Advocating for those who have lost a loved one
It is impossible to overstate the impact of losing a spouse, parent, child, sibling or other close loved one until it happens to you. Such losses change us forever, and the emotional trauma we suffer changes the way we see and experience the world. The texture of grief is even more difficult to process when the death of a loved one could have been prevented or occurred due to no fault of their own.
At The Law Office of Scott R. Herndon, our wrongful death claims are among our most meaningful cases. Balancing genuine compassion and respect for our clients with unparalleled legal acumen, our wrongful death attorneys understand how to build a compelling case that demonstrates to a judge, jury, or mediator the immense losses you suffer as a survivor and the fair compensation you deserve to reflect that loss. While nothing can bring back your loved one, our attorneys can help you cope with their loss, find peace knowing that justice has been served, and help protect others from future harm. We provide counsel to victims’ survivors in wrongful death cases all across California, from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego.
Wrongful Death Cases in California
Not all untimely deaths are considered wrongful in a legal context. Generally, death is considered wrongful only when it is the result of negligent action or inaction by an individual or party:
- Premises liability (injuries in homes or on private property)
- Fatal car accidents (commercial or not)
- Defective or dangerous products/ machinery
- Work accidents
- Medical malpractice
One way to think about wrongful death is as a fatal personal injury. Success in these cases depends greatly on the ability to meet the following legal criteria:
- Did a person or party have a duty of care, such as to abide by traffic laws, maintain safe conditions on a property, manufacture a safe product or provide adequate medical care?
- Did they breach the duty of care by acting negligently, carelessly, or recklessly, or by failing to act or react with reasonable urgency?
- Did their negligence directly, indirectly, or partially cause an accident or incident that resulted in fatality?
- Did the victim and/or their survivors and other dependents suffer damages, either measurable damages including medical/funeral/burial expenses, loss of family income, and property damage, or less quantifiable ones like emotional anguish, loss of support, and companionship and other pain and suffering?
In the presence of these conditions, a negligent party can be found legally liable and held accountable for the damages they caused.
Wrongful death statistics
Unintentional injury is consistently a leading cause of death among Americans. In 2020, the National Safety Council (NSC) reported 200,955 preventable injury-related deaths in the United States, a 16.1 percent increase from the previous year. Broken down by age, unintentional injury led to all causes of death for Americans aged 1-44, and trailed only heart disease, malignant neoplasms (cancer), and COVID-19 among all age groups, according to the CDC. The most common unintentional injuries that led to a fatality in 2020 were poisoning (43.5%), falls (21%), and traffic/motor vehicle accidents (20.3%). The same year, in California alone, 18,357 people died from fatal unintentional injury, making it the fifth-leading cause of death statewide.
Fatal unintentional injuries also cost Americans $3.45B in medical expenses in 2020, averaging out to more than $17k each. The cost per capita was slightly less in California, where unintentional fatal injury victims incurred just over $13k on average in medical bills ($241.33M total statewide).
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California and how long do they have to file?
The statute of limitations for wrongful death in California—that is, the amount of time within which a survivor or dependent may file a civil claim for damages—is generally two years from the date of their loved one’s death, although certain exceptions apply in some cases (such as filing a claim against a municipality). In all cases, it is best to contact a qualified attorney immediately to ensure your claim is preserved and your family can have its day in court.
Per California law, a number of people connected to the deceased may qualify as survivors or dependents under California’s Code of Civil Procedure and thus have the standing to file a wrongful death claim within the allotted time:
- The deceased’s family members: including their surviving spouse, husband or wife, or domestic or civil partner; the surviving son or daughter of a deceased parent;
- The surviving parent of a deceased child;
- A surviving sibling;
- Another surviving heir designated in the deceased’s will or estate plan; or whoever would stand to inherit the deceased’s estate in the absence of a will;
- Anyone dependent on the deceased: the deceased’s surviving spouse, the children of the surviving spouse, or their stepchildren or parents
- Any minor who resided with the deceased for at least the previous 180 days and relied on the deceased for at least half of their financial needs
The legal action for wrongful death in California consists of two separate claims:
- A wrongful death action is filed by the surviving family members for damages sustained by them as a result of the death of their loved ones.
- A survival action is brought on behalf of the decedent by the estate to recover damages the decedent may have been entitled to have he/she lived (e.g. pain and suffering).
It is common for survivors and the deceased to bring wrongful death actions together.
If you are unsure whether you have the standing to file a claim, consult an attorney as soon as possible to avoid potential issues with the statute of limitations or other requirements that might complicate your right to collect damages.
What compensation damages can a survivor collect in a wrongful death claim?
Those who lose a loved one often incur significant expenses related to the death or efforts to keep them alive. In addition, the loss of the deceased’s financial support/contribution over time can put undue strain on their family. Finally, there are the emotional costs of losing a close family member.
More specifically, the following factors are considered and calculated when determining the number of damages to which you might be entitled:
- The expenses already paid/incurred for medical/hospital care resulting from an injury that ultimately proved fatal
- Funeral and burial costs
- The projected amount of money, accounting for potential inflation and expected raises, that the deceased would have contributed to their immediate family over their normal lifespan had they remained alive
- Additional loss of financial support to other family members who had come to expect/rely on it
- Loss of companionship, love, intimacy, emotional support, and comfort; consideration for emotional trauma; and other non-monetary damages
- Potential punitive damages in cases of recklessness or gross negligence
How to File a Wrongful Death Claim in California
If you suspect your loved one died as a result of negligence, carelessness, or recklessness, consult with an attorney as soon as possible. We can provide you with the guidance and clarity you need to make informed decisions about recovering damages.
Seek guidance from a compassionate and effective wrongful death attorney in Northern California
Located in Berkeley and representing wrongful death victims’ survivors throughout California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California, the Law Office of Scott R. Herndon is a boutique law firm that has achieved national recognition for the impeccable legal services we provide to plaintiffs in wrongful death and serious personal injury cases. With our unwavering devotion to your interests and needs and comprehensive knowledge of the legal system, you can feel confident that you will obtain the full compensation you deserve and are entitled to, whether through negotiation and settlement or through litigation and eventual judgment. To learn more about our legal services, call (415) 360-5477 today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.