The pain of unexpectedly losing a loved one can be devastating. However, when that death is caused by the careless, negligent, or intentional actions of another person, the pain and grief can be insurmountable. The knowledge that the death could have been easily avoided can make it harder for the family to come to terms with the death and move on. The financial burden caused by the death of the loved one can be difficult to deal with, and the lives of the surviving family members, especially those who directly depended on the deceased can be changed forever.
Fortunately, a Cathedral City wrongful death lawyer can help you pursue financial compensation from the person or persons responsible. Whereas there is no amount of money that can bring back your loved one, proper financial compensation can help ease the burden, offer you and your family some form of justice, and also enable you to pick up the pieces and move forward with your life. However, navigating the complex California wrongful death claims process can be quite overwhelming, which is why you need to bring in the expert mind of an experienced wrongful death lawyer.
Our highly skilled and compassionate wrongful death lawyers at Crockett Law will help you understand your rights under the law and guide you throughout the claims process. We understand that losing a loved one isn’t easy and no value can be placed on human life, but the least we can do is to ensure that you are fairly and fully compensated for your loss. We are prepared to fight aggressively for your rights. Call us today at (800) 900-9393 to schedule your free consultation with a personal injury attorney.
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How is Wrongful Death Defined in the State of California
Under the law in California, wrongful death is defined as a death caused by the wrongful acts of another person or entity. This can be based on:
- Negligence, for example, auto accidents, premises liability, etc.
- Intentional acts such as assault. Keep in mind that people who intentionally cause harm to others can also face criminal charges.
- Medical malpractice
It is also important to note that there are certain exemptions when it comes to wrongful death in California. For instance, the death of an unborn child isn’t subject to wrongful death laws. Only when the child is born is it regarded as a person with human rights, otherwise, it is considered a fetus.
As far as medical malpractice wrongful deaths are concerned, in cases where the decedent had less than 50% chance of survival before the fact, wrongful death can be ruled out.
Lastly, under California Penal Code Sect. 197, a wrongful death claim can’t be brought by heirs if the decedent was killed while committing a felony.
For a wrongful death claim to be raised in the state of California, the following conditions have to be met:
- A person lost his or her life
- The individual’s death was caused by the negligent or criminal acts of another person
- The family members left behind are suffering damages as a result of the death.
Who is Qualified to Make A Wrongful Death Claim in California?
California law is very strict when it comes to who can file a wrongful death claim. Under California wrongful death statutes, only the following individuals qualify to file a wrongful death suit:
- The spouse or domestic partner has the primary right to file the lawsuit.
- The children of the deceased
- The grandchildren of the deceased born to a deceased child of the decedent.
If any of the above individuals isn’t available or willing to file the claim, then under the law, the right goes to anyone who would be entitled to the deceased person’s property in way of intestate succession. This includes the parents and the siblings of the deceased.
Apart from the above persons, the following individuals can also raise a wrongful death claim on behalf of the decedent provided that they can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased:
- Any putative spouse of the deceased. This refers to a person who had good faith but mistakenly believed that they were in a legitimate marriage with the deceased person.
- The children of the deceased’s person putative spouse
- The stepchildren of the decedent
- The parents of the deceased person
- If the parents of the deceased are not around then the legal guardians of the deceased.
What Types of Damages are Recoverable?
According to CACI No. 3921 (Wrongful Death of an Adult) there are two main categories of recoverable damages in wrongful death cases: Economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include:
- The financial support the deceased person would have contributed to the family had the decedent’s life not been cut short.
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The loss of gifts and benefits the surviving family members anticipated from the deceased person.
- The loss of household services the deceased person would have provided.
Non-economic damages include:
- The spouse can recover damages for loss of intimacy with the deceased person.
- The loss of the deceased’s guidance.
- The loss of the deceased person’s love, comfort, affection, care, and moral support.
In a California wrongful death claim, there is no cap on recoverable damages. However, there is a limit on recoverable damages when it comes to medical malpractice wrongful deaths resulting from errors made by a healthcare provider.
Can the Surviving Family Members File For Punitive Damages?
Unfortunately, in the state of California, the surviving family members cannot recover punitive damages through a wrongful death claim. The only exception is in cases where the deceased was killed in a felony homicide and the defendant was convicted of the crime.
Punitive damages, while rare, are normally recoverable in survival action claims, which are different from wrongful death claims. Survival action claims are usually brought by the estate of the deceased person to recover damages the deceased person would have been able to receive had they lived.
This means that for there to be a survival action claim in the first place, the deceased person should have survived for a certain period of time following the incident that led to their untimely death. However, the California survival action statute doesn’t allow for damages for the survivor’s pain and suffering.
How is Negligence Proved in a Wrongful Death Case?
Your Cathedral city wrongful death lawyer must prove the following four elements of negligence.
Duty of Care: First, the plaintiff must show the court that the defendant owed the deceased victim a duty of care in that particular situation.
Breach of duty of care: Next, the plaintiff should prove that the defendant violated their duty of care. This could be by doing or failing to do something when a reasonable person in a similar situation would have acted appropriately.
Causation: The plaintiff is required to prove that the death resulted directly from the actions of the defendant and not something else.
Damage: Lastly, the plaintiff should be able to prove that as a result of the death of the defendant, the surviving family members suffered actual damages.
How Do You Start a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
In order to successfully file a wrongful death claim in California, the following criteria have to be met first:
- Someone has actually died.
- The death was caused by the negligence or intentional act of another person or entity.
- The surviving family members incurred monetary damages following the death of their loved one.
Besides the above criteria, the wrongful death claim should be filed within two years of the decedent’s death as per California’s statute of limitations. If the lawsuit isn’t filed within this period, the family will permanently lose their right to pursue compensation.
What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?
When a person loses their life as a result of the wrongful acts of another person or entity, there are two main types of claims that can be raised against the wrongdoer: a wrongful death claim and a survival action.
A wrongful death claim can be filed by the surviving family members. This type of claim is meant to compensate the family members for their damages resulting from the death which include funeral and burial expenses, loss of companionship, loss of support, loss of services, and loss of sexual cohabitation. It is important to note that recoverable damages through a wrongful death claim don’t include punitive damages.
On the other hand, a survival action is brought by the representative of the estate for damages or losses suffered by the decedent before their untimely death including medical expenses, loss of income as well as any punitive or exemplary damages the deceased would have been entitled to have they lived. However, it doesn’t include damages for pain and suffering.
Contact an Experienced Cathedral City Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Nothing can match the pain and grief of suddenly losing a loved one. However, if their death was a result of the wrongful acts of another person, California law allows you to seek financial compensation for your loss through a wrongful death claim. While no amount of money can reunite your family, it can provide some restitution for losses caused by the death.
Have you lost a loved one in Cathedral City as a result of the negligence of another person? Our experienced wrongful death lawyers at the Crockett Law Group are prepared to offer you all the necessary legal assistance. Let us fight for you and your family during this difficult time. Contact us today to discuss your options.