A sudden, accidental death is tragic. Surviving loved ones may not know who to turn to or what their options are. In southern California, if a loved one’s death was caused by another person’s negligence, a Pasadena wrongful death attorney can offer the guidance that a family will require.
Wrongful deaths happen in a number of ways and circumstances – far too many ways and circumstances, in fact.
HOW DOES A WRONGFUL DEATH HAPPEN?
A wrongful death can happen when a drunk driver gets behind the wheel, a landlord does not keep a property maintained, a doctor is negligent, or whenever someone’s negligence causes an unnecessary and avoidable death.
In this state, if someone accidentally dies, and the death was avoidable, surviving family members may bring a claim for wrongful death. If someone is a homicide victim, a criminal proceeding as well as a wrongful death claim in the civil courts are both possible.
A homicide prosecution may lead to a conviction and penalties like prison or probation. However, only monetary damages may be obtained by the survivors of a wrongful death victim when they file and prevail with a civil wrongful death action.
WHY SHOULD A FAMILY CONSIDER TAKING LEGAL ACTION?
Money will not assuage your grief if you suddenly lose a family member, but wrongful death claims help families meet unexpected obligations and avoid financial hardships. A wrongful death claim holds accountable the negligent party responsible for a loved one’s wrongful death.
You are reading a brief overview of the wrongful death laws in this state and the rights of the surviving family members. However, no two cases are alike, so if wrongful death strikes your family, you will need personalized legal guidance that applies to your own circumstances.
A southern California wrongful death lawyer will discuss your family’s options and rights and will fight for the compensation – as well as the justice – that the survivors of wrongful death victims deserve and need.
WHAT ARE SURVIVAL ACTIONS?
The law in California allows for two different legal actions that may be filed against negligent parties who are responsible for wrongful deaths. A conventional wrongful death lawsuit compensates the wrongful death victim’s family for their losses.
The other kind of lawsuit is called a “survival action,” which lets the survivors sue on behalf of the wrongful death victim’s estate. Surviving family members will need to understand the difference. A survival action can compensate a decedent’s estate for two kinds of losses:
1. A survival action may be unrelated to the wrongful death. In this case, the estate files a lawsuit that the decedent had the right to file at the time of his or her death.
2. A survival action may also be a claim for the personal injury or injuries that caused the wrongful death, provided that the decedent survived those injuries for even a short length of time.
Basically, a survival action allows the family to recover what the decedent would have been legally entitled to with a personal injury lawsuit had the decedent survived – medical expenses, lost wages, and related losses.
WHAT CAN A SURVIVAL ACTION ACCOMPLISH?
These lawsuits are called “survival” actions because under California law, the right to sue for damages “survives” the decedent’s death. Survival actions can be extensively complicated, so it is not something that your family should try to take on without an attorney’s guidance and help.
A survival action must be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, or if a representative was not named in the decedent’s will, by the decedent’s “successor in interest,” the beneficiary of the wrongful death victim’s estate.
With a survival action, the estate may not recover damages for the decedent’s pain and suffering. Unlike wrongful death lawsuits, survival actions may seek punitive damages intended to punish the defendant’s negligence and prevent a reoccurrence in the future.
SURVIVAL ACTIONS VS. WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS: PROS AND CONS
Survival actions and wrongful death claims may be pursued separately or merged into a single lawsuit. But even when merged, they are separate causes of legal action with separate requirements:
1. A survival action may be brought only by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, whereas a wrongful death claim may be pursued by any immediate family members.
2. A survival action compensates the estate for the decedent’s losses; a wrongful death claim compensates the decedent’s family members for their losses.
3. Pain and suffering damages are not available with a wrongful death claim or with a survival action. However, punitive damages may be available with a survival action (but not with a wrongful death claim).
4. The statute of limitations for initiating a wrongful death claim is two years. A survival action must be initiated within six months of the victim’s death or within two years of the underlying negligent act, whichever is later.
HOW ARE THESE CASES TYPICALLY RESOLVED?
Usually, survival and wrongful death actions are resolved privately and outside of the courtroom. In most cases, the lawyers for each side hammer out a settlement that’s acceptable to both the surviving family members and the party being held accountable for the wrongful death.
If a wrongful death lawsuit and/or a survival claim goes to trial, the family member or members bringing the claim must prove that the defendant in the case owed the decedent a “duty of care” and breached that duty, directly leading to the decedent’s wrongful death.
Of course, immediately after a tragedy, simply talking about the legal side of a loved one’s death may be quite difficult. Nevertheless, it is essential to act quickly. Do not wait until the statute of limitations is about to expire. Speak as soon as you can with a Pasadena wrongful death attorney.
HOW CAN A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYER HELP YOUR FAMILY?
In our time, danger can lurk anywhere. An errand to the pharmacy, a common surgical procedure, or even ordering a pizza could result in a fatal auto accident, a medical negligence incident, or a fatality from food poisoning.
In these kinds of cases, wrongful death and survival action verdicts and settlements can help surviving family members to move constructively and positively into the future.
When a loved one is lost because another person was negligent, a personal injury attorney can be sensitive to your family’s emotions and needs – while at the same time taking aggressive action on your behalf to win the compensation and justice your family is entitled to by California law.