Upon losing a loved one from an avoidable accident, you and your loved ones could file a wrongful death suit to seek compensation for the negligence or recklessness that caused the deceased's death. However, you may find it challenging to understand where to begin, mainly if you have never dealt with legal issues before.
You will need to learn of the eligibility criteria and requirements for a wrongful death suit, among other details. While it is possible to navigate the civil law procedures yourself, you will find the process challenging and draining. An experienced lawyer will provide the support you need to file for the claim without inconveniences.
However, it is crucial to identify a well-experienced attorney who has your best interests at heart. At the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we offer expert legal counsel and support during the lengthy civil suit process. Moreover, we have helped many clients in San Diego, California, file wrongful death claims and fight for compensation.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claim Per California Law
Before filing a claim for your loved one's death, it is necessary to establish whether you are eligible for compensation. With the knowledge, you can prepare adequately to ensure that your demand letter entails all the economic and non-economic damages you wish to receive.
You can file for a wrongful death claim when your loved one dies from:
Someone else’s Negligence
Due to negligent actions, wrongful deaths are the most common situations. One party responsible for taking reasonable care can easily slip up and breach the duty. Claims for compensation arising from negligence are not actionable per se, meaning that you will have to prove the defendant's fault before winning the case and becoming eligible for damages. Usually, you will have to prove that the defendant engaged in all four negligence elements during the trial proceedings.
Firstly, a claim in negligence must arise only when there is a duty of care owed to the defendant. Thus, your submissions should prove that the defendant was in a position where he/she was supposed to uphold a reasonable duty of care by acting in a specified manner at all times. For example, suppose the defendant was a safety officer in a factory where the deceased sustained injuries and died. In that case, he/she will have a duty of care to ensure that all machines and equipment in the factory are fit for use and do not have defects that could cause adverse effects.
The duty of care does not necessarily have to be expressly stated in a codified statute as the reasonable man test will prevail in a tort case. The test directs one to act from a rational man's position at all times, meaning that he/she should avoid unreasonable or unprecedented activities.
There are several factors considered in determining whether there was a duty of care owed to the deceased. These include checking whether he/she had special conditions that made him or her susceptible to injury, or whether he/she was a member of the general public to whom no additional care was owed.
Once your lawyer establishes a duty of care, he/she should then show how the defendant in question breached the duty. Usually, breaches occur from acting or failing to act. Consequently, if the defendant, in your case, caused the deceased to face injury by neglecting his/her duty, the element of breach will be proven. For example, if the deceased died from drowning while the defendant was on duty as a lifeguard, he may be liable for infringement by omission, as he/she ought to have acted accordingly. However, it is necessary to remember that a regular person who has not accepted a legal duty of care for anyone else is not obligated to save another, and cannot, therefore, be liable for the damages.
The tests for breach of duty include assessing whether the defendant had done all that he/she could at the time to prevent the deceased from facing injuries that led to death. Moreover, the judge will also check whether the risk of harm was significant enough to prompt the defendant's prompt action and whether the descendant's injury is a common occurrence.
Thirdly, your lawyer must prove that the defendant's actions or failure to act were the direct cause of your loved one's death. Proving causation involves using the "but for" test to confirm that the devastating outcome would have been avoidable if the defendant had acted accordingly. Proving causation will require the lawyer to rely on the breaches that occurred in the case. Hence, there is a need for sufficient evidence to support your claims to ensure that all direct consequences lead back to the defendant's actions.
The last element in negligence is proving that you suffered damages. You can do this by providing legitimate documents like receipts, medical reports, and other incurred expenses to show that the wrongful death left behind numerous costs to be covered.
The negligence caused by the defendant may also be extraordinarily unreasonable and careless, such that the facts of the case would be sufficient to prove his/her breach. If such is your claim's nature, you will claim compensation for the gross negligence caused, which was easily avoidable.
Claims for Wrongful Acts
Wrongful acts may involve some negligence, but they differ from regular failure, as they have a broad range of causative factors. Examples of unlawful actions include medical malpractice, whereby a medical professional acts in a substandard manner that endangers another's life. If the professional in question is a surgeon who used the wrong methods when operating on your loved one, he/she will be answerable for the negligence and incompetence conducted during the medical operation.
Your injury lawyer should work closely with the hospital where the descendant died to ensure that all reports are given a match with the statements presented in court. Moreover, your lawyer can also involve another medical professional with equal skill to testify the nature of malpractice that the defendant engaged in. Such testimonies will be useful in showing that the defendant acted in a substandard manner that caused severe harm and, ultimately, the death of your loved one.
Another common wrongful act that leads to wrongful death in a car accident arises from failing to observe traffic rules. In most cases, such oversights and ignorance of regulations result in high impact collisions that end in victims' wrongful death, primarily if he/she sustains severe injuries. Some of the common cases of misconduct in traffic cases involve texting when driving, driving under the influence, and using excessive speeds in restricted zones. Failing to follow the traffic light signals at difficult parts of the road like intersections could also cause wrongful death for the deceased.
Suppose your lawyer can prove that the wrongful death occurred directly from the defendant's unlawful engagement in breaking the law. In that case, your case will be credible enough to attract the judge's assessments, and eventually, the award of damages. However, because of the different types and causes of car accidents, your injury lawyer should consolidate sufficient and reliable evidential sources to ensure that the claims brought forth are fair and beneficial to your case. Suppose some witnesses would support the information presented by the personal injury attorney. In that case, they will play a significant role in giving evidence to prove that the deceased was the victim of a dangerous occurrence caused by the defendant's wrongful actions on the road.
Moreover, wrongful death is common in slip and fall accidents, whereby an unforeseen safety hazard injuries the accident victim. Consequently, the injuries sustained may advance and cause severe health complications that result in wrongful death. The slip and fall accidents arise from regular occurrences, especially in public spaces like restaurants or shopping stores, whereby spillage may occur and go undetected. Despite the possibility of reasonable circumstances that led to the defendant not detecting the hazard immediately, he/she will face strict liability for the accident. The imposition of penalty draws its rationale from the position of authority given to management staff, which should ensure that public access areas remain safe for all persons accessing it.
Additionally, strict liability applies when the deceased suffered harm from using defective products manufactured by the defendant. Defective medical products are the common causes of severe reactions for users, leading to irreversible bodily injury that causes adverse effects, including harmful death. If the deceased experienced a bad allergic reaction that required immediate medical attention, you could include this information in your submissions to capture the defendant's liability.
Despite this, you and your lawyer should ensure that the proof you intend to introduce in your case is relevant to the wrongful death claim. Therefore, you can rely on prescription forms and receipt documents that indicate the deceased's use of defective products. Moreover, information from a postmortem report will shed more light on the damages caused by the products.
Lastly, you can file for wrongful death on the grounds of battery or assault by the defendant. Here, you will work to prove that the deceased faced severe harm from the defendant's actions. If the wrongful action revolved around the battery, there must be proof of physical damage to the dead. The contact may be as minimal as possible, but it should have been present to qualify as a battery. Conversely, the offense of assault does not require the defendant to have hurt the victim directly. He/she might be liable for causing wrongful death if he invoked fear in the victim by his conduct.
If your case involves any of the discussed matters as the primary cause of wrongful death, you can work with your lawyer to help create comprehensive information in your submissions.
Parties Eligible to File for Wrongful Death Claims
As established, filing for wrongful death, I'd limited to specific parties who must have had a special relationship with the accident victim. Under section 377.60 of the Code of Civil Procedure, families and interested parties who can inherit the deceased's estate may bring a claim forth. These parties include:
Naturally, a spouse is among the closest family members, as he/she is legally bound to a relationship through marriage. Thus, if you were the deceased's spouse, you will have an easier time seeking approval to bring a matter forth to receive rightful compensation for the wrongful death.
A putative spouse is a person living with another in a household, such that it is easily assumed that there is an existing relationship. For example, if you cohabited with the deceased, the judge will accept your claim as long as you can prove that you depended on the person financially.
Children and Grandchildren
Where the deceased was your parent or grandparent, you have a clear line of action based on the established eligibility to seek compensation for wrongful death. Usually, children are direct dependents of their parents and therefore rely on them for upkeep and support. If you depended on your grandparent as well, your claim would still be considered and accepted upon proof of reliance on the deceased for financial aid.
You can seek compensation for your step parent's wrongful death as well, provided you show that the deceased had agreed to support you financially. You can do this by giving documentary evidence of past transactions and the actual agreement that the dead had prepared to create an official assertion of his/her duties.
Anyone Entitled to Inherit from the Deceased If He/She Died Intestate
When a person dies before preparing an official will in writing, he/she is said to have died intestate. As a result, any family members who would have a rightful claim in such situations can raise a request for the deceased's death and seek compensation from the defendant. Family members who fall in this category include the siblings, uncles, aunts, parents, and deceased's close friends.
While the opportunity is available for such persons, it is necessary to remember that proving your relationship with the deceased may be a mandatory court requirement. Therefore, it is beneficial to be ready for any questions that the judge may have by providing documents on birth certificates, family insurance details, and other information that helps prove a relationship between you and the deceased.
Claims to Include in a Wrongful Death Claim
Seeking compensation for actions that cussed your loved one's wrongful death requires you to understand the payment options. Firstly, it is necessary to remember that the only available remedy is monetary compensation, whereby the judge will assess the losses listed in the claim and provide a fair estimate as compensation.
Moreover, you can only receive compensation if your lawyer succeeds in proving the defendant's faults that caused the wrongful death. Since the burden of proof is on you, you will need to consider the accident's nature that brought the deceased adverse conditions and source all the relevant information to present during proceedings.
The process may be challenging, especially where the defendant is a corporate body with different persons in various entities. Hence, you may find it challenging to get in touch with one person in the company who is willing to negotiate on the compensation claims. However, your attorney will do his/her best to ensure that the defendant's team is ready to cooperate in paying for damages if found guilty. Nevertheless, the judge will issue mandatory orders that the defendants must follow or risk receiving additional penalties. Some of the losses you can seek compensation for include:
Medical Bills Amassed from the Deceased's Treatment
Most accidents result in the need for emergency medical attention to the victim involved, including ambulance services and other primary medical procedures before reaching the hospital. Once the victim arrives at the medical center, he/she may also have to undergo several medical tests to establish the immediate course of action needed during treatment. Subsequently, the victim could undergo surgery, emergency amputation, or blood transfusions to recover recovery better.
While the victim may be receptive to emergency treatment, he/she may succumb to the hospital's injuries, leaving medical bills behind. The charges included in the medical bill should cater to all medication used on the patient, any surgeries performed, and in-patient expenses for the duration that the deceased spent on a hospital bed.
You will present all the receipts and doctor's reports among your documentary evidence to support your court’s claims. Giving the original copies of such details goes a long way, mainly because it creates validity and genuineness for your requests. It also prevents any rebuttals from the defendants who may argue that the documents could be fabricated. Overall, the inclusion of this relevant information will support your claim significantly.
Loss of Financial Support
When the deceased was the breadwinner in your household, it is acceptable for you to include a claim for the loss of financial support in the demand letter served to the defendants. The deceased's support ranges from paying school fees, providing resources for upkeep at home, and providing primary health care for you and other family members.
When providing supporting proof of financial support loss, receipts of earlier transactions done by the deceased are required during the proceedings. They are the primary source of evidence. The transactional receipts will show that the dead had financial responsibilities to take care of you and other family members, who now require monetary compensation for the losses. Claiming for payment should also include future losses that you may sustain, especially if you had not developed a plan to support yourself without the deceased's help.
Doubtless, you and other family members will incur significant funeral expenses when planning for the deceased's burial and memorial services. Your lawyer can therefore help you prepare an elaborate list of all costs spent on catering to your funeral guests, the value of the coffin used to bury the deceased, among other details that take up your money.
Loss of Companionship
If you are suing for your spouse's death, you may include claims to compensate for the loss of companionship, affection, and partnership in daily activities. While it is a non-economic claim that does not have an accurate price attached to the damage or loss caused, the judge will use a specific assessment system to issue a reasonable amount for your companionship loss.
Payment for Additional Household Expenses
After losing a loved one who used to perform specific tasks at home, you may require extra help from nannies, caretakers, and other professionals to fill the deceased's role. Suppose the need for such professionals is essential in your household. In that case, your claim for additional home expenses will be allowed by the judge, and you can therefore seek rightful compensation for the extra duty to pay salaries and medical covers for the working staff at home.
Find a Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me
When you lose a loved one to a preventable incident, you face numerous challenges. You need a lawyer’s support to seek rightful compensation. At the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we believe in walking with you through trying times and supporting you by providing the best legal assistance in filing your wrongful death suit. Our services are available to clients in San Diego, California, dealing with a loved one's wrongful death. To get started with your case, call us today at 619-478-4059.