What Are Punitive Damages in California Wrongful Death Claims?

It is tragic to lose a loved one due to the negligence of another person or entity. One of the ways of holding the negligent party accountable is to file a wrongful death claim with the help of a wrongful death attorney. Under such a claim, the family of the deceased can seek a wide range of economic and non-economic damages for their loss of a loved one.

However, some families may want to seek punitive damages in a wrongful death incident. Here is a look at what these damages are and how you can seek such damages in connection with the death of a dear one.

What are Punitive damages?

Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages. These are designed to punish the defendants for their neglect and deter them from any future misconduct. Punitive damages can be awarded if the defendant’s actions were found reckless, violent, negligent, or fraudulent.

Although the compensation awarded in punitive damages is relatively smaller as compared to the economic or non-economic damages, it can still be a huge help in relieving the financial difficulties of the family of the deceased.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Claimed?

Under California laws, a plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit cannot technically claim punitive damages, with a single exception.

If it is proved that the death of a loved one was due to felony homicide of the defendant, you can file for punitive damages. In other words, such damages are available to a plaintiff if the jury concludes that the defendant somehow intentionally killed the decedent. This can only be established if the defendant is separately and successfully convicted in a criminal case related to the wrongful death.

The only other way of seeking punitive damages in a California wrongful death is to file a survival action claim. As per the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30, only the estate of the deceased person can file such a claim.

However, the law also imposes a qualifying condition before a survival action claim, and a related claim for punitive damages, can be filed. These claims can be filed only if the deceased victim suffered some kind of economic loss before death. It may not be possible to prove economic loss in wrongful death incidents where death occurred suddenly and immediately. Over the years, case law has provided a way around this limitation.

According to the case law, even a very minor type of economic loss can make it possible for a decedent’s estate to file a survival action claim. For instance, if the clothing of the deceased was damaged, or if personal property like a purse or a mobile phone were damaged during the wrongful death incident, these qualify as economic damages.

Choosing Between Wrongful Death and Survival Action

Both wrongful death and survival action claims are filed after someone loses their life due to the negligence of another entity. As the family of the deceased, you can choose to file one of these two claims. Both legal options have their benefits and downsides.

As noted above, filing a survival action claim entitles you to seek punitive damages on behalf of the decedent’s estate. You can also recover all the tangible losses the victim suffered prior to the death. These can include any medical costs associated with the victim’s injuries before he or she died, lost wages, property damage, and so on. As long as an economic loss suffered by the victim was related to the wrongful death incident and occurred before the victim died, it is covered under survival action.

The downside to survival action is that non-economic damages and post-death damages are not covered. So you can’t seek damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, funeral expenses, and loss of support and love on the part of the dependents.

In contrast, wrongful death claims allow you to seek a broader range of economic and non-economic damages. However, you can’t recover any punitive damage under a wrongful death claim.

Hiring a Reliable Orange County Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have lost a loved one in Orange County due to the negligence of another party, it is important to understand your legal options for damages. You will need professional legal help to choose between filing a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action.

Here at the Crockett Law Group, we have been representing clients in wrongful death and survival action claims for a long time. Our ultimate aim is to help you recover maximum compensation for the emotional, psychological, and financial loss suffered due to the loss of a dear one. Get in touch with us today to discuss your claim with our lawyers.

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