In California, a wrongful death claim can be filed when negligence on the part of a person or entity results in someone’s death. Wrongful death is considered a civil lawsuit and is brought to the court by survivors of the deceased.
Wrongful death claims differ than criminal cases for homicide, and fault is expressed in monetary damages paid to the survivors rather than probation, jail or prison time. In California, a civil claim for wrongful death can be brought to court at the same time as a criminal case.
Wrongful death is a subclass of personal injury and is often handled by personal injury attorneys. The reasoning behind this is that if the injured person had survived, they would have brought a damage claim against the person who caused their injury. Since they are unable to do so, survivors can make a claim on behalf of the deceased party.
In California, claimants in a wrongful death case may only include spouses, children, domestic partners, parents, siblings or children of siblings, grandparents, lineal descendants or individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased person when they died.
The survivors must file wrongful death claims within two years to avoid exceeding the statute of limitations. If the case isn’t filed within those two years, the family essentially forfeits their right to file at all.
There are several different personal injury damages available when a wrongful death claim is filed. They depend on the facts of each case and can be divided between the estate, to compensate for financial losses, and the family, to compensate for personal losses.
Losses attributed to the state include funeral and burial expenses, final medical and hospital bills, and lost income the deceased person would have earned if they lived.
Losses attributed to the family members include the value of household services, loss of expected financial support and loss of love, moral support, affection and community.
Wrongful death lawyers can advise claimants on which damages to pursue in their specific situation.
In the event the case is won, the jury awards a lump sum to the group of plaintiffs, and it’s up to them to decide how to divide the award. Wrongful death lawyers can iron out an agreement before the claim is filed, but if the claimants can’t agree or refuse to honor a prior arrangement, they can go to court again to reach a judgement.
Wrongful death lawyers are often employed at personal injury law firms and can assist survivors in building the best possible case in a difficult time.