There are few things more difficult in life than when a loved one dies. When it happens unexpectedly because of something that someone else did — or failed to do — the situation may be even more tragic. In these cases, a wrongful death lawsuit may help family members achieve some measure of justice.
A wrongful death claim is a type of personal injury case. This type of lawsuit allows families to recover compensation when a loved one has died as the result of someone’s wrongful act. Wrongful death suits may be filed after a car accident, slip and fall, motorcycle accident, or any other type of accident.
If your family member has died due to another person’s negligence, an experienced California wrongful death attorney can help you recover the compensation that you are entitled to under the law. With law offices throughout Northern California, the Kuvara Law Firm represents Californians throughout the state who have been injured in all types of accidents, as well as their loved ones. We offer free initial consultations, and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California
Wrongful death lawsuits are specifically authorized by California law. Under this statute, only certain family members can bring a claim. This includes:
- Surviving spouses;
- Domestic partners;
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person’s children have also died);
- Other minor children (such as stepchildren) who relied on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support; and/or
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased’s property under California’s laws on intestate succession (the way that assets are inherited when a person dies without a will).
While other loved ones may suffer as a result of a wrongful death, they cannot file a claim in California unless they fall into one of these categories. Only “survivors” — as defined by law — can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Survivors can bring a wrongful death action for any type of accident or injury that was caused by another person’s negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, or intentionally wrongful conduct. Essentially, if a loved one dies because someone else did something careless or wrong, then their survivors may be able to file a wrongful death claim. This includes matters such as assault and battery, elder abuse, motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, and medical malpractice.
Wrongful death claims are sometimes paired with survival actions. This is a type of personal injury lawsuit that survivors can file on behalf of the deceased’s estate. The difference between these two types of claims is that a wrongful death lawsuit compensates surviving family members for their losses, while a survival action compensates the deceased person’s estate.
Survival actions can be filed for two types of losses. First, a survival action can be filed for claims that are unrelated to the death which the deceased had a right to sue for at the time of their death. Second, if the deceased survived an injury for some period of time prior to their death, a claim can be brought for that injury.
Legal claims generally must be filed within a certain period of time, known as the statute of limitations. Wrongful death claims, like other types of personal injury lawsuits, must be filed within 2 years. The clock starts to run on the statute of limitations in California wrongful death claims on the later of (1) the date of injury; or (2) 6 months after the date of death.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, survivors can recover money for the value of the support that they reasonably could have expected to receive from the deceased if he or she had lived. There are two types of damages available in a wrongful death claim: economic and non-economic damages. Both are intended to compensate survivors for their losses.
First, economic damages include tangible financial losses that the survivors or heirs may have suffered. In a typical personal injury case, this may include items such as medical bills and lost wages. In wrongful death claim, economic damages can include:
- The loss of gifts or benefits that the heirs could have expected to receive from the deceased;
- The financial support that the deceased would have contributed to the family during their lifetime;
- The reasonable value of household services that the deceased would have provided; and
- Funeral and burial expenses.
Non-economic damages are meant to compensate survivors for their intangible losses, such as the loss of the deceased’s:
- Training and guidance;
- Moral support;
- Sexual relations;
- Protection; and
- Society and companionship.
Non-economic damages do not include recovery for the survivors’ pain and suffering, grief, or emotional distress that was caused by their loved one’s death. While it can be harder to prove non-economic damages, a personal injury lawyer will put together a demand to the insurance company for damages based on their experience and knowledge of similar cases.
Recovery for both economic and non-economic damages is limited to a specific period of time. Survivors can recover for the shorter of (1) the deceased’s life expectancy at the time of the wrongful act, or (2) the life expectancy of the plaintiff (survivor) at the time of the wrongful act. A person’s life expectancy is determined by the jury, taking into account factors such as occupation, health, and lifestyle.
Because these damages are limited to either the deceased or the survivor’s life expectancy, recovery in a wrongful death case can vary significantly based on the facts of the case. For example, a wrongful death claim involving a 34-year-old IT worker in Oakland will typically lead to a higher amount of compensatory damages than a case involving an 80-year-old retiree in Marin County.
Importantly, heirs in a wrongful death action cannot recover punitive damages in almost all cases, which are meant to punish a wrongdoer for their conduct. The only exception is if the deceased was killed in a felony homicide for which the defendant has been convicted. However, punitive damages may be available through a survival action, as described above.
We’re Here for You.
If you have lost a loved one due to the wrongful conduct of another person, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim with the help of a personal injury attorney. Through this type of lawsuit, you may be able to recover financial compensation. While money won’t make you whole again, it can help you move forward with your life after a loss.
The Kuvara Law Firm represents individuals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. We offer free case evaluations, where we will advise you about your claim, and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a wrongful death lawyer, contact us today at 415-479-7070 or via email.