Losing a loved one is never easy, but it can be even more difficult when their death was caused by someone else’s carelessness or violence. In these situations, surviving family members may be able to seek justice through a wrongful death lawsuit.

However, to succeed in this type of case, it’s essential to understand the four key elements required to prove wrongful death.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought by surviving family members seeking compensation for the death of their loved one. These cases arise when a person dies due to the carelessness or intentional actions of another party. The goal of a wrongful death lawsuit is to hold the responsible party accountable and provide financial support to the surviving family members.

The Four Key Elements of Wrongful Death Cases

To prove wrongful death, surviving family members must demonstrate four essential elements:

  1. Negligence

Negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care. In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s careless, reckless, or negligent actions caused the victim’s death.

To establish liability in a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted negligently or wrongfully, and that this conduct caused the death of the victim. The following elements must be proven to establish liability in a wrongful death case:

2. Breach of Duty / Duty of Care

A breach of duty occurs when someone fails to uphold their legal obligation to act in a reasonably safe manner. In wrongful death cases, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty to the victim and that this duty was breached as a result of their negligent actions.

The defendant had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care towards the victim.

3. Causation

Causation refers to the link between the defendant’s actions and the victim’s death. To prove wrongful death, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence caused the death of their loved one.

4. Damages

Finally, to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the death of their loved one resulted in quantifiable damages. This can include medical expenses, funeral costs, the lifetime loss of income, and pain and suffering.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death in California

Wrongful death lawsuits can arise from a variety of situations, including:

Determining Burden of Proof

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is lower than in a criminal case. However, plaintiffs still need to provide strong and convincing evidence to support their claims. This may require expert witnesses and careful investigation of the facts.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

If a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, the at-fault party’s insurance company will pay a settlement to the plaintiff. This money is typically not subject to income, estate, or inheritance taxes. However, it’s important to consult with an attorney and financial advisor to understand the full implications of a settlement. You can read our full article on how wrongful death settlements are paid out here.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

The ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit depends on the laws of the state where the death occurred. In some states, only immediate family members can file, while others allow anyone who was financially dependent on the deceased to seek compensation.

Click here to further understand who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

How Much Can You Sue for Wrongful Death?

The amount of compensation available in a wrongful death lawsuit will vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Plaintiffs may be able to recover damages for medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, and pain and suffering. A skilled wrongful death attorney can help calculate an appropriate amount of compensation.

Please note there is no average wrongful death settlement amount. If you’re looking for examples of what we have settled our cases for in the past you can view our wrongful death settlement amounts here.

Seek Legal Representation for Your Wrongful Death Case

Proving a wrongful death case can be challenging, but with the help of an experienced attorney, you can hold the responsible party accountable and seek justice for your loved one. At GJEL Accident Attorneys, we understand the complexities of wrongful death cases and can help you build a strong case based on the facts and evidence.

If you believe that you may have a wrongful death case, don’t hesitate to seek legal help. Contact GJEL about your California wrongful death case today to schedule a consultation with an experienced and compassionate attorney who can guide you through the process and help you achieve justice for your loved one. Call us now to discuss your case.

Accident & Injury Offices Near You

Our attorneys have offices throughout Northern California. You can call or stop by anytime.

  1. San Jose Wrongful Death Office
  2. San Francisco Wrongful Death Office
  3. Oakland Wrongful Death Office
  4. Stockton Wrongful Death Law Office
  5. Fresno Wrongful Death Law Office

[Written by Andy Gillin. Article updated on 03-10-2023]