• Julianne

California Wrongful Death: What Are Your Options?

Updated: Apr 26

Who to sue and what to do after wrongful death incidents.


Wrongful death is a tort case that enables surviving family members to obtain financial compensation for a loved one's death. If a tort or wrongdoing is to blame for an accident that leads to a victim's death, the person who committed the tort will be held liable for damages.

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In California, a wrongful death is described as a legal claim that occurs when someone dies as a result of someone else's (or a group's) negligence. A wrongful death case, if successful, may be able to compensate the family for damages such as burial and funeral costs, as well as bring the answerable party to justice.


A wrongful death lawsuit is not the same as a suicide or murder trial. It isn't even a court case. Instead, it's a lawsuit filed in California's civil courts. It aims to hold a defendant civilly responsible for someone's death rather than criminally.


Whether or not the at-fault party committed a crime, the family may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Following an intentional crime, such as murder, the family will be entitled to file a civil wrongful death suit while the suspect is awaiting a criminal trial. Your relatives will even be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit based on an unintended tort, such as carelessness.


Who Can Sue In A Wrongful Death Case In California?


If you're planning to seek justice for a loved one who died from someone else's negligence, then it is important to know the basics of a wrongful death claim. Only select survivors are allowed to file for a claim in California.


Are you any of the following?

  1. If the deceased is married at the time of death, the spouse or registered domestic partner may file a lawsuit.

  2. If the deceased's children are still alive, they could file a lawsuit. If a child has predeceased, the offspring (grandchildren) of that child will file a lawsuit.

  3. The deceased's parents could file a lawsuit if the decedent was married but had no children.

  4. If the deceased's spouse, children, or parents are no longer alive, the decedent's siblings or other dependents may file a lawsuit.

  5. The parents of a minor child who dies may file a lawsuit. If the decedent's parents have died, the decedent's siblings will file a claim.

  6. Those who may be entitled to inherit property and properties and those who were financial dependents of the decedent would have the right to file a wrongful death claim in most cases where the decedent did not draft a will.

Survivors are entitled to financial compensation for their injuries, which may include:

  1. Expenditures on health and medication

  2. The decedent's estate is valued at potential monetary contributions as well as personal service, guidance, or training.

  3. In the meantime, companionship, comfort, community, compassion, solace, and moral guidance were all lost.

  4. Punitive damages are only recoverable in "survival suits," which enable the deceased's estate to recover economic losses incurred as a result of the event that eventually caused their death, even though the deceased only lived for a brief moment after the incident that killed them.

It is important to obtain legal advice from an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Many factors can affect your case's outcome, and strict statutes of limitations apply to all personal injury cases.


In a wrongful death case, what is the statute of limitations?


The term of limitations in most cases is two years from the date of death. However, other factors such as the source and nature of the action that caused death, the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s)' circumstances, and other factors such as the following all play a role:


A one-year statute of limitations can extend to medical malpractice lawsuits.


A government tort lawsuit must be filed first if a complaint is being brought against a California government agency. These statements have a 180-day limitation period.


What Can You Expect from A Wrongful Death Case?


Emotional Impacts on Family Members. Emotional and psychological effects can be debilitating and lead to serious consequences. They should be evaluated by a specialist.


Health costs, the value of monetary donations, emotional losses such as loss of companionship, the psychological effect of the death on survivors, and other personal losses are all common damages in wrongful death proceedings.


Fatal occupational injuries. Occupational risks such as exposure to toxic conditions, liquids or gases, falls, and other injuries are examples of case types.


Accidents involving fatal motor vehicles. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of wrongful death.


Child death. Children are vulnerable to disease and other preventable causes. Unfortunately, there are many instances of child death in California.


Pedestrian injuries usually leave victims with severe injuries. A pedestrian will sustain more physical damage compared to a driver behind the wheel.


Accidents involving trains, planes, and boats. If not catastrophic injuries, large-scale accidents while on these vehicles claim lives more often than other vehicular accidents.


A wrongful death settlement or favorable verdict will not bring your loved one back, but it will help you deal with the tragedy, medical costs, lost wages, and excruciating psychological distress by receiving reasonable and just compensation with the help of an experienced attorney.


Do You Need A Lawyer?


Potential victims should work with an attorney in virtually any wrongful death case. The law in this field is complicated in terms of who is allowed to bring a lawsuit and who is entitled to a recovery, and it is normally best left to an wrongful death attorney to figure out. Furthermore, even though the decedent was killed by someone with a low insurance policy limit, it is prudent to obtain legal counsel because an investigation might uncover other possible claimants who are more capable of paying damages.


Damages Recoverable in a California Wrongful Death Case


Many forms of financial costs and damages, emotional pressures, and psychological effects are all recoverable in a wrongful death case. Past, pending, and potential injuries are all included in these damages.


Punitive damages are not recoverable in wrongful death proceedings in California. They are, however, recoverable in "survival acts," which enable the estate of the deceased (decedent) to recover economic damages incurred as a result of the event that led to death. The trick is proving that the decedent survived the initial accident, even if only for a brief time, before succumbing to his or her injuries.


For the inheritance/acquisition of the decedent's estate, survival actions can be paired with wrongful death actions. Any money awarded will be distributed to the estate's heirs.


In a wrongful death case, determining the value of damages (and doing so correctly) is crucial. This is primarily achieved by measuring the monetary value of losses, which includes:

  • Care/Medical expenses and funeral costs

  • Future financial contributions and personal care, nurturing, advice, encouragement, training, services, and inheritance from the decedent are all lost.

  • Joy, companionship, warmth, community, friendship, peace, or moral support are all things that can be lost.

Several considerations are taken into account in determining and litigating the amount of money paid in a wrongful death lawsuit. Expert witnesses (economists, psychologists, medical practitioners, and so on) will be required to determine the case's absolute, equal, and true worth. Life expectancy, age, earning capacity, schooling, fitness, intelligence, character, parental obligations, spending and saving habits, and survivors'/beneficiaries' circumstances may all be factors to consider.


Even the cases of stay-at-home moms and dads and unemployed individuals at the time of death can be useful because we can quantify the loss of contributions to the household and family; loss of love; loss of companionship; loss of comfort; loss of society; loss of affection; loss of solace; and loss of moral support.


Financial compensation can assist you in dealing with your injury, covering costs, and saving for a more stable future. Only through truthful, committed counsel and representation can you determine the true worth of your case.

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Obtaining Compensation in a Case of Wrongful Death


Before committing to anything with an insurance provider, it is important to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney. And your own insurance provider is unlikely to be absolutely truthful and open. Insurance firms like to keep as much of their own money as possible. Their desires are at odds with your needs and priorities.


Personal injury lawsuits must be made within a certain time period, known as the statute of limitations, under California law. The statute of limitations on wrongful deaths is two years from the date of death. If the case is not brought by that date, the lawsuit could be absolutely blocked.


While no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a loved one, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you hold the party responsible for their death. Simultaneously, it will help to alleviate the financial strain that sometimes comes with wrongful death. Considering a wrongful death lawyer or law firm with experience would be the best option for you to properly handle this.


In wrongful death claims, there are two types of damages available, both of which are designed to compensate claimants for the injuries they have suffered.


Economic and non-economic damages are used together to reimburse families for the financial and emotional assistance they would have earned if their loved one had lived.


The following are examples of economic damages:

  • The loss of benefits or other advantages that the survivors may have expected from the decedent during their lifetime

  • the loss of financial support that the decedent would have given to the family during their lifetime

  • Expenses for funerals and burials

  • The fair market value of household services rendered by the decedent.

Here are examples of non-economic damages:

  • Compensation for the decedents' loss of security

  • Loss of love

  • Loss of community relationships

  • Loss of companionship (for any family member)

  • Loss of moral support

  • Loss of Guidance

  • Loss of sexual relations and/or gratification

In a wrongful death case, no set amount can be awarded for damages. Instead, a court looks at things like the decedent's life expectancy at the time of the wrongful act (or the wrongdoer's life expectancy at the same time, whichever is shorter), how many survivors were financially dependent on the deceased, and the deceased's potential earning capacity.


What's the Difference Between A Wrongful Death Claim and A Survival Action Lawsuit?


In California, wrongful death lawsuits are common. When a loved one dies due to someone else's negligence or misconduct, you will be entitled to file a wrongful death claim.


Wrongful death cases compensate plaintiffs for the loss of love, care, instruction, encouragement, assistive services, protection, companionship, consortium, and societal loss. They will be able to recoup funds for funeral and burial expenses.


You Can't Claim: Notably, wrongful death cases do not compensate plaintiffs for their grief, sorrow, pain, and suffering, nor do they cause punitive damages to be awarded.


Who is Eligible: In a wrongful death lawsuit, the decedent's relatives are entitled to compensation. The degree of dependence for the surviving spouse or domestic partner, parents, and children under the age of 18 will be determined by the court. Dependent grandchildren and adult children can have a legal argument in some cases. In certain instances, the adult children may receive nothing while the partner receives anything.


Compensation is tax-free since the reward is granted to the remaining family members.


If the decedent did not die instantly as a result of his or her injury, you would be able to file survival actions.


Survival action cases compensate the decedent's estate for medical costs and missed income that the individual would be entitled to if he or she had lived. Punitive or exemplary damages and fines designed to deter wrongdoers may be available as additional compensation.


You Can't Claim: The costs of burial and funeral services are not included. Damages for the decedent's pain, suffering, or disfigurement prior to death are also not covered by California law.


Who is Eligible: A lawsuit may be filed on behalf of the decedent by the estate's personal representative or successor-in-interest. Before compensation is distributed to the various parties, a probate estate must be established. If the decedent's will specifies it, non-family members (such as churches, charities, or other particular individuals) will obtain proceeds from a survival action. In the absence of a will, the proceeds of the survival action are distributed according to the laws of intestacy.


Survival Actions are subject to federal and state tax because compensation is granted to the decedent. If the deceased has any outstanding payments, such as credit cards, medical bills, or other debts, these creditors must be compensated before the heirs obtain their inheritance.


How Are Wrongful Death Event Financial Damages Calculated?


The loss of financial gain that the decedent might fairly have been expected to contribute to the family in the future is the starting point for calculating economic damages in a wrongful death case if the decedent was helping his or her family. Future financial aid, on the other hand, must be limited to its current cash value.


Furthermore, the decedent's overall earning potential is limited for personal use, i.e., the portion of the income that would not have otherwise benefited the living heirs.


In calculating likely payments to descendants, a decedent's retirement income from a pension or social security may be considered.


Calculating the Financial Losses of a Decedent's Child(ren)


For each year of their expected life, children are entitled to damages for the loss of either parent's expected financial contributions.


At the period that a child may have relied on the parent for financial assistance, the child is entitled to a portion of the deceased parent's probable earnings. If a child may prove that he or she would have been helped by a parent had he or she lived past the age of 18, the child will be entitled to recover damages for the lack of care.


Can Parents of a Child Decedent Sue For Damages?


If the parents can prove that their child was already contributing financially to the family or will have contributed in the future, they will be able to recover damages for their financial loss. They will also be compensated for the care and financial assistance they would have obtained if the child had reached the age of majority.


Can Heirs Sue for Lost Services?


For the absence of the decedent's services or guidance, an heir is entitled to compensation. In addition to the loss of the decedent's expected financial contributions, the heirs can demand compensation for the loss of the decedent's services.


All the heir, usually the surviving spouse, needs to show is that he or she has lost money as a result of having to perform services that the decedent would have performed if he or she were still alive or that the spouse has had to employ others to perform those same services that would have improved the surviving spouse's life.


Even if the heir did not employ or find a replacement to perform the services and did not perform them himself or herself, damages for loss of services may be recovered. The heir will also provide proof of the expense of employing someone else to provide such services, whether real or likely.


If the decedent was a homemaker, this aspect of damages is especially necessary since the heirs will otherwise be unable to seek any substantial economic loss.


What Immediate Actions Should You Take After the Incident?


The police report, for starters.


Hopefully, the police will be called to the scene of any wrongful death event and will conduct an inquiry and file a police report. The police report is a public record that the victims, their lawyers, or investigators can access within a reasonable period after it has been completed.


The conclusions of the investigating officers can be elicited by the officer's testimony at trial and used by the expert witnesses in the case, despite the fact that the police report itself cannot be used in evidence at the time of the trial (it can, however, be used in most arbitrations).


In a wrongful death case, a complainant can always produce a police report.


Your Legal Team Needs to Conduct an Investigation of Their Own


Whether a police report is filed, a plaintiff's attorney can investigate the accident scene either directly, by an investigator, or both. Obviously, the earlier a motor vehicle accident scene can be investigated, the better; however, there might be valuable evidence to gather at a scene, such as skid marks, vehicle debris, ruts in the lane, and scrape marks, even if it is some time after the accident.


Furthermore, the state of the accident scene, such as the presence of signs, lights, and other factors that may lead to an accident, may provide valuable information for the event. Photographs and, in appropriate situations, videotapes should be taken as soon as possible after an accident to record the scene's condition.


An investigation is equally relevant in other accident death cases, such as electrical, building, product malfunction, construction, or aviation cases, and should be undertaken by an investigator with experience in the subject matter.


Next, Find Physical Evidence and Witnesses


If the heirs are willing to take care of the facts, it is important that whatever instruments caused the death to be kept in the same state that they were in at the time of the accident.


An accident's eyewitnesses can make or break a case. If a witness's future evidence is useful, the plaintiff will usually send an investigator to meet with them and obtain signed declarations. Bringing the witness back to the scene to assess distances and other accident considerations may be beneficial to the investigator.


Finding Possible Defendants


The most obvious wrongdoer in a wrongful death accident case does not have enough insurance to cover the injuries. As a result, it's worth thinking about whether someone other than the most apparent defendant was to blame for the death.


The police report should be reviewed to see whether it indicates the presence of any other possible wrongdoers, and the accident site investigation and witness statements should be examined to see whether there were any other defendants. This doesn't just include the obvious negligent party who didn't stop at a crosswalk; you should also look for indirect contributors to the wrongful death.


Examples:

  • Contractors responsible for faulty wiring

  • The company behind unstable public structures (i.e., statues, billboards, and such)

  • Owner of a poorly maintained commercial building

  • Restaurant owner who didn't install proper fire safety measures


Expert Testimony


Accident reconstruction experts and human factors experts are the two categories of liability experts most widely seen in wrongful death litigation. Human factors experts evaluate the relationship between people and machines and testify as to what the anticipated or fair behavior of the participants in the accident would or would not have been based on studies and a study of the specific event.


Accident reconstructions help analyze and recreate the factors that were involved in the accident to assist the jury in assessing blame, and human factors experts analyze the relationship between people and machines. These specialists can testify as to what the expected or reasonable conduct would have been of the participants in the accident.


In wrongful death cases involving children, the plaintiff should consider hiring a child psychologist or someone of similar experience to speak about typical child behavior patterns, and while a child only owes the duty of care of an average child, it may be difficult for adult jurors to recall how irresponsible they were as children.


Furthermore, in situations where the speed of the child crossing the street is a critical factor, as it often is, a plaintiff's wrongful death attorney should consider hiring a kinesiologist to conduct testing and testify as to the plaintiff's actual walking speed rather than the "presumed" speed based on studies.


The analysis used in a case involving the death of a pedestrian is an example of the sort of expert testimony that can be helpful in a wrongful death case.


In most pedestrian wrongful death lawsuits, the willingness of a driver to avoid colliding with a pedestrian until he knew or should have known that the pedestrian was crossing in front of them would be investigated. Expert testimony would also concentrate on the pedestrian's ability to detect and escape the imminent danger of a motor vehicle to some degree, albeit to a lesser extent.


Any incident of wrongful death, whether it involves a motor vehicle accident, product malfunction, construction accident, or aviation accident, may use a similar liability analysis. In any case, the best consultant should be employed to ensure that the plaintiff wins on liability.


In a wrongful death case, the claimant should hire experts (including vocational professionals, economists, and, in some cases, psychotherapists) to effectively calculate possible damages. This will help when you're looking for reliable proof when suing for a certain amount of payable damages.


What Can A Lawyer Do for Me?


Hiring a wrongful death lawyer will assist you in handling the nuances of California law. If your loved one had a lot of unpaid bills and medical bills, filing a survival action could only get you a small amount of money. It is, however, appropriate if punishing those responsible for your loved one's death is extremely important to you.


Wrongful death is the most tragic result of anyone else's negligence. Families do not have to acknowledge wrongful death without a fight. When a loved one died as a result of someone else's negligence or recklessness, the family deserves accountability, answers, closure, and compensation.


After a fatal accident, you will be able to go up against one or more at-fault parties by hiring a California wrongful death attorney who specializes in wrongful death law. As your family grieves and attempts to recover, your counsel will handle the complex legal aspects of your case:

  • Important Case investigations

  • Identifying the defendants

  • Obtaining proof or evidence of negligence

  • Obtaining the medical history of the deceased

  • Having to deal with claim documents/paperwork

  • Proving and winning the case for the victim's and his or her family's damages

  • Plan out arguments against the accused

  • Obtaining full compensation/damages

A wrongful death lawyer would be familiar with the legal procedures for filing such a lawsuit in California. During this trying time, your counsel will assist you in effectively navigating these procedures. Your wrongful death lawyer will be mindful of the true worth of your case. He or she will get you more money for your tragic loss than you will get on your own. Professional legal services will also provide you with much-needed personal and emotional support. Hiring a wrongful death attorney will potentially save your family time, money, and a lot of stress.


Should I Worry About Attorney Fees?


Fees for Legal Assistance


The majority of client-lawyer issues revolve around payments, so make sure you get all financial information in writing, including the hourly billing rate or contingency fee plan, billing frequency, and whether you'll have to deposit money in advance to cover expenses. Several factors influence fee arrangements, including the scope of work, the type and strength of the legal claim, and the lawyer's geographic location.


Hourly Rates and Contingency Fees


A contingent fee agreement is one in which a lawyer offers to take on a case in exchange for a fixed amount of the final settlement. The lawyer's fee is deducted from the money you get if you win the case. You and your lawyers will not earn any money if you lose. A lawyer's willingness to take your case on a contingent fee basis usually means that the wrongful death lawyer believes in the merits of your argument. A lawyer who is unsure about your case's feasibility is unlikely to accept you as a contingency fee client.


While there is no fixed percentage for contingency costs, lawyers normally claim a third of the fee if the dispute is settled before a complaint is filed in court and 40% if the case does go to trial. Remember that the terms of a contingency fee arrangement may be negotiated. You can try to convince your lawyer to take a smaller percentage or pay for any of the court expenses yourself (especially if the case is settled quickly).


Some wrongful death lawyers charge an hourly rate rather than a contingency fee. This can be advantageous for a plaintiff if the work scope is relatively limited, such as updating a contract or negotiating a better employment package. If you're going to sue your boss, you should be wary of agreeing to an hourly rate. Lawsuits can take years to resolve and can take a long time to settle. In fact, most people can't afford tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, particularly when there's no guarantee of success.


If you meet with a lawyer you like but who is hesitant to take your case on a contingency basis, look into other options. In addition to a contingency fee, some lawyers, for example, would charge workers a lower hourly rate or a flat fee. Contact a few wrongful death attorney at the very least to clarify your specific goals and priorities, as well as a fee limit.


Court/Case Expenses


You will be expected to cover all out-of-pocket expenses, such as court filing fees and the expense of transcribing depositions, which are interviews with witnesses and other people interested in a case that may provide additional details about the facts and circumstances.


If this is the case, the wrongful death lawyer will ask you to deposit a substantial amount of money with them or their firm. The lawyer, ideally, should advance or loan those costs and be reimbursed for your recovery. A fair plan would be for you to advance a small sum for certain expenditures and the wrongful death attorney to advance the remaining funds.


In some cases, especially when you're suing for damages, the court can award you attorneys' fees as part of the final judgment. This grant, however, may not be sufficient to cover the entire legal fee contract owed to your wrongful death attorney. As a result, if a court orders attorneys' fees, the contingency fee arrangement should state what will happen.


One choice is to pay your attorney's fees in full and then subtract the number from your award's contingency charge. Another choice is to add the costs and damages payments together and determine the attorney's contingency fee based on the sum.

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Where Can I Find A California Wrongful Death Lawyer?


State and Local Bar associations. Every state has a bar association responsible for licensing, tracking, and disciplining every single lawyer who practices in that state. A lot of bar associations can provide wrongful death attorney referrals for a nominal fee.


Private referral services. Referral services can also be provided by private companies. For example, 1000Attorneys.com links clients with wrongful death lawyers for a free case evaluation.


You local legal clinic. Some clinics may only refer clients to lawyers with the required skills and experience, some of them specializing in certain cases for a higher fee. Others can also provide wrongful death attorney that may be able to handle your case for a more reduced fee or for free. Look for legal clinics in your area by contacting the nearest law school.


Non-profit Organizations, groups, and charities are also examples of non-profit organizations. Organizations that lobby for minority groups' legal rights may have funding to assist them in legal matters.


Be sure to not just hire the first lawyer you find from ads or recommendations. You can carefully look up whether the lawyer has experience in cases close to or adjacent to yours. You probably don't want to start with a well-known divorce attorney, particularly if your questions are more about auditing or real estate. When there are other choices, you don't have to employ an attorney exclusively based on their availability.


Simply by buying a broad advertising space block on television or in the yellow pages, any lawyer may become well-known. Be aware that in many states, lawyers can advertise any area of expertise they choose, even though they have never handled a case in that field. Referrals and feedback are useful in this situation because they provide evidence.


Find A Wrongful Death Lawyer in California


Suing for wrongful death is both stressful and complicated. If not done right, a plaintiff may settle for compensation that isn't tantamount to the loss and difficulty they have experienced after losing a loved one. If you're looking for a lawyer to get you through, 1000Attorneys.com has a 24/7 live chat for a free legal consultation about your case.

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