Wrongful Death Claims
The death of a loved one for any reason is devastating, but to lose a loved one because of someone else’s negligence or reckless actions can take an enormous emotional and financial toll on the family members and loved ones who are left behind. In addition to costly medical bills and funeral expenses, a wrongful death may result in a crippling loss of financial support, not to mention a loss of companionship and other life-changing damages. In some cases, survivors who had a relationship with the deceased victim may be able to pursue financial compensation from the person or party whose negligent actions caused the victim’s death, by filing a wrongful death claim in civil court. If you lost a close family member in a car accident, bicycle accident, slip and fall, swimming pool accident, or any other fatal accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Contact our firm right away to discuss the details of your claim with our experienced California wrongful death attorneys.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a legal claim against a person or party who can be held responsible for someone’s death, either due to some wrongful act or negligence (carelessness). This type of claim is usually filed by a representative of the deceased victim’s estate, against the person or party who is legally liable for the victim’s death (the defendant), on behalf of close family members of the victim (the plaintiffs). The plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim (i.e. the deceased victim’s loved ones) can sue for damages ranging from medical, funeral and burial expenses to loss of financial support, loss of companionship and lost prospect of inheritance, among other damages.
Examples of Wrongful Death
A wrongful death claim can arise after any situation in which an accident victim who would otherwise have a legitimate personal injury claim is killed as a result of the defendant’s wrongful action. For example, if your loved one is killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by a drunk driver, you may have grounds to file a civil lawsuit against the driver. If you do file a lawsuit, the lawsuit will be handled in civil court and will be separate from any criminal charges the driver may be facing. In fact, it is not uncommon for a defendant to be acquitted of criminal charges in a fatal car accident or some other accident and still be found liable for wrongful death.
A wrongful death claim may also arise in situations where a loved one is killed in a swimming pool accident that occurs as a result of the pool owner or operator’s failure to use the proper anti-entrapment drain covers, or in a fatal motorcycle accident if the accident is caused by a defective motorcycle part. While a wrongful death lawsuit can stem from virtually any kind of personal injury situation where the victim dies from his or her injuries, an exception may exist for work injuries that result in death. In most cases, workplace fatalities are handled through the California workers’ compensation system. However, there are certain situations where third parties can be held liable for fatal injuries that occur in the workplace, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death?
California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60 dictates that “A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf,” depending on the circumstances:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner or children
- The decedent’s putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren or parents
- A minor, if, at the time of the decedent’s death, he or she resided in the decedent’s household for the previous 180 days and was dependent on the decedent for half or more of his or her support
The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in California is two years, which means you have just two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a lawsuit or else risk losing your chance to recover compensation.
Proving Liability in Wrongful Death Claims
In order to prevail in your wrongful death lawsuit and hold the defendant legally liable for your loved one’s death, you must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet in a personal injury case. Using negligence as an example, you would have to prove each element of the negligence claim to recover compensation, including:
- That the defendant owed the victim a duty of care,
- That the defendant breached that duty by acting in a certain way or by failing to act,
- That the breach of duty was a direct cause of the victim’s death, and
- That the victim’s death caused you to suffer damages.
If the wrongful death lawsuit is successful, the court will order the defendant to pay monetary damages to you and any other plaintiffs in the suit. When pursuing a wrongful death claim in California, we always recommend consulting a lawyer. Having a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney on your side can significantly improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome in your case.
Our California Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Help
A wrongful death claim won’t bring your loved one back and it may not make the death any easier to handle, but it can ensure that the at-fault person or party is held accountable for his or her wrongful actions. It can also compensate you for the emotional and financial costs you may suffer as a result of your loved one’s death now and in the future. If a member of your family has been killed in an accident or some other fatal event caused by someone else’s wrongful act or negligence, our wrongful death lawyers can help you build a strong claim for compensation. Even if the defendant is already facing criminal charges related to the death of your loved one, you can still move forward with your wrongful death claim and pursue the compensation you and your family deserve.