Wrongful Death Claim
When someone is killed due to the negligent or wrongful actions of another person or entity, certain survivors may sue for wrongful death. The surviving spouse or family members may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party to recover compensation for their losses. Damages may include lost income, burial, medical and funeral expenses, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.
Wrongful Death Cases Versus Personal Injury Cases
Wrongful death cases and personal injury cases are similar in nature but have distinct differences. Personal injury cases arise when an individual has suffered injuries or harm due to someone else’s negligence or intentional actions.
Wrongful death cases arise when an individual’s death is caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional act of another party. The decedent’s surviving family members or beneficiaries may be eligible to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the loss of their loved one. Wrongful death claims typically cover damages such as funeral expenses, burial costs, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.
Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving family members can seek compensation for their losses. While the extent and value of the damages may vary, common types of compensation sought in wrongful death claims include the following:
Economic damages aim to compensate the family members for the financial losses resulting from the death. This may include damages like:
- Lost wages
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills
- Loss of future income
- Loss of employment benefits
- The value of lost household services
Non-economic damages involve the emotional and psychological losses experienced by the surviving family members. These damages are typically more subjective and difficult to calculate. Non-economic damages may cover:
- Loss of companionship
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of a person’s love, affection, care, support, and guidance
Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious or harmful. These damages are meant to punish the responsible party and discourage similar behavior in the future.
It’s important to note that a plaintiff cannot claim punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit under California law. The exception would be if the decedent was killed as a result of felony homicide. The defendant would have to be convicted of the felony homicide for the plaintiff to be able to pursue punitive damages. However, the estate of the deceased person may seek punitive damages in a survival action claim.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
In California, specific laws govern who can bring a wrongful death claim. In general, a wrongful death action is typically brought by the immediate family members or beneficiaries of the deceased person.
Those who can pursue a wrongful death claim may include:
- The surviving spouse
- Children (including adopted children)
- The deceased person’s parents
- Other heirs
If the deceased person did not have any immediate family members or beneficiaries, a representative of the decedent’s estate may file the wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate. This representative could be an executor or administrator appointed by the court.
It’s essential to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to determine your eligibility to file a claim. They can guide you throughout the legal process and ensure that your rights are protected.
What Do You Need to Prove Wrongful Death?
To successfully pursue a wrongful death claim, certain elements must be demonstrated. The plaintiff must prove the following elements:
Duty of Care
The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased individual. For example, in a car accident case, motorists have a duty to operate their vehicles safely and follow traffic laws.
Breach of Duty
The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached their duty of care. This means they failed to act reasonably or responsibly, causing harm to the decedent.
It must be established that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused the person’s death. Therefore, it must be proven that the death would not have occurred without the defendant’s actions or negligence.
Lastly, the plaintiff needs to provide evidence of the damages suffered as a result of the wrongful death. This can include both economic and non-economic damages, as discussed earlier.
An experienced attorney will help you gather evidence, such as police reports, medical records, eyewitness testimonies, and expert opinions, which are crucial in establishing these elements. A wrongful death attorney will help you facilitate communication with the insurance company and build a compelling personal injury case.
Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Suit?
In a wrongful death suit, generally, the party responsible for the death pays for the damages. If the responsible party has liability insurance, their insurance company may be liable for covering the damages awarded in the wrongful death lawsuit. Therefore, the insurance company will work to negotiate a settlement or pay for the claim up to the policy limits.
In cases where the liable party does not have insurance coverage, they may be personally responsible for paying the damages. However, even if the defendant is found liable, they may not have sufficient assets to pay out the compensation in full.
Consulting with an experienced wrongful death lawyer is crucial in determining the potential sources of compensation available in your case. Experienced attorneys will help identify the liable parties and fight to maximize your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.
The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The statute of limitations is the timeframe a person has to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, the wrongful death statute of limitations is typically 2 years from the date of the individual’s death. However, this can vary depending on the unique circumstances of the case. Failing to file a wrongful death lawsuit within this time period can jeopardize your right to seek compensation. Therefore, it’s crucial to gather evidence and secure legal counsel quickly.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer will help you determine the timeframe you have to file a claim and ensure that your lawsuit is filed within the required deadline.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Take?
The duration of a wrongful death settlement process can vary significantly depending on various factors, including the case’s complexity, liability, and the willingness of the insurance company to negotiate a settlement. While some cases may be resolved relatively quickly, others may take several months or even years to reach a settlement.
The settlement process typically involves several stages, including investigation, negotiation, and potential litigation. Initially, your attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence, assess liability, and determine the appropriate value for your claim.
Additionally, court schedules, the availability of expert witnesses, and other factors can contribute to the overall timeline. It’s important to remember that each wrongful death case is unique, and the time it takes to reach a settlement will depend on the specific circumstances.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Losing a loved one is devastating and victims often experience emotional suffering, mental distress, and financial strain. Pursuing a claim can help provide financial relief and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or recklessness, it’s crucial to seek legal representation from a skilled wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.
At Fontana Injury Law Group, our experienced wrongful death lawyers will help you navigate the complexities of a wrongful death claim. Our personal injury law firm is committed to helping wrongful death victims recover the compensation they are entitled to. Focus on healing and leave the legal matters to us.
Schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and begin the process of seeking justice and compensation for your loss.