Losing a loved one is always a painful experience, and the trauma can only be exacerbated if the death resulted from someone else’s negligence or misconduct. Wrongful death cases occur in situations that would usually render the victim eligible for a personal injury claim, with one notable exception; the injury sustained resulted in the victim’s death, leaving them unable to pursue justice for themselves.
In these situations, it falls to those left behind to file a claim for wrongful death. While this can never bring the deceased back, a successful claim can help to ensure that those left behind are taken care of and can rebuild their lives, and a compassionate personal injury lawyer can help.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
Under California law, a ‘wrongful death’ claim arises “when one person dies as the result of the wrongful act or negligence of another person or entity.” Unlike a criminal case for homicide, which is directed by the state and aims to punish criminals, a wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit brought about by survivors of the deceased or a named representative. Fault is expressed in terms of financial damages and compensation. It should be noted that the state of California allows a wrongful death claim to be taken to court, even if there is an ongoing criminal investigation.
If the death of a loved one was caused by the recklessness, negligence, or intentional wrongful action of a third party, their survivors are entitled to pursue a claim for wrongful death with the help of a wrongful death attorney. Common examples of wrongful death cases include:
● Auto accidents such as a car crash
● Slips and falls resulting in death
● Medical malpractice
● Assault and battery
● Death caused by a defective or faulty product
● Toxic tort
● Dog bites
As you can see, these and similar events would have likely rendered the victim able to pursue a personal injury claim had they survived, providing a third party could have been proven to be at fault. Where this is not possible, the responsibility falls to those left behind.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?
There are limitations and restrictions on just who is permitted to file a claim for wrongful death in California, and these are specifically referred to in the legislation. The main eligible parties include:
● The surviving spouse of the deceased
● The surviving domestic partner of the deceased
● The surviving children of the deceased
In some situations, there are no surviving persons remaining in the line of descent of the deceased. In these circumstances, a wrongful death lawsuit may still be brought by anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.” This may include surviving parents or siblings of the deceased.
Financial dependence adds another set of variables to the equation. If they are able to prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased, the following parties may also bring about a wrongful death lawsuit:
● The ‘putative spouse’ of the deceased, and any children of the putative spouse
● Any stepchildren of the deceased
● Any parents of the deceased who were financially dependent
Why Should I File A Wrongful Death Claim?
While it is true that a successful outcome in a wrongful death claim cannot restore the life of the deceased, the awarding of damages can still have benefits for those who are left behind. Fault is expressed through the awarding of financial compensation and damages to the claimant, and this can be extremely valuable after a loss. The specific amounts to be awarded will be determined by a judge and will largely depend on the specific facts of each unique case.
Any damages awarded will be divided according to two considerations – do they compensate the estate for any losses associated with the death (primarily financial) or do they compensate any surviving family members for the personal losses incurred due to the death (primarily emotional and psychological).
Losses which tend to be attributed to compensate the estate may include:
● Outstanding medical or hospital bills incurred as a result of the final injury or illness of the deceased
● Any funeral or burial expenses
● Any loss of income incurred as a result of the death. This also includes loss of earnings – the potential income which the deceased would have reasonably expected to earn in the future, had they survived. Amounts will be calculated on factors such as income, years left to work, potential pay rises and benefits, and the earning potential of the deceased.
Those losses typically attributed to compensate the surviving family members are a little different and include factors such as:
- The value of household services could be especially crucial if the deceased was responsible for essentials such as childcare and household maintenance.
- The loss of anticipated financial support for the family
- The loss of love, attention, community, moral support, affection, and guidance which will be suffered as a result of the death.
How Long Do You Have?
It is important to note that there are time limitations and restrictions to consider after the death of a loved one. Any claim must be filed in accordance with a specific period, known as the statute of limitations.
Under California law, this time period applied to both personal injury and wrongful death cases, and all claims must be filed within two years of the date of death. Any claims made after this date are highly unlikely to be heard, and, in many cases, the family will not be permitted to file.
How Can We Help?
If you think you may have a case for wrongful death, we may be able to help. Here at Thon Beck Vanni Callahan & Powell, we have aided families across California in their quest for justice and can help you establish your case and fight for the compensation you – and your loved one – genuinely deserve. Get in touch today, and see what we can do.