — 71½%. Surviving spouse, any age, caring for a child under age 16 — 75%.
How long can a body stay in a morgue? ›
The state and local regulations will determine how long an unidentified body can be kept at the morgue. In most places it's at least 30 days. The standard procedure is that the hospital will arrange the disposition after this time. This happens in only 1% of deaths.
How long can a body stay in the hospital morgue? ›
Depending on the space available in the hospital morgue, you will typically be allowed anywhere from three days to three weeks to remove the body from the hospital.
Does Social Security give money for funerals? ›
In the event of a death, the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a small grant to eligible survivors of some beneficiaries to help with funeral costs. This is referred to as The Lump-Sum Death Benefit.
How do insurance companies pay out death claims? ›
Depending on the insurer, a life insurance payout can typically be distributed in three ways: in the form of a lump sum, via a life insurance annuity, or through a retained asset account. Check with the insurer to see which life insurance payout options they offer.
Once a valid claim has been made, it will typically take between 14 and 60 days to receive the payment from the insurance company, and usually it occurs within 30 days.
Why would a death claim be denied? ›
Insurers deny the death benefit on life insurance claims for reasons of policy delinquency, material misrepresentation, contestable circumstances and documentation failure.