Wrongful death claims can provide much-needed compensation and closure for family members after the devastating loss of a loved one. California law allows those who have lost a child or a loved one to recover damages against negligent individuals, landlords, corporations, businesses, and government agencies.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when a loved one dies because of the negligence or intentional criminal act of another. You can file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation from the at-fault party for the financial and psychological pain your loved one’s death has caused you.
Brought on behalf of the deceased person’s family members, wrongful death claims can be pursued by a deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children.
Common Accidents that May Lead to Wrongful Death
Wrongful death claims arise from various situations, but some accidents are more likely to result in wrongful death than others.
- Car accidents are among the most common causes of nationwide wrongful death claims. These accidents often result from speeding, drunk driving, or distracted driving. Phones remain among the biggest distractions for drivers. With the convenience of smartphones, distracted driving incidents have become increasingly common. In 2019, 3,142 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving distracted drivers.
- Wrongful death claims might also involve medical malpractice. Common examples of medical malpractice include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and medication errors.
- Workplace accidents, defective products, and pedestrian accidents could also lead to wrongful death claims.
If you believe any of these accidents contributed to losing a loved one, speak with an attorney immediately. An experienced wrongful death attorney in San Luis Obispo can help you understand your legal options and seek the compensation you deserve.
Intentional Acts that May Lead to Wrongful Death
While most wrongful death claims result from accidents or negligence, intentional acts can also lead to a wrongful death claim. Intentional acts are actions taken with the intent to cause harm, and they can include murder, assault, and battery. In California, intentional acts that result in a wrongful death may also be considered a criminal offense, and the responsible party may face criminal charges in addition to a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful death claims based on intentional acts can be particularly difficult and emotional for family members, as they involve a deliberate act of harm rather than a tragic accident. In a wrongful death claim based on an intentional act, the plaintiff must prove that the responsible party acted with the intent to injure and that their actions directly caused the victim’s death. Evidence such as witness statements, surveillance footage, and forensic evidence may be necessary to prove the case.
Steps to Take After a Wrongful Death
Navigating the aftermath of a wrongful death is an immensely challenging and emotional process. To protect your rights and seek justice for your loved one, it’s crucial to take specific steps. Firstly, seeking legal counsel is paramount. An experienced wrongful death attorney can provide the guidance, support, and expertise needed to navigate the complex legal process. Secondly, preserving evidence is essential to building a strong case. Collect and document any relevant documents, photographs, or witness statements that may help establish negligence or wrongdoing. Additionally, notifying the relevant authorities, such as law enforcement or a medical examiner, ensures that an official investigation takes place. Lastly, dealing with insurance companies can be overwhelming, but your attorney can assist in communicating with them, negotiating settlements, and pursuing the compensation you deserve during this difficult time. These steps, while challenging, are critical in seeking justice and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.
Possible Damages and Compensation
Wrongful death damages in California are designed to compensate family members for the losses they have suffered. However, in addition to proving that a negligent or wrongful act resulted in your loved one’s death, a wrongful death claim requires you to prove your loved one’s death resulted in quantifiable legal damages. The types of damages and compensation available in a wrongful death claim in California can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. In a wrongful death claim, the two primary damage categories awarded are economic and non-economic.
Economic damages compensate the surviving family members for the financial losses that result from the death of their loved ones. This can include the loss of the deceased person’s earnings, benefits, and other financial contributions.
Some non-economic damages might be:
- Loss of care and support,
- Loss of consortium,
- Existing medical expenses of the decedent,
- Inheritance loss,
- Loss of love and companionship, and
- Loss of the deceased person’s income.
When a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, you could recover funeral and burial expenses, some financial losses, and compensation for mental pain and suffering.
In some cases, a court may award punitive damages to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior. These damages are rare and are not meant to compensate family members. Instead, punitive damages are meant to deter similar behavior in the future.
A San Luis Obispo wrongful death lawyer can help calculate your financial losses by saving medical bills, invoices and gathering pay stubs.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in CA
Under California law, eligible family members have only two years from the victim’s death to file a lawsuit in civil court. If they fail to file within this timeframe, family members may lose their right to seek compensation.
The two-year rule is generally straightforward, but certain exceptions apply. For example, if the wrongful death claim is based on medical malpractice, the statute of limitations may be extended. This is because, in some cases, it may take longer for the family members to discover that medical malpractice was the cause of their loved one’s death.
Additionally, the timeline for filing a claim may be shorter if a wrongful death claim is brought against a government agency or employee. In these cases, the family members may need to file a government claim within six months of the death before they can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The tricky part about the statute of limitations is that the statute applies to filing a wrongful death claim, not just initiating legal action. Family members must file their claim within the two-year time limit, even if they are still negotiating with insurance companies or attempting to settle the claim out of court.
Wrongful Death Lawyer in San Luis Obispo, CA
In 1984, Jacqueline Vitti Frederick founded her law firm in Los Angeles, concentrating on serious bodily injury cases and trial litigation. After a decade of successfully representing clients throughout Los Angeles County, Jacqueline moved her law firm offices to San Luis Obispo County and established the first law office in Nipomo, California. Now with over 32 Years of trial experience, Frederick Law Firm helps clients throughout the entire California central coast. If you need professional legal representation in San Luis Obispo, contact us for a free consultation.