When a loved one passes on due to a sudden accident caused by negligent conduct, drunk driver or defective product, your world turns upside down. Suing the person responsible for the death is not something the survivors might think of at this period because of the emotional trauma coupled with financial constraints. However, it is vital to hire the services of The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm in California when you are in such a situation.

The reason being, the law allows heirs of the decedent to recover damages for wrongful death. We understand that a wrongful death claim is not easy. Therefore, we will help you understand the people you can sue, compensable damages you can receive, and the period it takes to receive compensation.

Wrongful Death Claims and who can Sue

If a loved one passes away due to another’s wrongful act, the law allows you to take legal action so that you can recover the damages. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action under CCP 377.60. Remember that civil actions only seek financial or monetary compensation for the loss and not to punish or get justice for the wrongful act by the defendant.

Not everyone is allowed to sue for wrongful death. There are specific limitations that only allow a defined group of people to recover damages. In California, those who are permitted by the law to bring a lawsuit against an offender are:

  • The parents of the deceased if they used to depend on them
  • The living child or children of the dead
  • The spouse of the dead person
  • The grandchild or grandchildren of the deceased if the children of the deceased are dead
  • Domestic partners who are registered
  • A minor who was dependent on the deceased for 50 percent financial support and had lived with the deceased for more than three months before the dead lost their life and
  • Are a relative entitled to the deceased's property under the Intestate Succession laws of California

People who are not listed in the above list can also benefit from the deceased person’s property but through a survivorship claim.  

Types of Acts that Support Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death lawsuit can only be brought against the person liable for the death of someone else and has no legal excuse for death. Deaths in these lawsuits result from negligence and intentional wrongful acts.  These illicit acts include:

  1. A car accident involving drivers drinking under the influence

You will be held liable for wrongful death if you are involved in an accident while intoxicated, an accident that leads to fatalities. It will be considered as negligent driving, and if you are found liable after a wrongful death lawsuit, your car insurance policy carrier will cover the damages which your insurance policy can cover.

  1. Medical malpractice

Carelessness by medical practitioners like surgeons or physicians can result in loss of life. An example of negligence is when a surgeon makes a mistake during surgery, leading to the death of a patient. A physician who misdiagnoses a condition that can be treated, making a patient treat the wrong disease that leads to death can also be sued under the California wrongful death laws.

  1. Toxic substances

Death can be caused by environmental exposure to harmful or toxic substances like asbestos which is associated with cancer. Therefore, if you suspect that a loved one died from exposure to toxic substances in the workplace or somewhere else, laws are available to enable you to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

  1. Murder and manslaughter

These are deliberate or reckless wrongful acts. If the intentional action that led to death or homicide was not intentional, then the court won’t consider it an illegal act. It applies when someone kills in self-defense. Even where someone takes a life intentionally, most people do not follow up compensation unless the defendant is wealthy and can pay. You can, however, seek compensation if manslaughter or murder was due to deliberate or reckless acts.

  1. Slip and fall accidents 

These accidents occur because of failing to maintain safe premises, and they fall under the premises liability accidents. Keep in mind that not every fall is a slip and fall liability. It means that not every claim in California premises liability is compensable. The accident must have stemmed from the misconduct of another person. Slips and falls are caused by loose carpeting, broken furniture, spills, plumbing leaks, or uneven floors. If someone dies for slipping and falling on a slippery floor that had no wet floor warning sign, then that is a wrongful act, and you can seek to recover damages from them for failing to maintain safe premises. The homeowner insurance and premises liability insurance will provide compensation for split and fall accidents.

  1. Unsafe products

People have passed away because of pharmaceutical companies distributing hazardous drugs in the market. Others have lost their lives because of food poisoning, where people preparing meals didn’t make the right preparations. Drivers and other machine operators have also lost lives because of operating machines that were manufactured with defects. Therefore, if you have lost someone due to unsafe products resulting from misconduct in design, manufacturing, and testing, then you can seek compensation through wrongful death claims.

  1. Suicide  

In California, if a loved one commits suicide but then you can link the death to extreme behavior like bullying that leads to emotional stress and low self-esteem, then you should make those who caused the emotional stress liable. Also, if it’s a school counselor who ignored warning signs of suicide in your daughter before she committed suicide, then you can sue him or her for a wrongful act.

Compensable Damages for Wrongful Death in California

The descendants of the deceased person suffer huge losses, both emotionally and financially, when a loved one passes on. These heirs need compensation for their losses and the support they would have reasonably expected to receive from the dead person. Remember that there is a time limit for seeking these damages. To bring a lawsuit, make sure you do it within the duration of your life expectancy at the time of the wrongful act or within the life expectancy of the deceased at the time of the wrongful act. The jury will use your lifestyle, health, and occupation to estimate your life expectancy.

Compensations will come in two categories. The economic and non-economic damages:

  1. Economic damages

All plaintiffs filing a wrongful death claim were dependent on the deceased for financial support. As such, they should get the following damages without limitation:

  • The present value of financial support the deceased would have contributed if he or she was still alive
  • The value of gifts and benefits the descendants could have expected from the deceased.
  • Lost support for minors until they become adults. Even after adulthood, if a child can prove they would have continued to get adulthood support from the deceased may be for studying in the university or college, the child can still recover these damages in terms of present value lost support.
  • The dollar value of the domestic services provided to the descendants by the dead, examples of household services include cooking and cleaning
  • Financial support for a spouse for the period the deceased was expected to live
  • Funeral and burial expenses. When it comes to these damages, the estate of the deceased can join the claim to get paid for all the financial losses that they incurred due to the demise of their loved one. 
  1. Non-economic damages

These damages compensate for three levels of losses:

  • Loss of the deceased person’s love, companionship, affection, care, protection, comfort, moral support, and society
  • Loss of enjoyment of sexual relations by the spouse or domestic partner of the deceased
  • Loss of training and guidance by the deceased to their child

There is no fixed standard dollar value for non-economic damages like affection and companionship. California laws have no limit on the amount to be paid as compensation; hence, they put faith in the jury to be fair and award a reasonable amount based on the evidence presented. An intelligent personal injury attorney can also do some homework to analyze the amounts that have been awarded to claimants who have had cases like yours in the past. That way, the attorney will know what to expect.

Note that the jury is not allowed to offer damages for pain and suffering to the person filing the lawsuit in California. The only person who is entitled to these damages is deceased before they face death. However, once a person is dead, the people making a claim can only recover damages for the losses they endured after the passing of a loved one.

Punitive Damages and California Wrongful Death

As said earlier, wrongful death claims seek to get monetary compensation. On the other hand, criminal prosecutions seek to punish wrongdoers for their actions. It means that an heir in California cannot be awarded punitive damages for wrongful deaths. However, there will be an exception if the deceased died due to a homicide that the defendant has been convicted. Therefore, it is only possible to file a claim against a convict of felony murder.

Damages that are recovered against such defendants are often not substantial because a majority of these convicts have no resources. The deceased estate can also be awarded punitive damages if they bring a survivorship claim against the drunk driver who caused severe injuries to the dead that led to his or her death. The dead must, however, have survived for some time before the end.

Differences between Survival Action and Wrongful Death

The California CPP 377.5 focuses on the cause of action by the decedents. It states that a cause of action that survives the death of the person required to start or proceed with it will be passed on to the deceased’s heir in interest or personal representative. It means that in a survivor claim, the heirs of the deceased file a survivorship claim on behalf of his or her real estate.

The damages the estate recovers are the losses and expenses experienced before the deceased died of the wrongful acts or negligent conduct. Survival actions seek compensation for two kinds of losses:

  1. Claims that do not relate to the death of the deceased but ought to have been sued by the dead as at the time of death, or
  2. Damages for injuries that resulted in death, as long as the dead survived the injuries for the shortest time regardless of how brief.  Some of the damages recoverable in survivorship claims include ambulance fees, medical bills, and loss of wages during the time of hospitalization.

Keep in mind in California, the decedent’s estate cannot seek damages for the pain and suffering endured. However, there can be an exception whereby the death of the deceased was due to negligence or abuse by a nursing home or other facilities that offer care to the elderly or disabled. When a survivorship claim is compensated, whatever is recovered becomes part of the decedent’s estate, and it’s shared among the descendants or heirs of the dead based on the will or state law where the will is absent.

The main difference between survivorship and wrongful death is that survivorship claim pays punitive damages while wrongful death doesn’t. The two lawsuits can, however, be charged together if they are related to the same wrongful act.

For instance, John’s eight months old daughter spills hot water from the water dispenser on her hands. She suffers minor burns, but John and the wife decide to take her to the hospital for checkups. The pediatrician examining the child says that the wounds are small, but she needs anesthesia to reduce the pain.

The nurse who is to administer the drug injects the kid with an overdose which puts her in a coma for one week after which she then passes away. John and the wife can bring two claims which are survivorship and wrongful death against the hospital or the nurse who administered the drug.

Division of Damages Recovered in Wrongful Death Claims 

Remember that for an heir to benefit from compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit, they must join the case. Failure to do so means that even if the damages are recovered, they won’t get compensated. In some states, those seeking compensation are awarded the damages separately, but for the case of California, since everybody seeking compensation joins one lawsuit, the court grants the whole group a lump sum which they divide among themselves. If the people are unable to share the awarded damages, they can request the court to distribute the amount equitably or make compensation to every single person who was seeking compensation.

The amount of damages is calculated in terms of financial losses and non-financial losses. Financial losses are precise, and they are measured using economic elements. Non-financial losses, on the other hand, are determined through the calculation of non-economic factors.

Keep in mind that no amount of compensation is going to bring back your loved one. Financial compensation is just away the civil justice system tries to give justice to those who have suffered loss.

Reasons You Should Seek to Recover Damages for Loss

Since monetary compensation cannot bring back a loved one to life, some people refuse to pursue wrongful death claims. However, there are specific reasons why you should seek these claims. The reasons include:

  1. Replacing financial support

Losing a father, a husband, wife, or kid you depended on for financial assistance means you are going to experience a lot of financial difficulties. Wrongful conduct by another person should not deny you the financial help you used to get from the deceased to pay school fees, rent, and other expenses. The civil lawsuit you file is to ensure the person liable pays or compensates you for all the things the deceased person wanted you to have.

  1. Preventing future misconduct

In wrongful death, a deterrent is not considered an objective. However, those who are liable for the unlawful acts pay vast sums of money as compensation. This acts as a lesson for other people because they will be afraid of being financially accountable for their negligence. When the wrongful death was caused by accident, if the insurance company or the driver pays for the damages, then they will put up measures to ensure they promote safety. That way, people are deterred from negligence.

The same case applies to medical malpractices. When a hospital is sued for malpractice, they will learn a lesson hence stay away from recruiting incompetent doctors and also encourage career development to equip their medical experts with up to date skills thus preventing future misconduct.

  1. Promoting product safety

A wrongful death lawsuit against a manufacturer will improve the safety of products in the future. If a company compensates all the victims of their unsafe product, the next products they take to the market will be carefully designed, manufactured, and tested to ensure they meet all the standard procedures. The reason being they fear to incur another financial liability due to a defective product.  If no claims were to be brought against manufacturers of a product, they would continue introducing unsafe or defective products in the market.

  1. Personal satisfaction

If you lose a loved one because of the carelessness of a medical practitioner, a drunk driver or unsafe premises, you will not have peace until the person liable for the wrongful act is brought to justice. Pursuing legal action through a wrongful death claim is, therefore, the best way of attaining self-satisfaction because the person responsible gets to suffer financial losses that give you closure on the issue.

Statute of Limitation for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

In California, the statute of limitations is twenty-four months accruing from the date of death for a wrongful death claim. So, if from the time of departure of a loved one, you take more than two years to file a complaint, your statute of limitations will have expired. For survival actions, you have two years to file the claim. The time accrues from the date of the negligent or wrongful act or six months after the death of the deceased.

If a negligent doctor puts a patient in a coma after a misdiagnose for three weeks after which the patient dies, the statute of limitations in a survivorship lawsuit will accrue three weeks earlier than that of a wrongful claim. In a scenario where government employees are liable for wrongful death or medical malpractice, the statute of limitations might differ which is why you need to speak to a personal injury attorney to avoid losing your right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the person liable for a loved one’s death.  

The Time it Takes to Recover Damages

There is no specific time within which one will receive compensation. At times, the insurance company of the person responsible will pay for the damages before a lawsuit is filed. Such cases often take a short time. For cases that proceed to trial where the insurance company of the defendant fails to come into an agreement with your attorney, it will take time before the case is concluded. The reason being your attorney has to conduct investigations, expert witnesses have to be involved in giving their opinion when evidence is presented, and economists are required to calculate the amount of settlement based on the case.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If your world is upside down after losing a loved one because of a wrongful act or conduct by another person, you need closure on the issue to have a peace of mind. However, because in wrongful death claims there are no punitive damages, you should pursue a legal action against those liable for negligence to get monetary compensation. Call 619-625-8707 today to speak to one of our attorneys at The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm in California for a no-obligation consultation.