Accidents, animal attacks, and medical malpractices resulting in wrongful deaths or injuries often happen in California. When these accidents occur due to another person’s negligence, it is disheartening. Wrongful death is not a criminal action but civil action. Civil actions mean the person or entity involved in the wrongful death does not receive punitive actions.

However, he/she will have to pay for the loss suffered by the deceased’s family or loved ones. Even though monetary compensation cannot bring back your loved one, it will ease the loss. It's the only way the victim’s family can find justice for wrongful death.

California law allows those who have lost a loved one to file a lawsuit against those responsible with a personal injury attorney's help. At Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Firm, we can help you find justice for your loved one and the compensation you deserve. We serve in Los Angeles and the larger California.

Definition of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death occurs when a person dies because of another person’s actions. The most common wrongful death lawsuits are filed against automotive companies and medical practitioners. But this doesn't mean other entities or people cannot be liable. A driver responsible for the collision, an engineer responsible for faulty lines and government bodies, are other examples of people or entities who can be sued for wrongful death. For a wrongful death to successfully qualify for a lawsuit, certain elements must be established. These elements include:

  • Death of Someone

The obvious element in a wrongful death lawsuit is the loss of the victim’s life. A person seriously injured because of another person's actions does not qualify to file for a wrongful death lawsuit.

  • Enough Proof to Show Negligence

Negligence is also another element that should be established for the act to result in a wrongful death claim. If the defendant was responsible for the deceased personal care and breached this agreement, then he/she is liable. If a driver fails to stop and runs a red light, resulting in an accident that kills another motorist or pedestrian, the driver is liable.

  • The Death of the Victim Brought Suffering to the Plaintiff

The plaintiff must prove that he/she suffered incredible pain and loss as a result of the wrongful death. The element is proven by showing the plaintiff depended on the deceased either economically or non-economically.

  • The Plaintiff is Recognized by Law as the Right Person to File the Suit

California law has listed all the persons that qualify to file a wrongful death suit. If you are not the surviving family, including a spouse or domestic partner, children, or any other close family, you have no legal right to file the claim.

  • Damages the Plaintiff Incurs after their Loved One’s Death

A plaintiff must prove that the wrongful death has resulted in damages that they are left to bear. The damages include funeral expenses, hospital bills, and income (financial support), among others. Proving damages can be tough; there has to a thorough investigation and enough evidence to show damages. An attorney can help you determine the size of damages together with an occupation or even an economic expert.

  • Intentional Harm

International harm occurs when a person intentionally causes harm that results in the death of another person. Intentional acts include arson, assault, homicide, and manslaughter. However, not all acts result in intentional harm. Certain elements must be established for an act to be considered intentional harm. These elements are; (1) there is intent;(2) the defendant made contact using an object; this can include a car or weapon; (3) Fatal harm.

  • Unsafe Premises

People who fail to provide safety to the premises they own, which later results in the death of those insides the building are liable. Most insurance firms provide both homeowners and premises liability insurances, which provide coverage for all the wrongful deaths on the premises.

  • Work-Related Deaths

Worker's compensation laws govern cases where a person dies at his/ her workplace instead of wrongful death laws. But in the case where a third party is responsible for a worker's death at work, wrongful death law applies.

  • Exposure to Toxic Substances

A plaintiff can bring a wrongful death suit against a company responsible for a toxic substance that resulted in the deceased demise. Continuous exposure to toxic substances can result in diseases that can eventually kill someone.

California Laws on Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is not filed as a criminal suit but a civil lawsuit. It does not seek to bring punishment in terms of a jail term of probation to the plaintiff but by monetary compensation to the deceased family. The Lawsuit is brought forward by a person seeking to be compensated for another person's actions. A person can seek damages in the case where their loved one has died due to another person's negligence, according to the Code of Civil Procedure 377.60. The law clearly states that a person can seek either economic or non-economic damages from the defendant. Economic losses are losses that have impacted the deceased family monetarily. They include:

  • The amount of money the deceased would be getting as income.

  • All the burial, funeral, or cremations expenses.

  • The benefits the victim would have provided, including gifts and inheritance.

  • Household service the deceased would have provided if he/she was alive.

Non-economic losses are those that cannot be measured or quantified in terms of finances. These are hard to calculate because they don't leave a paper trail. The plaintiff has to prove that he/she suffered a non-economic loss due to the victim's wrongful death. Some of the damages are usually determined by how serious the injuries are with the help of pieces of evidence such as x-ray, medical records, photographic evidence of damages, among others. The non-economic damages include:

  • Companionship, love, comfort, emotional support, and care the victim provided.

  • Intimate relations if the victim was married or in a domestic partnership, the spouse or domestic partner deserves compensation.

  • The guidance and training the victim provided in the case where he/she was a parent/guardian to surviving children or other dependents

There are damages that the plaintiff cannot claim which juries are advised from considering. These include;(1) pain or suffering;(2) The wealth or poverty of the deceased family;(3) the deceased family sorrow or anguish.

Only family members and the deceased representatives can seek for damages according to the law. Some of the family members listed in the statute include deceased spouses, children, domestic partners, grandchildren (in the case where the victim's children are deceased), and any other person entitled to the deceased property.

Section 377.30 of the California Code of Civil Procedure states that wrongful death can be combined with a survival action. Survival action compensates the person who died instead of the deceased surviving members. The deceased's estate administrator brings forth the survival action suit. The suit allows for compensation for two kinds of losses:

  1. Pain or suffering from an injury suffered before your loved one’s death

  2. Injuries that resulted in the deceased’s death. The statute of limitations for survival action is similar to that of wrongful death, which begins from the day injury occurred or six months after the deceased's death.

Statutes of Limitations in California

The statute of limitations is a period in which the state allows a person to bring a lawsuit against a wrongdoer. California has a two-year statute of limitations listed in section 340.5 of the California Code of Civil procedure, which begins from the day the victim died. If you fail to bring a lawsuit within this period, your right to recover damages will be forfeited.

The state believes that cases from years ago are hard to prove because the more time lapses, the more evidence gets lots and memories fade. However, there exist certain exceptions to the statute of limitations in California. These exceptions occur when certain circumstances are in the way of the surviving family member knowing the death resulted from negligence. If the family member was also not in the right mind to file the suit, the law allows them to seek damages even after the lapse of the statute of limitations.

These circumstances affect the statute of limitations in a way called tolling. Tolling is simply stopping the time in which the victim’s family could file suit then resuming when the circumstances have changed. Some of the situations that toll the statute of limitations include:

  • After the statute of limitations passed, the defendant discovered that the death resulted from negligence.

  • If the deceased family member is a minor at the time of death. Tolling of the statute of limitations occurs until the age (18 years) when he/she can file the suit.

  • If the family member is not in any state (physical or emotional) to file, the suit.

  • If the defendant committed acts of fraud to prevent the victim's family from filing the Lawsuit.

Even though California has a two-year statute of limitations, the type of case that resulted in the wrongful death will determine the deadline for filing the suit. These cases involve:

  • Medical Malpractice

The consequence of medical malpractice is devastating to the family left behind. The family will lose a lot from financial loss to emotional loss, especially if the deceased was the sole provider. Therefore, if a medical practitioner does not act according to the set standard, which later results in wrongful death, he/she is liable. The period for filing a wrongful death due to medical malpractice claim is one year but can be extended to three years in certain circumstances. These circumstances are either fraud or if the liable party is intentionally concealed.

  • A Government Organization

Government workers can also result in the wrongful death of a person. The statute of limitations for government entities, both federal, state, and local, varies. According to section 911.2 of the Government Code, the statute of limitations is 180 days (6months) from the day the deceased died. You should fill the claim form of the specific government agency. Remember that cases involving governments are complex and often require an attorney with comprehensive knowledge to handle them.

  • Auto Accidents

Accidents resulting in wrongful death in California are way common than you think, and most of them are due to negligence. A wrongful death statute of limitations due to auto accidents is two years. However, if a government vehicle led to a person's death, the statute of limitations will be six months and not two years.

For the other crimes, the statute of limitations is two years, counted from the day the deceased died.

What Happens During a Wrongful Death Suit?

A wrongful death lawsuit begins when a deceased dependent hires an attorney to handle the case. Keep in mind that the suit should be filed within the time limit. If not, you will not be compensated. The attorney will then start by conducting investigation and collecting relevant evidence concerning the act that resulted in the wrongful death. The attorneys might also hire an expert to shed more light on the viability of the claim. They will also ask for the insurance policy copy if the deceased had filed for one.

When the attorneys have enough evidence, they will sit down with you to calculate the amount damages the defendant should pay. The attorney would have advised you on the type of damages you deserve, whether for economic or non-economic losses. Even though some damages are easier to calculate, such as funeral and burial expenses, some may be tough. Keep in mind also that only reasonable expenses are compensated according to California law. In the case of future earnings, several things will be taken into consideration; they include:

  • How many years the deceased had left in employment if he/she was working.

  • The victim’s skills and abilities, including education.

  • The potential of the victim if they were still alive, including promotions and raises.

  • Retirement benefits the victim would have received when they retired.

  • How the victim’s wages would have been impacted or adjusted in the coming years?

These factors can be too much for you and your attorney to take into consideration when calculating damages. To avoid miscalculation, your attorney may hire other experts such as economic professionals to weigh in on the size of damages.

Steps Involved in the Lawsuit

When the plaintiff’s attorney is certain they have conducted enough investigation and gathered witness testimony, they will move to file the Lawsuit. There steps involved are:

  1. Pre-Suit Negotiations

Pre-suit negotiations occur after the attorneys have conducted their research and gathered enough evidence and determined the claim is viable. The attorney submits a demand package to the insurance company. At this point, the pre-settlement negotiation begins. Some settlement can happen here, especially in the case where the defendant is clearly liable. However, in most bigger cases, it is hard to settle.

  1. Filing the Lawsuit

When a person or entity fails to settle with the plaintiff’s attorney, the Lawsuit officially begins. The plaintiff's attorney will draft a formal document referred to as a complaint submitted to both the court and the defendant. Usually, the defendant is served with the complaint. Once the defendant receives the document, he/she may respond by filing a motion to dismiss through his lawyer's help. The judge may approve by dismissing the case or denying the motion. In some instances, the defendant may request for interlocutory appeal. During the appeal, the case could likely be put on hold for months. This tactic is used mostly when the defendant wants to drag the case in court.

  1. Discovery

During discovery, both the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorney share evidence to avoid any surprise evidence in court. The evidence exchanged includes interrogatories, depositions, requests for the production of all the relevant documents. One party may object to the production of such evidence, which may force the judge to compel them to make the evidence available. Your attorney at this stage will be taking notes on what objections to compel, what depositions to carry out, or any other action that may help impact the suit positively.

  1. Motion for Summary Judgment

The defendant can file a motion for summary judgment. The motion is filed to ask the judge to dismiss the entire case or take power from the jury. If the wrongful death suit does not satisfy all the elements, the judge may dismiss the case. However, if the defendant has no basis for filing the motion, the judge might dismiss the motion.

  1. Trial Preparations

Trial preparations involve all the activities conducted to help ensure all the parties are ready for the trial. These preparations range from jury selection to legal research. Jury selection involves going over the jurors' mindset to determine if they can unbiasedly participate in the trial. Jurors are unpredictable; they can rule in favor of either party.

It is assumed that once the motion of the summary judgment stage has passed, the plaintiff is likely to receive more settlement of the case. The parties may also file other motions, including motion in court, which asks the judge to determine whether evidence can be admissible during the trial. The attorneys will also conduct more research concerning the cases and also confirming the attendance of the witnesses. Many cases tend to settle between the weeks to the trial.

  1. Trial

During the trial, the attorney will begin by giving their opening statements, then presenting their pieces of evidence, including cross-examining the witnesses. By this time, the jury would have been advised on what to expect, including deliberating on verdicts. Once the attorneys have finalized their cases, they will give their closing statements before the judge release the jury to go and deliberate.

  1. After Verdict

Once the jury has deliberated, they will come back to the court and give their verdict. Attorneys may choose to appeal the verdict if it is not in their favor or file motion for the judge to rule in their favor. Sometimes the defendant may choose to appeal to frustrate the plaintiffs. The jury is responsible for the amount of compensation the plaintiff deserves. However, circumstances may change, causing the size to be adjusted either upwards or downwards. For instance, an unemployed victim but had previously worked with a steady income might receive a large sum of compensation.

Why You Should File the Wrongful Death Suit

Even though monetary compensation cannot bring back a lost life, it serves as a form of justice to the affected family. Here is why you should file a wrongful death suit:

  • The Plaintiffs Personal Satisfaction

Personal satisfaction is important for the victim to move on or at least get some peace of mind. Especially if the defendant got a lighter sentence to the criminal charges. The civil suit does not mean the defendant will be punished; it means that he is held financially responsible for their actions.

  • Restoring Financial Help

Losing a family breadwinner affects the family in so many ways. When the negligence of another person causes the breadwinner’s death, he takes them with the support. Seeking support ensures you continue getting the support you used to get.

  • Prevent Similar Cases in Future

There is a possibility that the person responsible for the loss of your loved might commit similar acts in the future if he/she is not punished in some way. By bringing a wrongful death suit against the person, they will know that they will be financially liable for their carelessness.

  • Ensuring Product Safety

When a company is sued for defective products, they will conduct thorough testing before releasing a product. The fear of another lawsuit will motivate them to be more careful and add safety features to the product.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Wrongful death is hurting, but when the person responsible is not held accountable, it becomes devastating. California state allows the deceased’s family member to seek compensation in the event of wrongful death. Even though financial compensation is not similar to punitive damages, victims will get a sense of self-satisfaction knowing justice was served. If you have lost someone due to another person's negligence, don't hesitate to call us at 310-935-0089. Our attorneys at The LA Personal Injury Law Firm are skilled and experienced in handling such cases.