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The Fort Mill Times report that Mary Grace Needham, a 31 year old Juneau woman, died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash on the Glacier highway on Sunday, February 1, 2009. According to the Times, Ms. Needham was driving her Mercury Sedan when, for unknown reasons, she lost control of her sedan and crossed over into oncoming traffic. Her car was then struck by the SUV of 61 year old Bernard Wostmann of Juneau. Ms. Needham died at the scene and Mr. Wostmann’s condition is unknown. Neither driver had any passengers. It is unknown what caused Ms. Needham to cross over into the other lane, or whether the accident could have been avoided.

We hope that Mr. Wostmann is alright and recovering from any injuries suffered in the crash. Also, our hearts and prayers go out to Ms. Needham’s family. We are very sorry for your loss. As you move through the grieving process it is important to remember that you have rights as Ms. Needham’s survivors and some of these rights must be exercised within a certain amount of time. So there are a few things you need to know:

It is not clear from the news article who is responsible for the accident or what caused it. The only ways to find this out are to:

(1) Seek out the incident report from the Alaska State Troopers ASAP. (Visit for information on obtaining reports.)

(2) Hire an investigator to examine the scene of the accident. It may already be too late to determine the exact conditions of the road or other helpful information, but the sooner you can collect evidence from the scene where the accident happened, the more valuable it will be.

Once you have this information:

(3) Contact an attorney to help you ASAP. Depending on the circumstances you may or may not have a viable claim. While you are certainly free to contact Mr. Merdes at 866-735-1102 Ext. 455, this is not a solicitation or legal advice. This is offered as information to the families involved. If you would like a referral, feel free to contact Ward Merdes or call the Alaska Bar Assn. for a free lawyer referral: 800-770-9999. You can also try the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) at Just be sure to call an attorney who has handled cases like this before.

(4) Please remember, that the Statute of Limitations for personal injury and death claims in Alaska is normally two years (AS 09.10.070). This means that you have two years to file your claim, settle it with the responsible party or your claim goes away and you may lose the ability to pursue it. As Ms. Needham’s survivors, you can bring an action on her behalf. Her natural survivors would be a spouse or child; however parents or siblings can bring a wrongful death action if Ms. Needham was unmarried and childless.

With respect to Mr. Wostmann:

(1) It is advisable that you contact an attorney as soon as possible. You may have a personal injury/property damage claim against Ms. Needham’s insurance but only if he/she did something wrong.

(2) It is also advisable that you seek out an attorney because of any potential liability you may face as a result of the crash even though you may have done nothing wrong. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

(3) Please remember that any statements you make to your, or anyone else’s insurance company may be recorded and later used against you. For this reason, it is imperative that you speak with an attorney.

No matter what the circumstances surrounding the accident were, it’s critical that everyone drive safely and carefully as Alaska roads can be very dangerous. For more information about staying safe on Alaska’s icy roads, please visit

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