The death of a loved one is never easy, but legal action is possible when it comes at the hands of another’s negligence. The deceased’s family may qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party that caused the death. A wrongful death lawsuit helps the deceased’s survivors receive financial compensation. It can help cover funeral costs, lost wages, and more.
Wrongful death lawsuits in California can be complicated, and there are many factors to consider. Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer after a wrongful death has occurred ensures your family receives the best possible compensation. Your legal representation should understand all the steps in a wrongful death lawsuit and whether your case qualifies.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
Wrongful death claims apply in cases where an individual would have brought a personal injury claim against another party but died as a result of their actions instead. The family or estate of the deceased person can file a wrongful death claim when this happens to receive compensation. Wrongful death lawsuits are a civil procedure and take place in civil courts instead of criminal acts charged in criminal court.
Specific wrongful death elements must be present when filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California:
- A person died, and their death was caused by someone else’s negligence or with intent to cause harm
- As a result of the death, the surviving family members have suffered a monetary injury
- Legal representation has been appointed to the deceased person’s estate
Wrongful death cases can come from a variety of circumstances. This includes acts of malice such as murder and acts of negligence such as medical malpractice or drunk driving. No matter the circumstances of the case, wrongful death elements must be present to prove the claim.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed if a doctor fails to diagnose their patient’s condition and subsequently dies. These lawsuits also include cases where the care provided was negligent, and their carelessness caused their patient’s death.
In these instances, the patient’s surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor and other medical team members who provided care.
A wrongful death claim can be filed if a person dies after being involved in an accident and the other driver’s negligence led to the accident. After an accident, investigators from law enforcement agencies and insurance companies identify and evaluate factors that contributed to the accident, including negligence.
Evidence of wrongful death negligence in car accidents includes: Driving recklessly, driving while intoxicated due to alcohol or drug use, or not obeying traffic laws.
Wrongful death claims can even be filed in cases where another person has intentionally killed your loved one. The defendant, in this case, may be charged with murder or manslaughter in criminal court but can also be charged with wrongful death in civil court.
Acting with malice or the intent to harm or kill someone makes these cases eligible for a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
There are limitations on who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim. Under California law, the following family members can legally bring a lawsuit:
- The surviving spouse or domestic partner
- Children of the deceased, or if there are no living children, the grandchildren of the deceased
- Other minors, including stepchildren, who were at least 50% dependent on the deceased
- If there is no surviving family member in the line of descent, anyone entitled to the deceased’s property, such as parents or siblings, may file
Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to financially support the surviving family as they recover from their loss. California also limits the timeline for survivors to file a wrongful death claim.
Survivors must file their claim within two years of the death of their loved one. The statute of limitations starts on the date of their death, and a case must be initiated within this timeframe, or a family can lose the right to file a claim.
Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Damages from wrongful death cases in California are the compensation the deceased’s family receives from their lawsuit. It’s meant to cover the economic and non-economic losses the family suffered due to their loved one’s death. It covers costs directly resulting from their death and the support for the future the family would have received if their death hadn’t happened. Damages are awarded in present-day cash value and aren’t adjusted to account for future inflation.
Economic damages in a wrongful death case include:
- Funeral, burial, or cremation costs
- The financial support and contributions the person would have brought their family throughout their life
- The value of any household services the deceased would have provided, including household repairs or upkeep such as mowing the lawn
- The loss of benefits or gifts the deceased’s heirs would have expected to received
Non-economic damages provide compensation for non-monetary losses. They often deal with the emotional impact of a loved one’s death. Examples of non-economic losses are:
- The loss of the deceased’s love, moral support, companionship, affection, care, or assistance
- Their loss of sexual intimacy with their partner
- The family’s loss of guidance or training from the deceased
California recently passed legislation allowing non-economic damages to include pain and suffering. Damages for the deceased’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement before their death that they would have been entitled to if they lived are now permitted in wrongful death cases.
Economic damages are much easier to estimate than non-economic damages. It’s difficult to translate the full emotional impact of a loved one’s death into financial terms. There are no fixed amounts for non-economic damages, and the amount your family receives depends on the outcome of your case.
The state has no cap on the amount of damages awarded in wrongful death cases. However, California law limits non-economic damages in medical malpractice wrongful death cases to $250,000. This limit, also known as the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MIRCA), only applies to non-monetary damages that include pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, and disfigurement.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California?
Wrongful death cases go through civil court and have a different burden of proof than criminal cases. In civil cases, the plaintiff must satisfy the burden of proof through preponderance of the evidence.
This means they must provide evidence that shows there is a 50% chance or more their claim is true. In wrongful death cases, this means presenting evidence showing the defendant acted with negligence, recklessness, or intent to harm.
An attorney can help investigate and collect evidence to prove your wrongful death claim. They will have to prove each element of the wrongful death case to meet the burden of proof. Evidence may include eyewitness accounts, expert testimony, police reports, medical records, and more.
If the burden of proof is met and the defendant is found liable, damages are awarded. The defendant can be found responsible for wrongful death even if acquitted or not charged in a related criminal case.
Wrongful Death Settlements
Many wrongful death cases go through the settlement process instead of being decided in civil court. Since every wrongful death case has unique circumstances, settlement payouts have a wide range and may be as low as a few thousand dollars to well over one million dollars. Underlying factors of the case are taken into account when calculating settlements.
Factors that can increase settlement payout include:
- The deceased being young at the time of their death
- The surviving children or dependents are young
- The deceased had a large family or many children or dependents
- If the surviving spouse was financially reliant on the deceased
- If the deceased was an important member of their community
- The circumstances of the case and their death
What is the average payout for a wrongful death lawsuit in California?
There is no average wrongful death case and no average payout in California. Settlements typically increase when large amounts of economic and non-economic damages occur. A lawyer can help determine the payout your family is entitled to in your wrongful death case.
The top ten wrongful death settlements in California in 2020 were well over one million dollars each. A head-on collision accident resulting in death due to negligence resulted in a $5 million payout. While a case of drowning death involving a school’s negligence received $8 million.
Legal Help After a Wrongful Death
Contact an attorney as soon as possible if you believe someone else’s negligence or malice caused your loved one’s death. Consider hiring Shirvanian Law. We understand the difficulty of losing a family member and treat our clients with compassion.
Our legal team can help you determine if your family or your loved one’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. We’ll investigate your case and find strong evidence to help you receive the maximum compensation you’re entitled to. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.