The pain that you suffer when you lose your loved one is severe. When someone else’s actions cause this death, the pain and sadness deepen. Your loved one’s wrongful death could cause income loss that your family depends on, emotional damage, and sorrow.
It is critical to consult with a law firm, mainly when someone else's negligent actions cause your loved one’s death. Hiring an attorney to file a wrongful death case/ claim will increase the chances of finding justice and giving your family closure. At Orange County Personal Injury Attorney, we will represent you in court and ensure that you and your family receive the compensation you deserve.
What Is Wrongful Death?
The California law defines wrongful death as a fatality that occurs due to the negligent or wrongful actions of a person or a company, leading to human life loss. The law allows the person responsible for another person’s death without any legal excuse to face a wrongful death charge.
Wrongful actions are the act that leads to the death of a person, and they include; manslaughter, murder, or any other reckless behavior. When a person causes another person’s death in self-defense, the law does not treat this as a wrongful act. The following are actions that the state of California recognizes as wrongful actions; they include but not limited to:
- Medical malpractice,
- Manslaughter or murder,
- Child and elder abuse, or neglect,
- Car accidents, especially those driven by drunk drivers,
- Assault or battery.
What Is A Wrongful Death Claim in California?
The California Code of Civil Procedure allows you as the family members and other dependents of the deceased to file for a wrongful death claim where you may receive compensation for the loss that results from the death of your loved one.
The law treats a wrongful death claim as a civil action where it awards the dependants’ monetary compensation for their loss, unlike in a criminal case where the court intends to punish the person who caused the deceased’s death and, in so doing, set a precedent to other wrongdoers.
Causes of A Wrongful Death
Wrongful death can occur due to several factors; these factors include:
- Intentional acts,
- Defective or Unsafe products,
- Automobile accidents,
- Medical malpractice,
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Unsafe working environment.
When death results from intentional actions like murder, most people choose not to pursue the case since the wrongful death is classified under intentional torts. Most insurance companies do not compensate for deaths that result from intentional torts. However, you can sue the person who caused the end of your loved one intentionally if they have enough wealth to represent for a substantial judgment.
Automobile accidents contribute to majority of wrongful deaths in Orange County. There are several instances that could lead to wrongful death, these instances include:
- Driving while under the influence of prohibited substances of drugs.
- Drunk driving.
- Aggressive driving.
- Driving a vehicle that is not road worthy.
- Drag racing.
- Careless driving.
Unsafe Working Environment
Another cause of wrongful deaths in Orange County is the unsafe working environment most people contend with on a daily basis. These are some examples of actions at a workplace that could cause wrongful death:
- Inefficient workplace security.
- Faulty machinery.
- Chemical spills.
- Slippery floor.
- Unsecured construction site.
Defective or Unsafe Products
The death of a loved one can result from the manufacturer's negligence regarding manufacturing, testing their products properly, or designing their products. Most people have come to their untimely demise since most pharmaceutical companies might release their unsafe products to the market without proper testing first.
Another cause of most unsafe product deaths is when a person consumes contaminated food that has not been well tested and inspected. Defective products like parts of motor vehicles and other machines can also cause a loved one’s death. You can file a product liability case against the manufacturing company if their negligence while manufacturing, testing, or in their design led to the demise of your loved one.
Every medical professional has a duty of care towards their patients; if they act in any of the following negligent manners, you can sue them or the institution for causing a wrongful death to your loved one while receiving treatment at the facility:
- Making errors during surgery,
- Failure to diagnose a condition in time for treatment,
- They are prescribing unsafe drug combinations.
Exposure to toxic substances
Sometimes, people die from prolonged exposure to toxic substances in their paces of work; if you suspect your loved one died due to this exposure, you should consult with a qualified attorney who will advise you on the best cause of action.
Who Can Sue For a Wrongful Death Claim
In California, you have the right to sue for a wrongful death claim if you were to inherit the deceased's estate even in a situation where there is no will and if you are the deceased’s estate representative.
Under the California Code CP 377.60, the following people or their representatives can make a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The deceased surviving spouse,
- Domestic partners, this is a person who was registered as a domestic partner with the California family code 297 when the deceased’s death took place.
- The deceased's children,
- A surviving spouse whose marriage to the dead person has been void is a situation whereby the decedent had been providing financial support to the spouse,
- Grandchildren in case the deceased’s children have passed away as well,
- Other dependents like stepchildren, must prove that they depended on the dead person for most of their financial needs
- who depended on the deceased for most of their financial needs.
- Siblings and other family members if the deceased does not have any surviving children.
- Dependants who technically are not the deceased's children but who stayed with the dead before their death for at least 180 days
In California, only the people named above can make a wrongful death claim. If other heirs who are designated by the deceased in their will, want to claim any damages as a result of the deceased's death, they will have to file a survivorship claim, but they can not benefit from a wrongful death claim.
Compensation For Wrongful Death
When your loved one dies and you believe other parties’ negligent actions led to their death, you can file for a wrongful death lawsuit. The law allows you to receive compensation that represents the value you could have expected from the deceased if they had an expected lifespan. Apart from financial losses that you incur during and after a loved one has passed away, you can also file for the emotional upset that you and your family members will suffer from your loved one’s death.
What Is The Legal Definition of Damages in Wrongful Death Claims?
Legal damages refer to the sum of money imposed on a person who violates the law. Legal damage can also refer to the amount of money that you will receive in a lawsuit.
Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
There are two types of damages which the law awards after a wrongful death claim, these are
- Compensatory Damages
- Punitive Damages
1. Compensatory Damages
The court can award these damages to the descendants of the deceased to compensate them for their loss. Though no amount of money can bring back a loved one, this compensation aims to make the deceased's family continue with an average life even after their loved one.
When a jury decides on the amount of compensation to award the deceased’s family members, they consider the decedent’s life expectancy at the time of their demise. The jury determines the life expectancy of a deceased person at the time of the wrongful death after they review some relevant factors like the dead’s lifestyle, health, and occupation.
Compensatory damages cover both economic and non-economic losses. When these damages are awarded, the court puts into consideration; the deceased's life expectancy at the time of their demise and the expected lifespan of the surviving spouse, whichever is shorter.
a. Economic Damages
In California, the deceased dependants have the right to receive economic benefits that include the following:
- The cost incurred during the funeral and burial of the deceased,
- The loss of financial support from the deceased,
- The amount of money the deceased would have provided to their family if they had lived to their life expectancy,
- Benefits that the deceased's dependant would have received from them in their lifetime.
- The loss of household services which the deceased person provided when they were alive.
When you make a wrongful death claim, you have to prove to the court that you depended on the deceased for most of your financial support. You are entitled to receive an award of the current value in damages for the help you were to receive if the deceased had not met their untimely death
The court determines the "present value" as the value of the investment that you would need to invest today to make the same amount of money that the deceased could have given you if they had an average life expectancy.
When it comes to a spouse, they are entitled to receive a financial award equivalent to the amount of money they would have normally received from their departed spouse if he/she had lived to a full life expectancy. Sometimes, the financial support awarded to the spouse is given based on their expected lifespan if it's shorter.
When it comes to the loss of household services, support like cleaning and cooking that the deceased provided to the surviving spouse or other dependents, the court will award the dependent damages equivalent to the services offered’ market value.
When the deceased leaves behind a minor, the minor is entitled to receive the lost support until they attain the legal age. The minor can request compensation even after they reach the legal adult age by proving to the court that they would have continued to receive support from the deceased even after obtaining legal status to be awarded any financial aid after becoming an adult.
The support could be in the form of the financial aid the minor could have received after they became an adult, like attaining a high level of education. The court then can award the minor damages that will be equivalent to the present value of the support they lose for the same duration of time they would have received it.
The dependants can also claim economic damages for the loss of gifts and other benefits that they would have received or enjoyed if the deceased had an average life expectancy.
Calculating the economic damages to award the surviving family involves expert analysis that considers different elements like the deceased level of education and their chances of receiving promotions at their workplaces.
b. Non-economic Damages
These damages represent intangible losses that you will incur due to the loss of your relationship with the deceased. When you file a claim for wrongful death, the court may award you non-economic (general) damages for the value of the loss of the deceased's companionship.
When you sue for non-economic damages, you will need to prove to the court the value of life and the companionship you had with the deceased. Proving the elements of non-economic damage can be hard as love makes the life of a spouse or a child meaningful.
You will have to show the court that your relationship with the decedent was full and deep by painting an accurate picture of your lives. Once you have provided the court with evidence of your relationship, the court may award you a general damage compensation that will cover the following losses:
- The loss of the deceased's moral support,
- companionship, love, protection, assistance, care, and affection.
- The loss of sexual relationships for the surviving spouse and other domestic partners
- a minor looking up to the decedent for their training and guidance can make a wrongful death claim.
California does not limit the amount you can receive in a general damage case, and you should, therefore, provide enough evidence to the jury to receive fair compensation. No value can replace the love lost when a person loses their loved one, but the jury tries to be just when they award a prize. In most cases, when your attorneys are calculating the value of your settlement, they use the records of similar cases and the payment the jury awarded then.
When you bring a claim for wrongful death in California, the jury does not award you compensation for the mental anguish, sorrow, or grief you will suffer due to the loss of your loved one.
The state does not allow you to recover any damages for the deceased’s pain when they died. The law compensates the deceased's dependant for their loss and not the dead for their pain and suffering before they passed on.
2. Punitive Damages
Under California laws, punitive damages punish the wrongdoer but do not compensate for the deceased's dependants’ loss. The law prohibits awarding punitive damages in wrongful death claims. However, California state makes an exception to this rule if the lawsuit is against a person convicted for committing felony murder.
A deceased's estate can, however, receive punitive damages when they bring forth a survivorship claim. A survivorship claim would hold in a court if the deceased received punitive damages if he/she had been alive.
An example of a punitive damages claim can be filed when the deceased was involved in an accident caused by a careless driver or one under the influence of alcohol and other substances; punitive damages claim can be made against the driver. Punitive damages are only available in the case where the deceased had been alive for some time after the accident before succumbing to their injuries.
There are some instances where a deceased have heirs who are not their dependant. They cannot file for a wrongful death claim. They can file for survivorship claims under the California Code of civil procedure 377.30 and represent the deceased's estate.
When the deceased’s estate makes a survivorship claim, the court can award the deceased's estate the following losses:
- Claims that are not related to the death of the deceased person even though they had a right to them before they died,
- The estate may receive damages if they make a claim for the deceased’s injury, which led to their death. If they had survived the injury, it doesn’t matter how short the survival time was.
Is There A Limited Time to File Your Claim?
In California, you should make a wrongful death claim within a specified time like any other personal injury claim; this is what the law refers to as "statute of limitations.” You will have to file a wrongful death claim within two years from when the deceased passed away. If you do not file within this time frame, you and your loved one stand to lose the right to make a claim.
Exceptions to Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations can make you lose on making a claim against wrongful death for your loved one, but there are a few exceptions to this rule, these are:
- Discovery rule
- Medical malpractice claims
This rule applies where the family members and other dependants did not find out about death promptly. The discovery rule would give the statute of limitations a pause if the family members did not find out about their loved one’s death on time. The discovery rule enables the family to file a claim for wrongful death from when they discovered the end and not death.
Under the California Code of civil procedure 340.5, a wrongful death claim following medical malpractice has a different statute of limitations. If your loved one succumbed due to medical malpractice, you should make your claim within three years from the onset of the malpractice or within one year from the date of malpractice discovery.
These exceptions will give you more time to make your claim and, at the same time, reduce the amount of time available to make a lawsuit. While filing for a wrongful death claim in California, you will have to consider the various deadlines that you must meet.
- Steps to follow when filing for a wrongful death claim
- The first step is to consult with an attorney who will advise you on the best course of action, then follow the following step to ensure your claim holds in a court of law:
- Determine who is entitled to the claim according to California Code of Civil procedure 377.60,
- Determine the types of damages to sue for, let your attorney have different experts in the field who will help determine the amount of compensation to claim,
- Let your attorney know more about the type of relationship the deceased had with all the claimants.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
When you lose your loved one due to someone else's mistake, pain and grief could make it hard to pursue justice alone. Due to the statute of limitations for wrongful death in California, you cannot file a wrongful death claim if you miss the deadline. Having legal representation is an ideal option to ensure you file the wrongful death claim in good time. Understanding wrongful death laws could be complicated. To avoid despair, hire a lawyer to represent you in court.
Consult an attorney to review your evidence, determine if it's valid, and file the claim on your behalf. At Orange County Personal Injury Attorney, we have attorneys with experience handling wrongful death cases. Our attorneys will file your claim promptly and help you maneuver the court processes. We have a team on standby to analyze your claim and fight for your rights and compensation. Contact us at 714-876-1959 and schedule a consultation.