California Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Sadly, tragic accidents that result in death are all too common. In cases where a loved one’s death results from negligent or deliberate actions, the surviving family members may seek compensation.
In California, surviving family members or estates may file wrongful death claims and seek reparations for the untimely death of a loved one. Unexpectedly losing a loved one is devastating for everyone involved. Wrongful death attorneys can help ensure that grieving families do not face financial consequences without support.
Establishing the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim in California
Under California’s Code of Civil Procedure, specific rules apply to who has the right to file a wrongful death claim.
Establishing that right requires that the death in question resulted from:
- Negligent – A property owner failed to post a hazard sign, and someone falls on their property and dies because of their injuries.
- Reckless – For example, someone killed in an accident involving an impaired driver.
- Intentional – Someone is accosted in a parking lot, and when they attempt to fight back, they suffer a gunshot wound and die from the injury.
These are extreme cases, and they are only one example of how someone can show there was an action that resulted in the death of a loved one. If you believe your loved one’s death was caused by another person’s intentional or negligent behavior, seek advice from an experienced wrongful death lawyer.
Compensation Available When Filing Wrongful Death Claims
Money is never going to make up for the loss of a loved one. However, when a family loses a loved one, there are unexpected expenses and an uncertain financial future to contend with.
There are two causes of action, including the decedent’s actions before death as delineated in California law.
These damages are called survival actions and include:
- Medical bills – Any medical bills that the family is responsible for because of the fatal injury. These bills include transportation to the hospital, lifesaving procedures, or any other medical costs the decedent incurred before death.
- Burial and funeral expenses – Even when a family has life insurance, they face unexpected costs associated with the burial and funeral of a loved one who would be living had it not been for someone’s negligent behavior.
- Lost income – This would include any income the decedent would have made had they survived their injuries and returned to full health.
There are other damages that the family may include in a wrongful death claim, including loss of consortium, loss of companionship and guidance, pain and suffering of the decedent before their death, and others. The person filing a wrongful death claim should speak with a wrongful death lawyer to determine the full extent of the claim, which they will file on behalf of the survivors or the victim’s estate.
Time Limits for Filing California Wrongful Death Claims
While there is a two-year period for filing a wrongful death claim in California, specific statutes determine when the two-year period starts. Some of the information which has an impact on the filing date includes:
When you file the claim against the person responsible for the death, the deadline is two years from the date of death. The estate may file a survivor claim two years after the date of the injury that resulted in death or six months after the death.
Regardless of the time frame, wrongful death claims are complicated. It is always a good idea to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure the clock does not run out when dealing with an insurance company.
Accidents Which Can Result in a California Wrongful Death Claim
Not every situation where a loved one is lost is grounds for a wrongful death claim. However, if the actions leading up to an injury or an illness were negligent or deliberate, there may be a basis for a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
Some of the situations that can create grounds for a wrongful death claim include:
- Roadway accidents – This may apply to another driver, motorcycle operator, bicyclist, or pedestrian who lost their life. Another motor vehicle operator who was acting recklessly could have caused the accident. Truckers could have fallen asleep behind the wheel, the operator of a delivery truck could have been driving too fast, or a driver may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Slip and fall accidents – These accidents can occur in factories, retail outlets, office buildings, or in front of someone’s home or business. When a property owner has failed to take precautions to ensure the safety of visitors on their property, and someone suffers a serious injury resulting in their death, then the surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim.
- Animal-related accidents – In one recent year, more than 40 fatalities from dog attacks. Under California Civil Code, dog owners are strictly responsible for any damage caused by their animals.
- Abuse and neglect accidents – Our most vulnerable populations are children and seniors. When an abusive or neglectful situation results in their death, the responsible party or parties should be held accountable for the family’s loss.
- Death as a result of deliberate action – Murder and homicide rates in California are unfortunately on the rise. The responsible party should be accountable when a family has lost a loved one due to a violent crime.
These are some cases where the estate or immediate family of a decedent may file a wrongful death claim in California. If you believe your loved one’s death was preventable, speaking to an attorney with relevant experience can help. Case evaluations are usually free, so take advantage and bring your questions to a legal team with a proven record of success in wrongful death claims.
Criminal Complaints Against Party Named in Wrongful Death Claims
One of the issues family members are often uncertain about is whether they may bring a wrongful death claim against someone who was not found guilty of committing a crime. The answer is yes—you can bring a wrongful death claim to civil court.
There are two different processes that everyone should be aware of when it comes to someone’s death. The Prosecutor or District Attorney will determine whether to file criminal charges against a responsible party. These charges carry a heavy burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was responsible for the death of another person.
However, in wrongful death claims, the burden of proof is different. The party must be found responsible by a preponderance of the evidence. These are two different standards of proof. Wrongful death does not require criminal liability, nor does the family have to wait for a criminal complaint to file a wrongful death claim.
California Wrongful Death Lawsuit Process
Filing a wrongful death claim is complicated. Five basic steps make up the bulk of the process.
- Identifying the responsible party – In some cases, this is easy to determine. For example, if the death was because of a gunshot wound, the person who fired the weapon is responsible. In other cases, it could be more complicated. One example would be a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel and caused an accident. The driver and their employer may be responsible for the death.
- Investigation of the circumstances leading up to the death – During this investigation, a wrongful death attorney puts together the information to help bolster the family’s case against the responsible parties.
- Filing the wrongful death lawsuit – Should a California wrongful death lawyer meet with resistance from the responsible party’s insurance company or the responsible party, they might file a civil complaint in court to obtain justice for the decedent.
- Compiling the facts for the lawsuit – This is known as the discovery portion of the lawsuit. At this time, the legal teams of all involved parties will obtain documents, interview or depose witnesses, and work with expert witnesses and medical professionals if necessary.
- Dealing with mediation and/or the wrongful death trial – In most civil cases in California, mediation is required. If mediation fails, the wrongful death case would proceed to civil court.
These steps are complex and critical to the success of your claim. Working with an attorney that understands the process is vital. Personal injury attorneys understand these processes and can work with a family from the beginning of the process, including negotiations with insurance companies through a trial should one be necessary.
Wrongful Death Settlement Claims: How They Work
Defendants can pay a settlement as a lump sum or a structured payment when the family receives the funds over a designated period.
In most cases, the IRS does not tax a wrongful death settlement unless the estate or family deducts medical expenses from income taxes. When this occurs, there may be a need to claim that portion of the settlement as income.
Working With a California Wrongful Death Attorney
Families often face financial hardships because of the sudden death of a loved one. They are concerned about filing a lawsuit because they do not know how long the process will take or how much it will cost them to pursue a wrongful death claim.
Personal injury lawyers understand these concerns and that no amount of money will make up for the loss a family has suffered. In nearly all cases, a personal injury firm will accept a wrongful death lawsuit on a contingency fee basis.
Here is what that means:
- Free initial case evaluation – The case evaluation is free, and no strings are attached. Having a lawyer evaluate a claim does not mean you have to hire them.
- Legal paid fees after settlement – Most personal injury lawyers will not assess a fee until a case settles. The best way to understand this process is to ask the attorney for a full explanation of fees. Regardless of a case’s outcome, you may incur certain fees and expenses.
If you are a spouse, child, grandchild, or representative of the estate of someone who died because of someone else’s actions, contact a California wrongful death lawyer for your free consultation. Only when someone explains what legal options are available to you will you be able to decide what works best for you and your family.