It’s unfathomable to lose a loved one. But the pain may be even more unbearable when that life is cut short due to someone else’s careless or intentional act. After a wrongful death, many people are left with the emotional and financial burden of their loss. While no amount of money can ever replace a loved one, compensation may help survivors move forward.
Wrongful death cases represent a complex area of law, creating a combination of estate issues and a civil case against the responsible party. This complexity is why speaking to a personal injury attorney with experience in wrongful death claims is essential. You risk losing out on the compensation you and your family deserve without a qualified attorney.
What Is Wrongful Death?
The wrongful death definition is when someone dies due to the negligent acts or misconduct of another. The survivors of the deceased person may file a wrongful death lawsuit in these situations. Thus, the wrongful death claim definition is a lawsuit that the deceased person’s survivors bring to recover compensation for their loss.
A wrongful death lawsuit occurs in civil court independent of any potential criminal prosecution that may result from a defendant’s misconduct. Even if the criminal court convicts the defendant, this does not prevent you from filing a civil wrongful death lawsuit against them. These civil suits seek financial compensation for losses.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
California law permits only specific individuals to bring a wrongful death action and places these individuals in order of priority. The following individual may file this claim:
- Surviving spouse of the decedent,
- Surviving children of the decedent,
- Parents of the victim, and
- Other heirs of the victim, including siblings of the deceased.
Several people may be eligible to file a claim in wrongful death cases. However, one attorney does not usually represent all the parties, as the representation may create a potential conflict of interest. In these situations, it may be possible to designate a personal representative of the decedent’s estate to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the eligible survivors. When a settlement or judgment is obtained, the personal representative divides the proceeds among the survivors.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
What qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit in terms of the types of injuries that might cause death? A wrongful death case comes under the broad field of personal injury law. While there may be various types of wrongful death lawsuits, here are some more common ones.
Medical professionals have a legal duty to provide medical care to patients according to accepted standards. When they fail to do so and a death results, they may be held responsible in a wrongful death action.
Auto accidents occur every day in California. When an auto accident causes the death of a loved one, surviving family members have a right to pursue compensation against the driver of the car or truck who caused the accident.
There may be situations where manufacturers sell unsafe products like toxic food, malfunctioning automobiles, and deadly medications. When a product causes the death of someone using these products, their surviving loved one may pursue a wrongful death action.
When an employer fails to provide a safe working environment for their employees and death occurs, they may be liable.
What Can I Recover in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Surviving family members may pursue both economic and non-economic damages for wrongful death in California. To recover these damages, you must provide evidence to support your losses.
Economic damages include tangible and calculable losses directly related to the loss. In wrongful death actions, the economic damages are slightly different than those in a personal injury lawsuit where the victim lived:
- The financial support that the deceased would have provided to the family,
- The loss of gifts or benefits that survivors would have expected to receive from the dead,
- Funeral and burial expenses, and
- The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided had they lived.
Economic damages are estimated based on the deceased person’s life expectancy to determine a value for financial support.
Non-economic damages include subjective and intangible losses related to the wrongful death. Non-economic damages have no fixed standard but are based on evidence and common sense. Non-economic damages in wrongful death actions include the following:
- Person’s love, companionship, comfort, protection, affection, and moral support;
- The enjoyment of sexual relations (if the survivor is the spouse); and
- The person’s training or guidance (if the survivor is a child or grandchild).
In personal injury cases, non-economic damages include emotional distress, pain, and suffering. However, the jury may not consider the survivor’s grief or pain and suffering in wrongful death actions when determining a non-economic damages award. Instead, the jury bases the award on the relationship between the decedent and the claimant.
Is There a Limit to Wrongful Death Damages?
California does not impose a cap on damage awards in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, non-economic damages are limited in medical malpractice cases to $250,000. Juries generally possess the freedom to determine suitable damages to award in wrongful death cases based on the evidence presented. Therefore, it is wise to contact and retain a qualified personal injury attorney to ensure that you receive the compensation against the responsible party you deserve.
Is There a Statute of Limitations to a Wrongful Death Claim?
California law allows qualifying survivors’ to file their wrongful death claim within two years from the date of the victim’s death to file their lawsuit. If action is not taken within this timeframe, surviving family members lose their right to recover compensation for their loss. There are exceptions to the statute of limitations. Speaking with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible is crucial to discuss your options.
For over 40 years, The Larsen Firm have provided impeccable legal representation to injured Californians. Our team specializes in severe injury cases, including wrongful death, car accidents, brain injuries, and more. With a 99% success rate, we deliver results to our clients and help them get back on their feet. We understand what a difficult time this is for you. Losing a loved one is unimaginably painful. Let us help you so you can focus on yourself and your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.