Wrongful death is defined as the death of a person as a result of the wrongful act of another person. When a wrongful death occurs, the family of the deceased may be entitled to compensation for their loss.
In CA, there is a statute that defines wrongful death as the “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default” that causes the death of a person. Wrongful death is a civil action. Common wrongful death claims involve drunk driving, car accidents, manslaughter, negligence, assault and battery, and murder.
Wrongful death lawsuits have a statute of limitations. Under the CA wrongful death statute, a person has only 2 years to file a wrongful death claim from the date of the death unless it meets one of the exceptions:
1. The plaintiff of the wrongful death lawsuit is a minor child.
2. Negligence of the named defendants wasn’t known during that 2-year period.
3. A mental or physical impairment of the plaintiff prevented filing during the 2-year period.
In California, not just anyone can file a wrongful death claim. If you want to file a wrongful death claim, you must meet at least one of these criteria:
1. You are the surviving spouse.
2. You are a surviving child (adult or minor).
3. You are the surviving parent(s).
4. You are a legally adopted child of the deceased.
5. You are the surviving adoptive parent(s).
6. You are the personal representative of the estate of the deceased.
It’s important to mention again that a wrongful death claim is a civil matter. You may file a wrongful death claim regardless of whether criminal charges are ever filed against the defendant.
There are two broad categories of damages that the surviving spouse, child, or parents of the deceased may be entitled to receive. The first category helps you recover damages that the deceased may be owed from the moment of their death that resulted from a negligent act. This may be medical expenses, funeral expenses, pain and suffering for the deceased, lost wages, and funeral and burial expenses.
The second broad category deals with the losses that the survivors incurred as a result of the wrongful death. This may include lost earning capacity, lost support and care, mental and emotional pain and suffering, loss of comfort and companionship, and lost inheritance.
Additionally, wrongful death claims may also award exemplary damages. Exemplary damages have the goal of making an example out of the defendant. Exemplary damages may be recovered if the death was caused by a willful act or omission, or as a result of gross negligence.
Negligence is the main legal element that must be proven in a wrongful death claim. When someone is negligent, it means that they did something that they shouldn’t have done or that they did not do something that they should have done.
There are four elements that the plaintiff’s wrongful death attorney must prove:
1. A legal duty was owed. For instance, all drivers have a legal duty to operate their vehicles without being intoxicated.
2. The legal duty was breached. Continuing with the example, someone is drunk and gets behind the wheel.
3. The breach of duty caused an actual injury. Injuries can be physical, including death. It can also include property damage to the vehicle.
4. There must be monetary damages that occur. This could be hospital bills, surgeries, loss of work, and even loss of inheritance.
When someone you love dies because of the negligence of another person, it can be a hurtful and scary time. It can be hard to make decisions or know what you should do. If you have questions about wrongful death claims, call us. We’ve got answers. Our compassionate and experienced wrongful death attorneys can help you understand the laws and provide free case evaluations.