If a person dies due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct, that person’s family members or survivors may sue for wrongful death. This kind of lawsuit is brought against an individual who has caused someone’s death and seeks financial compensation for the impact of survivors’ losses. These may include the expenses for loss of future income, love and companionship, and funeral expenses, to name a few.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
In California, a wrongful death claim may arise when a person dies because of the fault of another person or party, including negligent actions or incidents, or even certain kinds of omissions, or inaction. Wrongful death cases most often occur in catastrophic car accidents, truck accidents, bicycle accidents, product malfunctions, and assault and battery. In such cases, survivors of a deceased person may be entitled to recover financial compensation from the at-fault party by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
When Can You Claim Wrongful Death?
You can bring a wrongful death claim in a variety of different situations that include the following:
- Car, truck, motorcycle and bicycle accident fatalities involving negligence: If the person was killed in a fatal car accident by an at-fault individual, such as when driving under the influence, speeding, or driving against a red light, the family members or survivors can file a wrongful death case against the driver.
- Negligent death in other circumstances, such as assault, product malfunction, or negligent supervision: A person who caused the death of another through negligence or the intent to cause harm may be held legally liable for fault in a wrongful death case. For example, O.J. Simpson faced criminal charges for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, but the victims’ families also filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against him. Other cases have involved the deaths of bicyclists due to product malfunction, or student athletes dying of dehydration and overheating from negligent supervision. The wrongful death case represents a civil matter, which is held separately from the criminal case brought against the defendant.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Several people connected to the deceased qualify as survivors or dependents under California’s Code of Civil Procedure, giving them the right to file a wrongful death claim.
- If your spouse died as the result of another person’s negligence, you may file a wrongful death lawsuit against them. Other family members who may bring wrongful death claims include surviving domestic partners, parents, siblings, children, or grandchildren of the deceased.
- If the deceased has designated heirs in their will or estate plan, they may have standing to file a wrongful death claim. In the absence of a will, individuals who would stand to inherit the deceased’s estate have such standing.
- Any minor who lived with the deceased for at least the previous 180 days of their death and relied on them for at least half of their financial needs qualifies as a survivor and may file a wrongful death claim.
Even if you have the right to file a wrongful death claim, not all sudden deaths are legally considered wrongful deaths. The responsible person must be found to have acted negligently.
Negligence in Wrongful Deaths
Each of the following four elements must be met to prove negligence in wrongful death:
- Proving duty: There must be evidence that the person or party had a duty of care, such as abiding by traffic laws, enacting and maintaining safe workplace conditions, manufacturing a safe product, or providing adequate medical supervision
- Proving breach of duty: To be successful in a wrongful death case, it must be determined that the person or party breached that duty by acting recklessly, maliciously, carelessly, or failing to act entirely or without enough urgency.
- Proving fault: The breach of duty must also be proven to have directly, indirectly, or partially caused the accident or incident leading to death. Another way to think about this is that the attorney must prove that it was the person’s fault that the other person died.
- Proving damages: In addition to breach of duty and causation, the victim and/or their survivors must have suffered damages. These may include financial damages, such as funeral or medical expenses, and wages, or emotional damages, such as loss of support, pain, suffering, and anguish.
What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death—the time limit within which you must file a claim—is generally two years from the date of the death though there are some exceptions, including claims against a municipality, which are much shorter.
However, a wrongful death action can be lengthy, so it is important to contact a fault and negligence lawyer to guide you through this difficult process.
What Damages Can You Recover from a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Families or other survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit are entitled to financial compensation, referred to as “damages” in the legal world. These include one or more of the following:
Call Our Wrongful Death Attorneys Today
At the Law Office of Scott R. Herndon, we have advocated for wrongful death victims’ survivors throughout California, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Marin-Napa, and the Central Valley. We treat every case with compassion and unwavering devotion, supporting you every step of the way in the process. To learn more about our legal services and how we can help you get the compensation you deserve and are entitled to, call us at (415) 360-5477 or contact us online to schedule a free confidential consultation.