What Is “Wrongful Death” in California? A wrongful death lawsuit is brought by the surviving relatives of someone who died due to the legal fault of another. This…Read More
At GJEL Accident Attorneys, we are California wrongful death lawyers that specialize in helping families with the significant grief of losing a loved one.
The unexpected death of a loved one is a devastating event that no one prepares for. The emotional toll of such a tragedy can be much harder to bear when another person or entity is to blame for your loss.
At GJEL we’re here to help you get through this difficult time. If you have questions about your case or the process please Call Andy Gillin, our managing partner to discuss your situation absolutely free of charge.
Here are some of the reasons our clients hired us for their wrongful death cases:
- We will hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions
- We have a 99% success rate with wrongful death claims throughout California
- We have recovered over $950 million dollars for our clients injured or killed due to the negligent acts of others
- As a small firm you will get our full undivided attention to your case
- We are 2021 / 2022 recognized Best Lawyers from bestlawyers.com
Have a question or want to talk to an attorney? Call us today at 1-866-254-5579 for a free case review.
You May Be Able To File a Wrongful Death Suit in California
In California, when someone’s death is the result of wrongful behavior or negligence, surviving family members can file what is known as a “wrongful death” lawsuit in civil court. An experienced California wrongful death lawyer can explain your rights and help you and your family seek justice for the pain you are experiencing.
In this article, we provide a basic overview of wrongful death laws in California. We’ll cover the elements of a wrongful death claim, who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the different types of damages that are available to a successful plaintiff. We also discuss how the statute of limitations can impact your claim. This post is designed to give you basic information and should not be relied upon in the absence of advice from a qualified attorney. If you have questions about your rights or your family’s rights, contact a wrongful death attorney right away.
What is a “Wrongful Death” Case?
The term “wrongful death” has legal significance in California. A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of civil legal action that can be brought by the survivors of a deceased person who died as a result of a wrongful act or negligence. Some wrongful death cases are filed based on behavior that is also the subject of criminal charges. In such a scenario, the two cases will proceed independently of one another. However, there does not need to be a crime or criminal conviction in order to bring a wrongful death case. Certain types of reckless or negligent conduct can be a sufficient basis for such a lawsuit irrespective of any alleged or proven criminal liability.
Some wrongful death cases are filed based on behavior that is also the subject of criminal charges. In such a scenario, the two cases will proceed independently of one another. However, there does not need to be a crime or criminal conviction in order to bring a wrongful death case. Certain types of reckless or negligent conduct can be a sufficient basis for such a lawsuit irrespective of any alleged or proven criminal liability.
Unlike a criminal lawsuit involving homicide charges like manslaughter or murder, which can result in a defendant being convicted and receiving a criminal sentence, fault in a wrongful death lawsuit leads solely to the award of money damages. If you succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, the court will order the responsible party to pay a sum of money to you and your family members. As discussed in greater detail below, this sum of money can include damages for medical bills, funeral costs, lost income, and loss of emotional support. Learn more about wrongful death lawsuit settlements averages here.
What Does a Wrongful Death Attorney in California Do?
We hire expert consultants in order to evaluate the evidence for the particular accident to help us determine exactly what happened at the time, depositions of witnesses and involved parties are taken, all of which combine to allow us to develop a solid case that fault for the accident was on those responsible parties that we are bringing suit against.
The damages in a wrongful death case, however, are proven differently to a great extent than a personal injury case.
Sometimes there’s a medical issue as to whether or not the accident in question led directly to the death of a loved one, but most of the time it’s pretty clear unfortunately from the accident what happened. Where necessary, however, we will retain the necessary consultants to prove that it was this accident, not some preexisting condition that led to this person’s tragic death.
Much of what we do, however, in terms of proving damages in a wrongful death case revolves around the duty to show everyone exactly who this person was, who has passed away so suddenly and tragically – and we do that by talking to anyone and everyone we can find who knew them. Mostly family members, friends and coworkers – the people close to this person who help us show exactly what they meant to their family and friends.
We do statements, we do video, we use photographs – all kinds of things to put together a portrait that ultimately is normally turned into a video about this person, who they were and most importantly what they meant to the family member or family members we represent.
We help families through complex wrongful death litigation
The litigation process can be time-consuming and stressful, involving many different rules and procedures. The following are only a few things an attorney will do during litigation:
- Filing the lawsuit — A wrongful death lawsuit has many requirements and must be persuasive enough to successfully present your case and stand up to challenges by the other party.
- Gathering evidence — Evidence in your favor is gathered in many different ways, including through investigators, depositions, document requests, and more.
- Challenging the other side’s defenses — The other party will certainly raise legal defenses to avoid liability. You attorney will answer back to challenge those defenses and protect your rights to a recovery.
- Negotiate a favorable settlement — The majority of wrongful death lawsuits are settled out of court but this does not mean you should accept a settlement that is too low just to avoid trial. Your attorney will effectively use new arguments and evidence to negotiate until you receive the settlement offer you deserve.
- Represent you at a jury trial — If the liable party refuses to make an adequate settlement offer, your attorney will present your case at a trial, which involves strict rules of evidence and procedural requirements.
What Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The wrongful death statute in California is relatively vague when it comes to the damages that surviving family members can recover after proving a wrongful death.
In fact, the law simply states that any “just” damages may be available in a particular situation. Many different parties may bring wrongful death claims in CA, including spouses, children, stepchildren, parents, and other potential heirs.
The damages that each different party can recover will vary depending on their own specific and personal losses from the death. The law gives the court discretion to determine the rights of each party to certain damages.
For the above reasons, it is impossible to say exactly what damages you may receive without a thorough evaluation of your situation. While the best way to learn about potential damages in a wrongful death case is to consult with an experienced California wrongful death attorney, the following are some of the losses for which you may be able to recover:
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- The estimated amount of income and benefits the deceased person would have earned in their lifetime had the accident not occurred
- Loss of financial support for the household
- Loss of services around the household, including cleaning, landscaping, cooking, caring for children, and other everyday tasks and contributions to the family
- Loss of intangible support, including love and affection, encouragement, moral support, guidance, attention, and more.
Some parties may have contributed to funeral expenses while others may not have. In addition, older parents may have lost financial support but not any household services if they did not live in the same place as the deceased. As you can see, the situations can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances.
Calculating Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Once you have determined the type of damages that may be available in your wrongful death case, it becomes necessary to calculate the exact amount you want to seek.
Some damages are much easier to calculate than others–for instance, to determine funeral and burial costs, you should simply examine all of the bills and receipts you received from the funeral home and other service providers. Note that only reasonable expenses will be reimbursed. This means that if you throw a lavish funeral and reception for your loved one, you may likely only receive a portion of the costs back.
Calculating lost future earnings can be significantly more challenging as there are many factors to take into account, including the following:
- The age of the deceased and how many more years they would be expected to work;
- The education, skills, and abilities of the deceased;
- The deceased’s potential for promotions, raises, and other adjustments to income throughout the course of their career;
- Inflation and how wages and earning would be adjusted over the years; and
- The benefits and retirement account contributions the deceased would have received.
Considering all of these factors into one calculation can be complicated and you will often need the assistance of an occupational and economic expert to reach an accurate estimate.
Experts are also used to determine the monetary value of household services lost, as well as the loss of affection, love, and other intangible support. Our attorneys have the resources needed to obtain expert analysis to ensure you receive a fair and just result in your case and always seek the maximum possible damages available.
Damages Not Available in a Wrongful Death Case
In California, there are certain losses that are specifically not available in a wrongful death case because they should be recovered in a different type of legal claim called a survival action.
These damages do not have to do with the losses of the family members, but instead relate to the losses of the deceased person between the time of the accident and the time of death. Such losses can include medical expenses prior to the death, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased, and punitive damages if the actions of the responsible party were particularly egregious.
How do I sue for wrongful death damages in California?
You start by making sure you file the case within the time period that you’re allowed to file the case in. Generally two years from the date of the death if you are an adult and if it’s not against a public entity and then other specific time limitations that differ.
Once you’ve determined that, the next step is filing a lawsuit in the proper court, and the proper court is going to be either where the accident happened or where one of the people responsible for the accident lives.
Now before you file a lawsuit it is important to determine if you are one of those people who is entitled to file a lawsuit. Certain categories of relatives are always eligible to file a wrongful death case. That is a child, or a spouse or a dependent parent. A dependent parent is defined as a parent who is receiving some sort of financial assistance from the deceased person.
If there is no living spouse and if there are no living children, then the parents can recover whether or not they are dependent. And then if there are no dependent parents, no spouse and in addition to that no children, the California probate code determines what people are then entitled to recover, including siblings, cousins and on down the line.
What are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case?
In legal terminology, an “element” is an essential building block of a case. In order for someone to succeed in a case, the evidence must establish all of the required elements. In a wrongful death lawsuit in California, the following elements must be proven.
- The death of a human being;
- That was caused by another’s negligence, or with intent to cause harm; and
- The surviving family members are suffering financial losses as a result of the death.
We’ll now discuss each of these elements.
Element One: What Kinds of Accidents or Intentional Acts Cause a Wrongful Death?
There are several different kinds of accidents that can lead to a wrongful death. These include car accidents, commercial truck accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, the use or consumption of dangerous or defective products, prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, medical malpractice by a doctor or healthcare facility, fires, and other types of fatal accidents. Intentional acts such as a deadly assault, manslaughter, murder, arson, or other deliberately harmful act also may be the basis of a wrongful death claim.
Element Two: Was the Death Caused by Negligent or Intentional Conduct?
The causation element is critical in a wrongful death claim. In order to recover damages, you must be able to show that your loved one’s death was actually caused by the negligent or intentional conduct of the defendant. For example, you cannot sue a hospital just because your loved one died of cancer there. There is no wrongful death liability when someone dies purely from natural causes. However, if you can show that your loved one died of cancer as a result of prolonged exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in his or her workplace, you may be able to sue the former employer for wrongful death.
Because causation in a wrongful death lawsuit can be difficult to establish, it is important to hire a lawyer who has extensive experience taking wrongful death lawsuits to trial and obtaining successful verdicts for his or her clients.
Element Three: Have Survivors Suffered a Loss?
You and your family must be able to establish that you have suffered losses as a result of your loved one’s death. These might include loss of your loved one’s affection and emotional support, financial support, or contributions to the household. Other types of losses include money you spent or will need to spend to take care of your deceased loved one’s medical expenses and funeral costs.
A wrongful death law firm can help you understand the full value of your wrongful death claim and will carefully calculate the amount of damages to which you are entitled.
Who Can Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer in California?
The California civil statute on wrongful death claims provides that only certain individuals are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Specifically, the following parties can bring a wrongful death claim:
- The deceased person’s surviving spouse,
- The deceased person’s surviving domestic partner, and
- The deceased person’s surviving children and grandchildren.
In the event that there is no surviving person who falls into any of these categories (sometimes referred to as the “line of descent”), a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by someone who would be entitled under California law to inherit the deceased person’s property. This may include the deceased person’s parents or siblings, depending on who is alive at the time of the deceased person’s passing.
A qualified wrongful death lawyer can help you understand who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and how any proceeds from the lawsuit will be distributed amongst surviving family members.
A GJEL Wrongful Death Case ResultA bicyclist was struck by a vehicle as he crossed an intersection on Fairgrounds Drive in Vallejo. After fighting for his life for months in the hospital he eventually succumbed and passed away, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters. His post-accident treatment at the hospital produced a staggering bill.Jim Larsen and the lawyers of GJEL investigated the accident thoroughly, deposing police officers and witnesses from the scene of the accident.Through witness and expert testimony we were able to demonstrate that even though the bicyclist was crossing against a red light, the driver still had ample time to see the cyclist and slow down to avoid the collision. Unfortunately for all parties involved, this was not the case. GJEL was able to secure a $500,000 settlement, with $100,000 going to each of the three daughters as a college fund.
We have helped thousands of injured victims in the Northern California area get the compensation they deserve.
How Long Does a California Wrongful Death Case Take?
An effective wrongful death lawsuit can take some time. It’s essential that enough time is allotted to conduct a thorough investigation to understand all of the facts of the case including the responsible parties.
In some cases, the liability in a wrongful death case can be clear-cut. For example, if a FedEx truck driver was intoxicated and hit another car causing a death, it might be easier to assign liability to the responsible party.
Other cases require more evidence though. One example of this would be a fatal slip and fall accident due to unsafe conditions at a grocery store. In this case, we may need to interview more witnesses, get security footage, and research records on past incidents.
But even then, the insurance company that’s responsible to pay for the damages may not offer a reasonable settlement for the damages.
Cases that require in-depth investigations and accident reconstruction work will take longer. In these cases, we may also need to bring in an expert witness to testify about the dangers that caused the accident.
These cases typically go to a jury trial and the entire process can last from 1-2 years on average. If insurance companies don’t offer the full amount of the policy they can open the limit of the policy up and a jury can decide how much compensation you should receive.
In our experience, most wrongful death cases go to trial because insurance companies offer unfair settlements or try to get you to settle quickly.
Recent Wrongful Death Settlements from GJEL
Below are just a few of the recent settlements from wrongful death cases from GJEL clients. Click here to view all wrongful death settlements and verdicts.
Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to common questions we get asked frequently pertaining to wrongful death cases.
Learn what a wrongful death lawsuit is and how you can file one.
There are a lot of moving parts with a lawsuit. In this article we explore the potential damages you can seek and how much money you may get.
Qualities of Great Wrongful Death Law Firms
- They have achieved strong settlements and verdicts for California wrongful death cases
- They have a 99%+ success rate
- They have handled cases similar to your’s
- You like them and trust them
The pain and suffering that come with losing a love one shouldn’t be accompanied by financial distress. If your family has suffered a loss like this, please contact us now.
We Are An Award Winning Wrongful Death Law Firm
GJEL Accident Attorneys was just rated a top wrongful death law firm by Best Lawyers for 2021 and 2022. We have also recovered over $950 million dollars with a 99% success rate for our clients.
Find a California Wrongful Death Lawyer Near You
GJEL handles cases throughout California. We have many convenient offices to serve you. No matter where you’re located we always come to you.
Please call for a free case review or to book an appointment at one of our California offices below.