FAQs Regarding California Wrongful Death
Losing a loved one is a traumatic experience, which can cause extreme emotional suffering as well as financial hardship. In addition to dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, surviving family members may also face an uncertain economic future if they their deceased family member provided them financial support. A wrongful death claim can be complicated, which is why it is so important to have an experienced California wrongful death attorney on your side. As the survivor of a loved one, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit for the recovery of damages.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
After a loved one has passed away, there are only certain people who may file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim in California be brought by any family member. First in order are the surviving spouse and children. Parents, brothers and sisters, children of deceased brothers and sisters, grandparents, and lineal descendants can also file wrongful death claims. In addition, putative spouses and their children, and stepchildren are eligible to make a wrongful death claim. Claimants, especially those not first in line (surviving spouse and children), in order to qualify, must prove that they were dependent upon the decedent at the time of death. Family members are entitled to recover funeral expenses, burial expenses, medical expenses, and lost income. This lost income included anticipated lost income and potential income lost due to a family member’s death that was a source of income for the family member.
California Code regarding Wrongful Death Claims
California Law recognizes that Wrongful Death cases arise when death results from the conduct of another. California Wrongful Death cases are brought by the surviving heirs of the person that has died. At common law, no such cases were allowed. However, almost all states, and particularly California, have passed laws, such as California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, to allow for these kinds of cases. California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 establishes the order as to those persons that are entitled to bring or file the wrongful death lawsuit. In general the lawsuit may be filed or brought by the surviving spouse, and the children. A domestic partner may also file the lawsuit. For specific information please refer to the statute as it sets forth the order, in the event these persons are not alive.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A Wrongful Death case arises out of the death that has been caused by the conduct of another. A wrongful death claim can arise from a variety of different types of accidents, including:
- Premises liability accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Automobile accidents
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Motorcycle accidents
- Truck accidents
- Intentional acts, such as assault
- Airplane or train accidents
A Wrongful Death lawsuit involves two types of claims – Survival Action and Wrongful Death. Don’t confuse “Survival Action” with “Wrongful Death”. In a survivorship claim, the family is entitled to all of the expenses incurred related to the death, such as funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and punitive damages. A survival action is brought when the decedent (the person that has died) has incurred, for example, medical bills that were incurred before the person died. California Civil Procedure section 377.20 sets forth who may file this lawsuit. In general the person who is the successor in interest to the decedent. This lawsuit allows for the recovery of those medical bills that were incurred because of the wrongful conduct of the other person. For example, the decedent may have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the wrongful, negligent conduct before he/she dies as a result of that conduct.
In the Wrongful Death claim, each family member has a claim for value of household services, for the loss of anticipated financial support, the loss of love, community, attention, affection, moral support, and guidance that one had received had the person survived.
Dividing the Recovery
When there are multiple claimants, such as a surviving spouse and the children, one of the items that needs to be resolved, preferably at the outset, is how is the recovery to be divided. A jury will not award a specific amount to each plaintiff. Rather a lump sum is awarded. The court, or judge, will determine who gets how much. It is preferable that the individual claimants decide how to divide up the recovery. If they cannot agree, then this may only be resolved by way of another piece of litigation, or by the judge that heard the case. It is best to come to an early agreement, by which, for example, each person will agree to take a certain percentage of the recovery.
In addition to the liability experts that may need to be retained to prove that another party caused the death, damages experts are also needed. In general this is an economist who will calculate what the lost of support (income) is worth. In general this requires that the expert review all of the past income records of the decedent, and calculate what the decedent would have recovered/earned in the future. In general, there will be some discounting (subtracting) of this amount, to take out that amount of money that the decedent would have spent on himself, also referred to as self consumption.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is also 2 years. However, because it involves a death, and therefore a critical witness is gone, it is important that an investigation be performed very early on. All income records, bank statements, tax returns, business records, etc. should be preserved so as to prove, what sometimes can be the largest portion of the case, the value of the loss of support.
Loss of Love and Support
When there is a wrongful death claim, the survivors may recover for loss of the love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace, and moral support. If the action is brought by the surviving spouse, then the spouse can recover damages for loss of consortium. In addition, the claim can include the value of the loss of the care, training, and guidance, the loss of household services, mental anguish, etc. And of course the value of the loss of support that would have been received in the future, if there had been no death. This is in general the lost income that the parties would have received. Funeral and burial expenses are also recoverable.
California Wrongful Death Claims are complicated, you need an experienced attorney that understand the particular codes of California
If you have lost someone you love in an accident that was caused by the negligent or reckless conduct of another, you may be entitled to file suit for wrongful death. The Law Firm of Rivers J. Morrell III serves the following areas in Wrongful Death Claims: Southern California, Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Riverside County, Ventura County, Imperial County, San Bernardino County, Anaheim, Chula Vista, Glendale, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Ana, San Bernardino, Irvine, Burbank, Corona, Costa Mesa, Downey, East Los Angeles, El Monte, Escondido, Fontana, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Inglewood, Lancaster, Moreno Valley, Norwalk, Oceanside, Ontario, Orange, Oxnard, Palmdale, Pasadena, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, South Gate, Thousand Oaks, Torrance, Ventura, Victorville, West Covina.