Wrongful death cases are civil actions that seek monetary compensation for damages after a family member dies as a result of the negligence, willful or intentional act or failure to act of another person or entity. There is a difference between a natural death and a sudden death. The latter likely involves circumstances that could have been prevented. If you are convinced that the negligence or recklessness of another person led directly to the death of your loved one, you can sue them for causing a wrongful death.
These cases are distinguished from criminal cases primarily by the fact that a defendant doesn’t face incarceration if he or she is found guilty. The outcome of these kinds of cases in purely monetary, and if you believe the perpetrator needs jail time, you should look into filing a criminal claim.
Wrongful death cases in California are controlled by section 377.60 of the Code of Civil Procedure. As per our Newport Beach wrongful death attorneys, nearly all wrongful death cases in and around Orange County are brought pursuant to the law of negligence. Here are some of the leading causes of wrongful death claims and litigation:
Fatal injuries from dangerous conditions on property that is owned or occupied by others.
Drivers that exhibit negligence by driving while intoxicated, driving while distracted, and driving recklessly contribute to cases of wrongful death due to traffic collisions. Due to the sheer force of a car crash, injuries can be so severe that they cause the victim to pass away before arriving at the hospital or in the days following the collision.
Despite being surrounded by two tons of steel, some drivers do not take the task seriously. So much so that distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019, and the CDC estimates that around eight people per day are killed due to driving while distracted. Distracted driving is virtually any activity that diverts your attention from driving, including talking on the phone, texting, eating, drinking, talking to passengers in your vehicle, changing stations on the radio, or paying too much attention to your navigation system. The different categories your attorney may cite include:
While behind the wheel, driving should take priority over anything else. Texting is the most common and most dangerous distraction. Typing out a message or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds, which doesn’t seem like much, but at 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
This is especially harmful to cyclists. Bicycles are small, thin, and compact. They are less prominent in a mirror than motor vehicles and the agility afforded by a bicycle allows the rider to move and maneuver in ways that are unfamiliar to the driver of a car. This is why many cyclists succumb to their injuries when they collide with vehicles. None of this obviates the need for drivers to be alert and vigilant. They should pay close attention to the hand signals of a bicyclist and should allow them the space they need to overtake and make turns.
If you were hit by a driver who was not paying attention, then you should hold them accountable.
It is illegal in California, as it is in every other state, to drive under the influence of alcohol. Yet, some people do it anyway. A driver impaired by alcohol will have blurry vision, slow reflexes, and many other incapacities that make them dangerous to bicyclists, motorists, and everyone else in their path. If you have been hit by a drunk driver, it is possible for you to file a civil judgment even if the person has already been criminally convicted.
If you have lost a family member as a result of an act or failure to act of another person or legal entity, contact our Newport Beach wrongful death lawyers here at the Accident Lawyers Firm. We can arrange for a confidential free consultation and case review.
Only certain people are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. They are typically limited to close family members and those who were financially dependent on the deceased.
Here’s how California’s statute prioritizes them:
Another distinguishing characteristic between a wrongful death case and a criminal homicide prosecution is the burden of proof. In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil wrongful death case, the defendant need only be proved guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. What that means is that the plaintiff’s version of events is more likely true than not true. A wrongful death case can be heard at the same time as a criminal homicide prosecution, but it will be heard in a different courtroom with a different judge and jury.
Damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases are categorized as economic and non-economic. Both of these types of damages are awarded to the decedent’s family in wrongful death cases.
Economic damages include:
Here are some examples of non-economic damages in wrongful death settlements and trials:
You will need a skilled attorney to prove these damages. While financial damages can be easily quantified through bills and paystubs, but non-economic damages are much harder to prove. That’s why you need a skilled personal injury attorney on your side.
A hardworking personal injury lawyer can give you tips on proving these intangible damages. They may recommend that you prove your emotional loss by keeping a journal detailing your emotions, and you can also start seeing a therapist to begin working through your loss.
Section 377.30 of the California Code of Civil Procedure also provides for a survival action that is usually added as a second count of a wrongful death lawsuit. These actions are labeled as such because the right to sue for damages contemplated under section 377.30 survives the victim’s death. In order to bring this action, a person must have survived the fatal accident, even for a few moments before dying. As opposed to being awarded to the decedent’s family, damages in survival actions are awarded to the decedent’s estate for losses incurred before the victim’s death. Those damages might consist of property damage along with medical bills and lost earnings between the time of the accident and time of death.
The Statute of Limitations
The general rule in California is that a decedent’s family has two years from the date of death to file their wrongful death lawsuit. For survival actions, that limitations period is two years from the date of injury or six months from the date of death, whichever is later. Failure to file an appropriate lawsuit within the time contemplated by the applicable statute of limitations is almost certain to result in dismissal of the case.
If you lost a family member as a result of the negligence, willful or intentional act or failure to act of another person or entity anywhere in California, contact our injury attorney in Newport Beach to arrange for a free consultation and case review. Don’t delay, you might only have six months to take initial steps. We want to know what happened and how it happened. After that, we can talk about your legal options. Remember that evidence can get lost or destroyed and witnesses can disappear. Make sure that you contact our wrongful death lawyer in Newport Beach as soon as possible. If we’re retained to represent you, no legal fees are due unless we obtain a settlement or award on your behalf.
Proving Wrongful Death in a Civil Case
When a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, plaintiffs must prove several elements related to negligence in order to win their case and receive financial compensation for their loved one’s untimely and preventable death. These usually include a duty of care, breach of the duty of care, and causation.
For example, the duty of care would involve a driver having a responsibility to obey speed limits or not drive a car while drunk. As for breaching the duty of care, a plaintiff must show the defendant breached that duty by being drunk at the time of the accident. Finally, causation involves the plaintiff showing the defendant’s specific actions directly led to their loved one’s death. Since these elements can sometimes be difficult to prove, you should hire a trusted attorney when your loved one was killed after suffering an accident.
Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
The damages in a wrongful death lawsuit vary from state to state. There are some states that have a limit to the amount and/or types of damages that occurred, especially in medical malpractice claims. Whatever the case may be, do not hesitate to get in contact with a lawyer who specializes in wrongful death settlements.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of damages available to win in wrongful death settlements. Settlements can be as large as a few million dollars, so it’s important that you spare no efforts when adding up your damages.
Wrongful Death and Liability Policies
Our attorneys have already touched on the kinds of people who face wrongful death lawsuits, but we have expanded below. If you are interested in learning more about liability in wrongful death cases, click here.
If your loved one underwent a low-risk surgery and died as a result, the incompetence of the surgeon may have been at fault. In any case, the incident is worth investigation. A surgery that went wrong is not the only grounds for suing a physician or a hospital for wrongful death. If your loved one was misdiagnosed or given a prescription that caused an especially violent allergic reaction and died as a result, then you can file suit.
If your loved one was killed in a car accident caused by a reckless driver, you can sue the person responsible. It may not be necessary to go to trial. If enough evidence is accumulated against the other driver, then their insurance company may prefer to settle out of court.
Murder or manslaughter
Most people believe that murder cases can only be tried in criminal court and prosecuted by a district attorney. This is not the case. It is also possible for the survivors of a person murdered or killed to sue the individual who carried out the act.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If a loved one has passed away due to a preventable and unnecessary accident, you are probably interested in filing a lawsuit on their behalf. In all states, immediate family members are allowed to file such a lawsuit. If the decedent was married, their spouse is often the person who files a wrongful death lawsuit.
In situations involving domestic partnerships or civil unions, the surviving partner may be allowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their deceased partner. However, these cases can get very complex and competitive quickly, since other family members of the deceased may claim they should be the ones able to recover financial compensation for the loss of their loved one. Accident Lawyers Firm can help mitigate these cases to ensure that the loved ones of the deceased are taken care of.