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Wrongful Death Lawyer: Who Can Sue for a Wrongful Death?

Losing a loved one is something no one is ever prepared for. Having to go through a loss can cause a detrimental impact on your life physically, mentally, and financially. If your loved one’s death was caused by unlawful actions committed by another party, you may pursue legal actions to acquire compensation for your losses.

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, our California wrongful death attorneys are readily available to offer legal assistance to families who have lost a loved one due to wrongful death. We will review your case to determine what necessary actions are needed to ensure you are given the compensation and justice you deserve.

To schedule a free consultation, please contact our 24/7 legal team by calling 213-927-3700 or filling out our quick contact form.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death lawsuits are filed when someone’s death is caused by someone else’s mistake or negligence. 

If a person is killed by the misconduct of another person, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the victim’s family or estate in order to receive compensation for damages. 

While a wrongful death lawsuit will never be able to bring the deceased back to life, what it can do is serve as a means of financial support for the family left behind. Due to the costly nature of dealing with the death of a loved one, settlements from wrongful death lawsuits are necessary. 

It also serves as a way of holding the careless party responsible for their thoughtless actions. 

Speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney today so you can hold the right person accountable.

What are California’s Wrongful Death Laws?

California’s wrongful death laws have been created to ensure that only the deceased’s family members and operators of their estate are entitled to receive compensation for the damages. 

When a wrongful death accident happens in California, there are only a few people who have the right to file a lawsuit on the victim’s behalf and receive compensation. 

Before you begin filing your wrongful death claim in California, understand that there are certain things you (the plaintiff) must prove to be able to have a strong enough case: 

  • That you actually suffered damages because of the wrongful death 
  • The defendant was responsible for the death
  • The defendant was negligent or engaged in wrongful conduct leading to the wrongful death

The burden of proof in California falls on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant is without a doubt the one who is responsible. A qualified wrongful death attorney will be able to ensure that evidence will clearly show that the defendant is guilty.

Who Is Entitled to Sue for Wrongful Death?

According to California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, there is a list of family members who may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim against the party at-fault for the loss of their loved one. This includes the following:

  • The surviving spouse: The decedent’s spouse is the first person given the eligibility to sue.
  • Children or issue of the decedent: If there is no spouse or if the spouse is unwilling or unable, any child of the decedent may sue. 
  • Dependent minors: If the decedent was married and both they and their spouse died, then their minor children, who have lived in the decedent’s home for at least 6 months, can sue.
  • The putative spouse: A putative spouse is the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage that is found to have believed in good faith that the marriage was valid. Such a spouse may sue.
  • Children of the putative spouse: If it is proven that the children of the putative spouse are financially dependent on the decedent, they may sue.
  • Stepchildren of the decedent: If the stepchildren were financially dependent on the decedent, they may sue.
  • Parents of the decedent: If the parents of the decedent can demonstrate financial dependence, such as household support, that was provided by the decedent, they will be entitled to sue. 
  • If there is no surviving spouse or issue: Anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession can sue. This may include siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, or any other person that may qualify to inherit the decedent.

If your capacity to sue is clear, from the individuals listed under this code, then you will have no difficulty. However, issues may emerge and create complications when determining whether you may qualify to file a wrongful death claim, such as being newly divorced from the decedent or if you were in a state of separation.

Available Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

Available damages in a wrongful death claim are intended to compensate the victim’s heir(s) for any economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages will compensate the surviving family for losses that have a determined dollar value. This includes funeral and burial costs, financial support the decedent would have contributed to the family, and loss of benefits had the decedent not lost their life, and medical bills related to the decedent’s death. 

Non-economic damages will compensate the surviving family for losses that don’t necessarily have an easily determined dollar value. This may include loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of sexual relations, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.

Types of Wrongful Death Claims in California

There are several different types of wrongful death claims in California unfortunately. While some are less gory than others, all of them still end in the same unfortunate way. 

If you are unsure if your claim qualifies as wrongful death, here are some of the most common wrongful death claims in California: 

  • Car accidents 
  • Truck accidents 
  • Firearm Deaths
  • Homicide
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Slip and Fall Deaths
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Defective products/Product liability
  • Construction accidents
  • Failure to warn
  • Animal attacks
  • Workplace accidents
  • Intentional acts/Criminal acts

Intentional Killing

Intentional killing in California or an intentional tort is classified as acting with the willful purpose of causing harm or death to someone else. 

Intentional killing can either occur in the form of;

  • Murder: Killing with malice aforethought 
  • Manslaughter: Killing without malice aforethought 

Intentional killing is an egregious crime in California and if the defendant is convicted of either murder or manslaughter, they will be prosecuted for criminal charges. 

Intentional killings require a high level of premeditation and can be difficult to prove on your own. It is necessary to request the help of a wrongful death lawyer who will be able to handle the burden of proof. 

Medical Malpractice

Whenever the person in charge of providing any form of healthcare services to a patient acts in a way that is not in line with their protocols and standard duty of care, medical malpractice has occurred. 

This can include healthcare negligences such as: 

  • Misdiagnosis 
  • Delayed diagnosis 
  • Surgical errors 
  • Medication errors

Proving medical malpractice in a wrongful death case in California requires your attorney to provide evidence showing that the health care services deviated from the standard norm of care and therefore resulted in the untimely death of the victim. 

Automobile Accidents

Automobile accidents and collisions are one of the most common causes of wrongful death in California. 

Car crashes rank the highest in wrongful death and personal injury claims and over 3,300 Californians die in car accidents each year.

You are legally entitled to receive compensation if the death of your family member happened because of a wrongful automobile accident. 

There are certain things you must consider first before filing a claim like: 

  • Negligence: Proving the death was caused by the other driver involved in the automobile accident requires showing substantial evidence that the driver was negligent. 

For example, evidence could show that the driver was drunk or under the influence while behind the wheel. This would show that the driver was at fault, proving negligence and liability. 

  • Comparative Negligence: There are certain situations where both drivers involved are partially responsible for an automobile accident. 

California has a comparative negligence system and so in situations like this, the fault will be divided amongst both drivers based on the parts they played in the accident. 

  • Liability Insurance: Every driver in California is expected to have liability insurance. Not surprisingly, however, not every driver does and even when they do the coverage is not always enough.
  • No one should have to deal with insurance companies on top of dealing with wrongful death. That is why it’s advisable to hire a wrongful death attorney who can help deal with the trivial stuff.  

How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is necessary if you want to receive compensation for the death of your loved one. 

If you have decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit, here are all the steps you need to know: 

  • Consult with a California wrongful death attorney to evaluate your case.
  • After consulting with your attorney, you will be able to determine the eligibility of your claim as California only lets certain family members file a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • The investigation and gathering of evidence will now begin which is called the discovery process.
  • During the discovery process, the amount of compensation you might be entitled to will be calculated. 
  • Out-of-court settlements are not always the case but sometimes the person responsible may not want to go to court. Your lawyer will be able to help you negotiate reasonably if you decide that you want to settle the case out of court.
  • If a settlement can’t be reached, the case will have to go to court in front of a judge and jury. The outcome of the case will finally be decided after the trial.
  • If the verdict of the trial is not a positive outcome, you can always file an appeal. 

Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

The compensation that can be acquired from a wrongful death case will depend on a number of factors including the extent of that loss. 

There is no definitive monetary value for such compensations as each case is different and no amount that is compensated will be able to bring back the lost victim. 

Because of the uniqueness of each case, the damages are divided into economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages for a wrongful death case in California may include:

  • Loss of financial support
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of benefits
  • Loss of inheritance 

Non-economic damages for a wrongful death case in California may include:

  • Loss of companionship 
  • Mental anguish 
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of services provided 

In California, Punitive damages can also be awarded to the grieving family of the deceased. Though punitive damages are not a part of the actual compensation given for the loss, they serve as a way of punishing the negligent party for their actions. 

If you speak with an experienced California wrongful death attorney from West Coast Trial Lawyers, he or she will be able to tell you just how much damages you are entitled to in California. 

How Damages are Calculated

The damages for a wrongful death lawsuit in California are calculated based on certain trivial elements. 

These calculations are often made with expert help from witnesses, lawyers, and medical professionals. Some of the elements behind calculating the damages for a wrongful death case in California are: 

  • Age of the deceased
  • Occupation of the deceased
  • Life expectancy of the deceased
  • Earning capacity of the deceased
  • Size of the decedent’s surviving family
  • Financial losses of the surviving family
  • Emotional losses of the surviving family 
  • Severity of Injury sustained
  • Duration of Injury
  • Insurance policy limits 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in California?

California laws are very specific about who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim.

These individuals include:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased person
  • The deceased person’s children 
  • The deceased person’s parents if there are no children
  • A personal representative of the deceased person’s estate, if there are no surviving children or parents

According to California law, if there is anyone who has legal rights to the decedent’s property, that person may also file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf if they have no surviving family members. 

Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death Settlements?

The cap on a wrongful death settlement will depend on the jurisdiction or laws where the wrongful death took place.

California jurisdictions do not have a cap on wrongful death settlements in relation to just economic damages. 

Noneconomic damages do not have a settlement cap in California, except in cases of medical malpractice. Wrongful death cases that were caused by medical malpractice have a non-economic damage limit of $500,000. This limit increases by $50,000 every January 1st. 

The cap on a wrongful death settlement is simply a guide limit to how much compensation can be disbursed to the grieving family. If that cap is seen as unsubstantial in comparison with the damages of the case, it can be challenged. 

A California wrongful death lawyer will be able to guide you through the different settlement scenarios.

Is There a Time Limit To Sue in California?

California operates alongside a statute of limitations which is generally 2 years from the date of injury.  

This means that from the date of the discovered death of the victim, you have 2 years to file a California wrongful death claim in order to receive any form of compensation.

There are a few exemptions to this statute of limitations such as: 

  • If the defendant is part of a government organization
  • If the death was caused by medical malpractice, in which case you might have as long as three years to record a claim or one year from the date the injury should have been seen.
  • If the 2-year deadline had passed before the discovery of the cause of death 
  • If the negligent party is a minor

The allotted 2-year deadline may seem like an ample amount of time to file a wrongful death claim in California, but don’t wait too long to do so because the earlier the better. Consider speaking with a wrongful death attorney to help speed up your filing process.

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help

If you have sustained injuries as a result of someone’s negligence or deliberate acts of malice, you have the right to hold the guilty party responsible for your losses. Our California wrongful death attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers can recover compensation for the losses you have suffered.

Contact us today by calling 213-927-3700 or filling out our contact form to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring, and compassionate legal team.

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