When your loved one dies, it is devastating and sad. The situation becomes worse if your loved one dies because of the negligence of another person or party. The law that allows you to receive compensation for a loved one's wrongful death is under the Code of Civil Procedure 377.30. When a loved one dies out of another person's actions, you can file a lawsuit to recover both economic and non-economic damages caused by their death. But, seeking the damages is not easy. The party liable can deny responsibility, or you may be seeking damages from the wrong party.
However, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you with your claim by proofing the other party is responsible for the wrongful death, and you deserve compensation. At San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we could help you file a wrongful death claim and ensure you receive the damage you deserve.
Who can Seek Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim?
When a loved one dies due to another party’s negligent act, many people are hurt and loose as a result. However, not everyone qualifies under the California law to seek damages in a wrongful death case. According to the Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, the only persons or their representatives that can seek damages or initiate a lawsuit are:
- Living spouses
- Children of the deceased
- Domestic partners
- Grandchildren if the children of the victim are also dead
- Other minors like stepchildren that dependent on the deceased person's financial support up to 50% or more and
- Others that feel entitled to the property left by the deceased under intestate succession laws
If you are allowed by the law, as shown above, to seek damages following a loved one's wrongful death, it is best to find a lawyer to guide you through the process. Before damages are awarded, you must prove the victim died out of gross negligence, negligence, intentional wrongful deed, or recklessness. Different situations can be the reason the person died, and they include but not limited to:
- Vehicle accidents, even those involving a drunk or drugged driver – Your loved one can die from a driver's negligence that fails to exercise their duty of care. A driver who gets behind the wheel intoxicated or a reckless one can cause an accident that results in a person's death. The negligent behavior is what results in the wrongful death of a loved one.
- Drowning accidents – These accidents can happen in pools where proper care is not taken to prevent such accidents.
- Slip and fall accidents – Sometimes, business owners or contractors can be cleaning or doing repairs. Typically, they have to warn others of the potential danger. If, for instance, they fail to warn against a slippery floor for a person to be careful, a slip can result in their wrongful death.
- Pedestrian accidents – In most cases, pedestrian accidents are caused by negligent or reckless drivers. If the deceased was knocked down by a vehicle, you could pursue damages for their wrongful death.
- Assault and battery – Assaulting or hitting a person can result in death, even when not intentional. When a loved one was a victim of assault or battery, you can sue the perpetrator to recover damages for their wrongful death.
- Medical malpractice – Accidents happen in hospitals or with medical practitioners. The law allows for a surviving family to seek damages for their wrongful death.
- Child abuse and neglect – Some acts in child abuse or neglect can result in a minor's death. Although the offense can be prosecuted as a criminal one, damages following the wrongful death are recoverable.
- Manslaughter or murder – Homicide, whether intentional or unintentional, results in the death of a person prematurely. If your loved one suffered this, you could pursue damages for their wrongful death.
- Elder abuse and neglect – Death to a senior person can occur due to abuse or neglect. This also triggers a criminal case against the perpetrator, and the family can pursue wrongful death damages from the defendant.
Sometimes, a victim can die not out of the defendant's negligence, but you are still entitled to seek damages under strict liability law. For instance, if the victim died because of a product defect or a dog maul or bite, you can still receive damages for their wrongful death.
Proving Negligence in Wrongful Death
If you believe your loved one died because of another party's negligent acts, you must prove that in court before damages are awarded. Remember that the other party you believe to be responsible for the death will refute your claim or challenge it. Failing to prove their part in the death of the person can cost you damages and your pain. In this case, your attorney will help you satisfy the elements of negligence according to the law. These elements are:
- The party responsible for the death of your loved one owed them a duty of care
- The party in one way or another violated their duty of care
- The violation resulted in an accident that caused injuries and death of the victim and
- Their death cost you and others financial and personal losses
Proving the liable party's negligence of their duty of care varies from one party to another, depending on the accident that resulted in the death. Examples of duties of care and how they become breached are:
- A motorist owes other road users a duty of care because they must drive safely depending on the road and weather conditions. A driver can breach this duty in various ways, including drunk driving, distracted driving, disobedience of traffic laws, aggressive driving, or other reckless acts.
- Manufacturers or distributors owe their customers to provide safe products for their consumption and warn them of potential risks to using the product. If a defective or dangerous product is produced and sold without sufficient warning, it can mean they violated their care duty to their customers.
- A medical practitioner must provide adequate care to their patients as other professionals with similar training and under similar circumstances would. If a medical practitioner's actions go lower than standard expectations, and a mistake occurs that kills your loved one, the medical practitioner failed in their duty of care.
- Death can occur due to the negligence of a property owner. If a person owns a property, the law expects them to ensure they are kept free of dangerous situations or hazards that can harm others. In proving wrongful death regarding a property owner, you must show that they violated their duty of care that involves keeping the premises in a good and safe condition. In this case, you must prove the owner knew about the danger and failed to fix or warn visitors about it. This is a breach of the duty of care.
After establishing that a violation of the breach of care happened, you must prove the breach is the reason for your loved one's death. After you establish that your loved one's death resulted from another party’s negligence or wrongful conduct, you must move to the next step. This step involves showing that you sustained damages because of the loss you have suffered.
Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
Damages in wrongful death claims are supposed to compensate the surviving family of the deceased's care and support if they had not died of the negligent acts. Heirs in wrongful death claims can recover both financial and non-financial losses as a result of the death. In awarding damages, the calculations are based on:
- The life expectancy of the deceased when they died
- Or the life expectancy of the deceased when the wrongful act happened
The jury establishes life expectancy in a wrongful death suit after considering the victim's health, occupation, and lifestyle.
Financial Damages in Wrongful Death Claim
Financial damages are also referred to as economic damages. These are the quantifiable losses heirs can claim following the wrongful death of their loved one. The damages, in this case, vary depending on the cause of the accident that killed them. Some of these damages include:
Financial Support to the Family
Sometimes, the head of the family or the breadwinner dies due to another person’s negligent acts. If this happens to you, it means you have no financial support required to pay your bills and your survival. The surviving spouse, children, or parents can seek damages to recover the financial support they received from their loved ones.
In this case, the amount the deceased person was using to support the family is taken into account, and the years they would have continued to support them if they did not die. It is essential to understand that fictitious claims will not prevail because there is a need for documents that show this support to be true. Before awarding damages, the jury will establish the deceased’s monthly income, the lifestyle they and the family led before death, and their life expectancy.
Some of the documents you can attach to your claim and as proof of financial support include:
- A letter from their employer stating their earnings and position
- School or college fees receipts where applicable
- Mortgage repayment documents or rent receipts
- Receipts of all the bills the deceased were taking care of
Among others that your lawyer can advise you to provide, these supporting documents must be accurate to avoid losing your claim or receiving less than you deserve.
Burial and Funeral Expenses
When a loved one dies, it is automatic that you will suffer financial losses in burying them or preparing for the funeral. All these costs are documented by the service providers and are attached to your claim. In this claim, every expense that went into preparing the funeral is compensable, as long as you can prove it.
Loss of Gifts and Other Benefits
The death of a loved one also costs you the gift and other benefits they would have given to you if they were alive. These gifts are quantifiable based on previous gifts and benefits you received from them. Under the compensation laws of California, the surviving family can seek damages for these.
These losses are not quantifiable, but they are damages you never suffer the less. The law recognizes this and allows the surviving family to seek compensation for them. These damages include:
- Companionship – The value of one's companionship cannot be quantified. However, the law recognizes that when a loved one dies, the surviving family loses the privilege of companionship.
- Protection – This is especially so where a parent dies and leaves dependents that are minors. Children look up to their parents for protection and guidance. When this is taken away from them due to the wrongful acts, they can seek damages for this loss.
- Affection and moral support – When a person dies and leaves a loving family behind, it means they enjoyed their affection and the moral support they accorded them. Their death means this support and affection is lost. As a result, the surviving family can seek damages for lost affection or moral support.
- Sexual relations – If your spouse died because of the negligent acts, it means you lose the joy of the sexual relations you shared with them. Although this is not quantifiable, it is compensable damage following a wrongful death.
The law does not provide a fixed way to decide the amount to award following wrongful death when seeking non-financial damages. The amount awarded is often left for the jury to decide, and the evidence produced and reasonable consideration guides it.
Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death
Generally, an heir or surviving family cannot receive punitive damages when their loved one dies out of another's negligence. However, there is an exception to this. Punitive damages can be recovered if the person died out of homicide. And the defendant of the felonious act has been charged and sentenced for the offense.
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. Compensatory damages reimburse the surviving family of financial and non-financial losses they suffer due to the wrongful death. On the other hand, punitive damages are awarded to punish the party responsible for the wrongful death.
If the party's actions responsible for the death of your loved one were grossly negligent, malicious, malicious, or violent, you might have grounds to seek punitive damages. When the liable party is ordered to pay punitive damages, the compensation you receive for your loved one's wrongful death is significantly raised.
However, a surviving family can only recover punitive damages through survival action, which is a claim on behalf of the deceased's estate.
Understanding Survival Action
When a surviving family files suit for wrongful death, it is sometimes accompanied by another known survival action. The laws that guide survival action suits are found under the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30.
While a wrongful death suit seeks to compensate the surviving family of the losses they incurred following the death, a survival suit allows the family or heirs to receive damages on behalf of the dead person's estate. A survival action suit compensates the estate of the deceased in two ways. These are:
- Claims not related to the victim's death, and which they had a right to sue even as they died
- Losses due to the injuries causing death, as long as they survived for sometime after the accident
Survival actions are more complicated, but you can recover your rightful damages with an experienced attorney, including punitive damages. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.34, the deceased's estate can only pursue these damages and punitive ones if the victim had suffered economic losses before their death. The economic loss often triggers a survival action the victim suffers before their death. These damages, as earlier discussed, include:
In many cases, the victim may not die on the spot following an accident. An accident can result in significant injuries that require medical treatment before the person dies. If your loved one after the accident sought medical treatment before they succumbed to the injuries, the treatment cost is compensable. A comprehensive report by the attending doctor and the cost of treatment accompany the claim. Medical bills include the cost of all medical procedures performed to save the victim's life, the medicine used, and any other supporting expense.
The wrongful death of a loved one can be as a result of a traffic accident. If the deceased was driving and a reckless driver caused their death, their car's damage is recoverable. Just because the person dies, it does not mean the damage to their vehicle goes uncompensated. Following the wrongful death, you can still seek damages for the property the deceased had damaged.
While the deceased victim was fighting for their lives due to accident injuries, it meant they were unable to work. The income they lost during that period before they died from the injuries is recoverable under survival action. Aside from this, the deceased's income would have earned if they had not died is also recoverable under the law.
In some cases, your loved one's death may not be an accident, as earlier mentioned. A defendant can intentionally use violence to cause the death of your loved one. In pursuing damages, you must prove the defendant's actions were intentional by proving the following elements or facts:
- The defendant had planned to commit the heinous act
- The actions of the defendant involved unlawful contact with the victim through hitting them using a weapon or a vehicle and
- Because of the unlawful acts, the person died
Most deaths following the intentional actions of the defendant are prosecuted as criminal offenses in California. However, a skilled personal injury lawyer can use the criminal proceedings or conviction to earn you better compensation or enhance your compensation chances.
Statute of Limitation in Wrongful Death Claims
Statute of limitation is the law that guides the legal time one has to file a lawsuit and claim damages. In both the wrongful death and survival action lawsuit, the deceased person's family or heirs have two years to seek damages through the court. If this time expires, the family can still pursue wrongful death damages through the at-fault party's insurance company, but not by filing a lawsuit.
In wrongful death claims, the period starts counting from the time the person dies. In survival action lawsuits, the estate's time to sue starts counting from the later of:
- Injury date or
- 6 months following the death
Filing a Death Claim Following Wrongful Death
When a loved one dies due to another's negligence, you can seek damages for their wrongful death from the court. Your lawyer will raise a lawsuit against the party responsible for the death of the court. After filing the petition, the responding party is given time to respond to the claim and file their response through the court.
The court then gives a date for the hearing where both parties are expected to present their arguments. After the conclusion of the case, the jury deliberates on the evidence and gives its verdict.
Find a San Diego Wrongful Death Lawyer Near Me
When your loved one dies due to another party’s negligence, it could drain you emotionally and financially. Although the law allows the surviving family to receive damages, pursuing them can be complicated and require a skilled attorney's assistance. At San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we understand the pain and devastation of unexpected and wrongful death. Equally, we are experienced in compensation laws that will enable you to receive the damages you deserve. Call our offices at 619-478-4059 to discuss your wrongful death claims.