WE’LL COME TO YOU
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For all the great things about California, hazards throughout the state can lead to death. From congested roadways to defective buildings and hospitals where life-or-death errors are made, individuals are seriously injured every day, some resulting in death. If you have lost a loved one in an accident due to another’s wrongdoing, there is no amount of compensation enough to bring back everything you’ve lost. However, compensation can help you move forward in life and tackle the costs that often follow such accidents.
To recover compensation, though, you need to file by a deadline referred to as a statute of limitation While it seems at the beginning of a case as though it is an arbitrary amount of time far off in the distance, your ability to meet the wrongful death statute of limitation has major implications on your ability to obtain compensation. Read on for information about this critical deadline, and how it should inform your approach to bringing a wrongful death action.
California’s wrongful death law allows certain family members of a deceased individual to seek compensation for the loss of support and other financial and emotional losses they have incurred from the death, whether the death was because of negligence, recklessness, or even an intentional act.
Those family members who are permitted to file a wrongful death claim include:
Just about any action that can result in personal injury to someone else and give rise to a personal injury claim may also result in a wrongful death claim if the person dies, rather than just sustaining injury.
Some of the more common types of situations that result in a wrongful death claim include:
Family members who have filed a wrongful death case in California can seek both economic and non-economic damages through the legal action. The word “damages,” in the arena of tort law, refers to a payment made as compensation for harm. Economic damages refer to a payment made as compensation for tangible expenses you incurred from an injury.
Common examples of economic damages in wrongful death cases include:
Non-economic damages are compensation for impacts of an injury on one’s quality of life that are not as readily quantifiable.
Non-economic damage claims in wrongful deaths may include:
Often, wrongful death cases combine with survival actions, which are additional claims seeking compensation on behalf of the estate.
The damages a survival action can pursue include:
One of the most important procedural requirements of a wrongful death claim is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a law that establishes the maximum amount of time that an injured party has to initiate legal proceedings by filing a personal injury claim in court. Failing to file your claim in a court in the proper jurisdiction within the statute of limitations will generally result in losing your chance to pursue compensation for your injuries.
In California, you generally have two years from the date of the accident to file your wrongful death lawsuit in court.
Yes, in certain circumstances a claimant in a wrongful death case gets more time to file a lawsuit, which is often referred to as tolling the statute of limitations.
Those circumstances include:
The Chairs of California’s Judicial Council recommended tolling the statute of limitations on all civil claims—including personal injury and wrongful death cases—in 2020 through Emergency Rule No. 9, requiring the clock to stop running on these cases through the duration of Governor Newsom’s state of emergency order during the COVID-19 pandemic and for 90 days after the order was lifted.
The statute of limitations in a California wrongful death claim is sometimes less than two years, as well. For example, plaintiffs must file claims against a government official or agency within six months.
While two years may seem like a lot of time to file a claim, it can pass by quickly, especially in wrongful death cases where families are grieving and trying to put the pieces of their lives back together after a tremendous loss. The statute of limitations allows family members time for grief without worrying about a pending legal action. The passage of this time also provides family members with time to get a fuller picture of the losses they’ve incurred from the death. It provides the family with time to learn about the process of pursuing compensation and to find an attorney to represent them.
Your wrongful death attorney also needs as much of that time as possible to conduct at least some investigation into your case to determine all potential sources of liability and all insurance resources that can compensate you, and to collect other information necessary to draft a complaint.
Depending on the circumstances that led to your loved one’s death, this can take quite a while, as evidence in this kind of case often involves working to get access to records of law enforcement investigations and other information that can take time to retrieve.
Some of the documents your attorney will need to review upfront in a wrongful death action will likely include:
Once your attorney has conducted sufficient investigation, they will prepare demands for the insurance providers for all at-fault parties. The demands will sum up the value of your case, as determined based on the expenses and impacts you have experienced as a result of the wrongful death. When the at-fault parties and insurance providers receive the demands, they may accept the claim, reject the claim, or make a settlement offer. Settlement offers are typically far lower than the case’s value, but are just a starting point for negotiations.
If you are offered a settlement but decline the offer, your attorney will continue negotiating. At some point, if it appears that the insurance provider is not interested in providing a fair settlement to fully compensate you for your loss, your lawyer will proceed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Note that the filing of this case doesn’t end the negotiation process.
Even once the case has begun, the parties may settle. A standard requirement for a settlement is that the plaintiff will voluntarily dismiss their case. Indeed, your attorney may file a complaint right away, particularly if you are close to the statute of limitations running out. Negotiations can continue right up until, or even after the trial has begun, but before a final judgment is rendered.
There are many components involved in a successful wrongful death claim, from filing within the statute of limitations to knowing how to deal with insurance companies. An experienced wrongful death attorney will have an immediate grasp on these things and everything else about filing a wrongful death claim to maximize your chances of success.
Still, some individuals delay seeking help from an experienced wrongful death attorney because they are afraid that they can’t afford the attorney’s services. If this is what is preventing you from contacting an attorney, you should know the services attorneys typically offer to get you the legal assistance you need, regardless of your financial situation.
These services include:
If you lost a loved one in an accident due to another’s wrongdoing, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced wrongful death action attorney.
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