An incident of wrongful death occurs when your loved one dies due to another person's negligence. Such situations may occur due to negligent car accidents, product liability, or medical malpractice. Losing a loved one because of another person's negligence could be devastating.

Most people who lose spouses or relatives through a wrongful death need the courts’ help with holding the responsible parties accountable. However, the issue is not as easy as it sounds. Some laws govern your ability to seek compensation in a California wrongful death claim. Also, the time within which you are required to file the suit is specified. Guidance from a knowledgeable Orange County Personal Injury Attorney is crucial when you are seeking compensation in a wrongful death claim.

Overview of a Wrongful Death Action

Wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of the criminal acts of another person. The deceased's family and relatives are allowed to bring on a civil lawsuit against the person responsible for their loved ones' death. A wrongful death claim is different from a criminal case that will be filed against the liable party.

Even when a criminal case is continuing, you can file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for your loved one's death. Navigating a wrongful death claim is complicated since there is a time limit within which you can file the claim, and the primary witness to the occurrence is not around to offer their testimony. Before compensation for wrongful death is offered, you need to establish the following wrongful death elements:

Proof of Negligence

Mostly, death results from criminal acts or negligence of another person. If you seek compensation for the loss of your loved one in a wrongful death claim, you will be required to establish the specific negligence elements sufficiently:

  1. The defendant owed your loved one a duty of care. The burden of care is the responsibility that each individual has to ensure they don't harm others. When proving negligence in a wrongful death claim, it should be clear that the defendant had a duty of care towards the deceased. There is no specific duty of care that a person needs to exercise. Duties of care vary depending on the type of accident that caused the death of your kin.
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care. Breach of duty occurs when a person acts in a way that puts other people in danger. When proving that the defendant caused your loved one's death, you must establish how they breached their care duty. Some incidences of breach of duty are when a driver operates a vehicle while under drug influence and causes an accident. Also, the prescription of the wrong medication can result in wrongful death. Proving this element of negligence requires extensive research on the accident. Therefore, guidance from an attorney is vital.
  3. The breach of duty caused the accident, injuries, and the death of your loved one. When proving negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit, you should show that the defendant's actions caused your loved one's injuries and eventual death. Even though their conduct was not the only cause of death, it should be a significant factor.

Proving Intentional Harm

As defined by California's wrongful death law, wrongful death can result from negligence or another person's wrongdoing. Sometimes incidences of wrongful death arose from intentional violence. The elements that used to prove intentional harm include:

  • The defendant intended to commit the act. Several reasons would cause a person to do a wrongful act. A person can achieve a wrongful act to aid their criminal acts, such as theft.
  • The defendant made contact with the victim. In this case, non-consensual contact could be hitting or use of a firearm that might cause injuries.
  • When filing a wrongful death claim, it should be apparent that the contact made by the defendant caused injuries and the death of your loved one. When proving wrongful death caused by a violent criminal act, you must show that the contact made was a significant contributing factor to the death.

Often, violent deaths will also result in criminal cases for murder, manslaughter, or homicide. With guidance from a skilled attorney, you can recover compensation for wrongful death that resulted from violent acts.

Proving Damages

The losses you suffered from your loved one's wrongful death is an element of wrongful death action that needs to be cleared up before you recover compensation. After proving that your loved one's injuries and death were caused by negligence or criminal acts, you have to show the damages you suffered. California law rarely awards compensation for emotional damages caused by wrongful death. However, your attorney can try to ascertain that the defendant acted intending to inflict emotional pain.

Some common damages that you could seek in a wrongful death claim include:

  1. Burial and funeral expenses. Death is an occurrence that is always unexpected. The burial and funeral expenses you are likely to suffer while laying your loved one to rest could take a toll on you. However, when you file a wrongful death lawsuit, you can recover compensation for these costs.
  2. Lost financial support. The family of a deceased bread wiener is likely to suffer financially after their death. A successful wrongful death lawsuit allows you to recover compensation for the financial support you lose from death.
  3. Loss of love and companionship. The children or spouse of a person who suffers wrongful death are entitled to compensation for the deceased's love and support.
  4. Lost future earnings. Depending on the age, health, and job position held by a deceased, the family can recover lost future wages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
  5. Lost consortium. Loss of consortium is the loss of love and sexual gratification that one would have received from the deceased. However, lost consortium benefits can only be awarded to the spouse or domestic partner of the deceased. Therefore, you may be required to prove that you are a legal spouse before getting compensation.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

If someone you love dies tragically in an accident caused by negligence or wrongful acts, you will want to obtain justice and seek compensation from the liable party. However, not everyone can recover compensation for wrongful death in California. Some of the individuals that the law allows filing a compensation claim for wrongful death include:

  • The Spouse to the Deceased

You have a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and recover compensation if your spouse was killed in a negligent accident or wrongful act. Also, the domestic partner or a putative spouse could seek compensation for wrongful death. A putative spouse is an individual who believed that they were married to the deceased and did rely on them for financial support.

  • Parents of the Deceased

If you are a parent of a minor who suffered a wrongful death, you are entitled to compensation in a wrongful death suit. Also, if your deceased adult child did not have descendants, you can rightfully recover the damages. If a parent can successfully prove that they depended on the child financially, they can claim.

  • Legal Children

If you have lost your adoptive or biological parents in a wrongful death situation, you can file a compensation claim. Also, stepchildren who were dependents of the deceased at the time of death have a chance to recover compensation. Additionally, minors who lived with the deceased for at least one hundred and eighty days while depending on the relative who died financially may file a compensation claim. This will be possible even when they aren't biological or legally adopted children.

  • Other Heirs

Family members who are considered heirs of the deceased by California's intestacy law could rightfully file compensation for wrongful death. However, this will only be possible if there is no surviving spouse, children, or parent of the deceased.

There may be several parties entitled to compensation for the wrongful death. In such a case, one attorney may find it challenging to represent everyone. In order to simplify the situation, a representative of the deceased's estate can file a claim and distribute the settlement to the claimants. California law is always after ensuring that minors get their rightful share in compensation claims. The court may also appoint a representative to ensure the children's best interests are involved in the lawsuit.

Statute of Limitation for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

In California, a statute of limitations is the court procedure that requires lawsuits to be filed within a specified time frame. Cases that are filed beyond the deadline may not be accepted in court. Each state has a specific statute of limitations for wrongful death. These time limits vary depending on the place you live and the event that caused your loved one's death.

The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in California is two years from the day the wrongful death occurred. If the death happened from medical malpractice, the surviving family members have up to three years from the time of death to bring a claim to court. 

When wrongful death results from a government entity's negligence, you will be required to file a claim with the entity within six months of the occurrence. The government will respond to your claim within forty-five days by accepting or denying the suit. Should the case be rejected, you will have six more months to file a court's compensation lawsuit. Suing the government for compensation is complicated and follows many procedures. Therefore seeking legal guidance is crucial.

If you are a minor and the only person seeking compensation from your parent's wrongful death, you will have until two years from when you turn eighteen years to file the lawsuit. Sorting through California law to identify the statute of limitations for your claim can be tiring. This is because the cause of death of your loved one will determine the specific statute of limitations. Seeking guidance from a knowledgeable personal injury attorney is how you can understand the laws and be sure of the statue that applies to your situation. 

Discovery Rule in Wrongful Death Actions

The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim governs the period within which you can seek your loved ones' wrongful death. However, the discovery rule is a notable exception to the statute of limitations. The discovery rule applies where the cause of death is not apparent. The deceased's family is allowed some more time past the statute of limitations to file their claim.

The discovery rule helps determine whether or not you knew the cause of your loved one's injury and death to start running the statute of limitations before the death. If the discovery rule applies to your case, your statute of limitations will be two years from when the specific cause of death was established.

When wrongful death is viewed as a situation arising from personal injury, you may be barred from bringing a personal injury claim. This is because you failed to file a personal injury lawsuit within the limitations of the injury lawsuit. For the death that resulted from product liability, there is a particular statute of limitations the day you bring the action concerning death.

Importance of Statute of Limitations 

There are two main reasons why a statute of limitations is essential for wrongful death claims in California. Having a statute of limitations keeps plaintiffs from using the threat of a lawsuit for too long. Also, having a period within which the lawsuit should be filed helps protect evidence. There is so much evidence that needs to be collected and presented in a wrongful death claim, including:

  • Witness testimony
  • Report from the police
  • Photographs and videos
  • Medical documents of the deceased if they sought medical care before the death

All this evidence could easily be lost over a long time. This could occur when you lose touch with the witnesses or devices in which photographic evidence is stored could break. The statute of limitations ensures that you file a claim as soon as possible to avoid losing the evidence significant to the case.

If you attempt to file a wrongful death claim after the statute of limitations has elapsed, the court could dismiss your claim. The defendants will point out that your claim is invalid since the period within which you were supposed to file the lawsuit is over. Such a Casey will lose your right to recover compensation for your loved one's wrongful death unless you are subject to an extension under exceptional circumstances.

Besides filing a claim in court, the statute of limitations is essential for your position when negotiating for wrongful death compensation with the parties liable for the death of your loved one. When the two years elapse, you will have lost your opportunity to make out court settlements.

Tolling the Statute of Limitation for a Wrongful Death Claim

The statute of limitations for wrongful death prevents you from filing a claim after the specified time limit has elapsed. Most plaintiffs have two years to bring the claim, after which the claim could be denied. However, California law allows the freezing of the statue so that you can get more time to get the suit together. Tolling of the wrongful death statute of limitations allows the two years to stop running temporarily. Some of the situations that could prompt tolling of the wrongful death statute of limitation in California:

  1. Presence of Criminal Allegations

When wrongful death results from unlawful acts such as criminal activity, the statute of limitations could be tolled. In these cases, the statute of limitations stops running from the moment the crime was committed until investigations are concluded. Regardless of the person facing criminal charges, the tolling will apply. Some of the crimes for which a statute of limitations is tolled may include traffic offenses. The statute of limitations will stop and begin again when the offender pays for their actions. However, the statute of limitations will expire after six years, regardless of the case's outcome. If your loved one dies in an accident caused by a negligent driver, you will have more than two years to come up with a claim.

  1. Lawsuits Brought by legally Incompetent Individuals or Minors

When one is a minor at the time their parent or guardian is killed in wrongful death, the statute of limitations will be tolled until they turn eighteen years. Also, the tolling will apply to individuals who are considered legally incompetent to bring a claim. The law defines a lawfully incapacitated person as one whose mental function is low, and they cannot function normally. If a person becomes legally incompetent when the statute of limitations has already started running, the statue will toll from the moment they became incompetent until they get well. Whether a person is legally competent or not is a decision that is made after professional evaluation.

  1. The Defendant is Involved in Fraudulent Acts

Suppose you are prevented from filing a wrongful death lawsuit because the defendant is involved in fraudulent activities. In that case, the statute of limitations could be tolled until you discover the fraudulent acts. However, if you fail to use diligence to recover the defendant's actions, the statue cannot be tolled.

  1. Unrepresented Estates of Deceased Individuals 

If someone you love suffered severe injuries and died before filing a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover compensation for wrongful death by filing a lawsuit against liable parties. All estates need a representative who takes care of the affairs of the deceased. Some families already have administrators, while others get them quickly. For families that take a long time to contact a trustworthy administrator to the deceased's assets, the statute of limitations tolls until six months from a representative. However, the toll can only last for a maximum of five years.

  1. Defendants Leave the State

Before a personal injury lawsuit begins, the defendants must be served with certain documents. Most wrongful death cases arise from negligent acts or wrongful acts of another person. There can be more than one defendant in a wrongful death claim. Serving a defendant with relevant documents can be as easy as finding them and presenting the papers. When a defendant is not in California, the statute is tolled until they return. However, when it is possible to submit the documents even when the defendant is not in California, tolling won't apply.

  1. The defendant is in Prison

When the wrongful death of your loved one results from a wrongful act, the defendant will likely face an arrest awaiting criminal charges. If the person you are suing for wrongful death is in Prison, the statute of limitations may be tolling.

  1. Late Discovery

Sometimes, the deceased's family may not find out of the incident until the statute of limitations has elapsed. This is the case mostly when the death resulted from wrongful acts. If you are in such a situation, you can file your claim based on delayed discovery. Delayed discovery allows a longer statute of limitations if a reasonable investigation would not have discovered the issue that caused your loved one's death. When you seek an extension of the statute due to late discovery, you will significantly benefit from a personal injury attorney's guidance.

Seek Guidance from a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

When another person's negligence causes your loved death, the situation is likely to take a toll on your personal and financial life. The emotional pain and suffering you undergo from losing a loved one are enough, and you have to battle for compensation in a wrongful death claim. The process of filing a wrongful death claim is complicated since there is a statute of limitations.

Seeking legal guidance from a personal injury attorney is one of the wisest decisions you can make. At Orange County Personal Injury Attorney, we will offer you legal guidance on wrongful death claims. We serve clients throughout Orange County, CA, to ensure the best outcome for your situation. Contact us today at 714-876-1959 and allow us to guide you.