Billings residents may have read about the recent trial of a Montana man who faces criminal charges related to a traffic accident that killed an 80-year-old pedestrian. But a criminal trial is just part of the legal action that may follow a fatal car accident.

Police said the driver was drunk when he struck the elderly man as he tried to cross a street on March 3. The man died in a hospital almost three weeks later. The driver’s blood alcohol level was about 0.12, over the legal limit, according to court papers. He pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide.

After a drunk driving accident, the criminal justice system can help satisfy the public’s need to see the guilty punished. It can also help secure public safety by discouraging other drivers from acting recklessly. But all too often it doesn’t do enough for the financial needs of the injured or, in the case of a fatal accident, the relatives of those killed.

Those injured in traffic accidents are often left with pain and suffering, lost wages, enormous medical expenses and other damages. Those who have lost a loved one are left without the companionship of a loved one, and often with medical expenses, funeral expenses and lost income as well.

Those who have been injured in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence may be compensated for their damages through a personal injury lawsuit. In the case of a fatal accident, the victim’s immediate family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the victim’s estate. Any award goes to the estate and is distributed to the victim’s heirs through a will or the laws of inheritance.

Source: Billings Gazette, “Butte man pleads not guilty to fatal car-pedestrian crash,” April 12, 2013