It is sad to lose a family member in a car accident. Close family members of a deceased car accident victim should seek compensation for the losses incurred from their loved one's death. Seeking compensation in a wrongful death is tiring and lengthy, and there are possibilities of losing your case if you are not careful enough. Hiring a professional attorney would be the best decision to increase the chances of being compensated. Contact us at Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney for a detailed evaluation of your case and your case’s excellent legal representation.
Definition of Wrongful Death in California
Everything to do with a wrongful death lawsuit is defined under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60. Under this statute, family members or representatives of anyone who dies in a car accident can bring a lawsuit and claim compensation for all the losses incurred from the victim's death. Not all members can recover these losses. Compensation claims are restricted to the:
- Surviving spouses
- Domestic partners
- Anyone who is entitled to the deceased property including a putative spouse and children, stepchildren, and the decedent's parents
How to File a Wrongful Death Claim in California
Claimants or survivors have to prove several aspects to be successfully compensated for the losses incurred by their loved one’s death. These elements are as follows:
- Another party caused an accident and led to the death of your loved one or family member
- The other party acted negligently, and this led to the accident
- The survivor is a dependent of the deceased
- There are monetary damages that resulted from the loved one's death
The above-stated elements might appear to be straightforward, but there is a deeper meaning to them. Here is a closer view of these elements.
Proving That Another Party Is Responsible for the Death of Your Loved One
You must provide concrete and clear evidence that another party is responsible for your loved one's death to succeed in your case. Therefore, you have to identify the specific party to hold accountable for your accident and show the relationship between the accident and the death of your loved one.
Liable Parties in a Car Accident
Your attorney should identify the party responsible for your family member's death to determine who should compensate you for the losses. After all, you cannot proceed with your compensation claim by holding a particular party responsible for your loved one's death. Below is a review of the parties that should be held accountable.
The Car's Driver
In most car accident cases, drivers are usually the primary parties responsible for any damages that result from the accident. Independent or contract drivers are accountable for their injuries since they rely on their insurance coverage in their services. Therefore, if an independent driver caused your loved one's death, you can hold him or her responsible for all wrongful death damages.
The Vehicle's Owner
The vehicle owner can be held responsible for wrongful death if the liable driver was his or her employer or knew that the driver is prone to making errors. For instance, if the owner loaned the vehicle to a known alcoholic with a suspended driver's license, this might put him or her liable for the accident.
If your loved one died in a truck accident, the trucking company responsible for hiring the driver could be held liable for the wrongful death. Trucking companies should keep their trucks in good condition and must thoroughly evaluate their drivers from time to time. Therefore, if the accident's cause can be linked to negligence, this makes them liable for your loved one's wrongful death.
Other Drivers on the Road
Other drivers can be held liable for wrongful death if their actions contributed to the accident that your loved one was a victim. For instance, if one driver causes a rear-end accident causing the lead vehicle to surge, leading to the death of your family member, the driver at the rear should be held responsible.
The government agency responsible for maintaining roadways and traffic devices can also contribute to an accident. For example, if the accident occurred due to a missing stop sign, the agency responsible for its existence should bear the liability. You can also hold a government agency responsible for the wrongful death if it resulted from its failure to maintain the road.
The Vehicle's Manufacturer or Spare Parts Supplier
Vehicles manufacturers or spare part suppliers could be liable for wrongful death if the accident that led to the death resulted from a defective part of the vehicle. A faulty vehicle can lead to a severe accident, especially if it is crucial for its movement.
Showing Connection Between the Car Accident and the Death of Your Loved One
Your loved one’s death should be connected to your loved one's death to be eligible for a compensation claim. Several ways can be used to prove that the car accident was responsible for the demise of your loved one. The kind of evidence that your attorney can use is as follows.
Once a fatal accident occurs, the police must attend the scene and write a report about the accident. This would be a valuable piece of evidence that would help you connect the car accident and your loved one’s wrongful death. Police reports usually describe everything related to the accident and point out the police's view on who is responsible for the accident. Evidence such as skid marks would be suitable to determine if the alleged at-fault party should be held accountable for your loved one's wrongful death.
Testimonies from Eye Witnesses
Testimonies from eyewitnesses can be another crucial evidence that can be used to link a car accident and a wrongful death. That's why car accident victims are required to take contact information of all witnesses involved in a car accident for future reference even after their death. Eyewitnesses can describe how the car accident occurred under oath and have the evidence accepted in court.
Doctors are expected to write a report detailing everything that they know about their car accident patients. Their records should explain how the victims were admitted into their hospitals and their treatment process until their demise. The medical records should accurately show that your loved one succumbed to the injuries sustained in the accident to make them acceptable.
Photo and Video Footage of the Accident
Modern vehicles have dash cameras and rear cameras that can record everything that occurs around them. Therefore, if your attorney can retrieve the video footage of your loved one's vehicle, they can prove that the accident was the cause of his or her death.
You can also rely on traffic footage to prove that the accident was responsible for your loved one's wrongful death. Your attorney can access the footage from the department responsible for the maintenance of your state's highways.
An autopsy report usually details how a person dies and factors that contributed to his or her death. When pathologists carry out an autopsy, they examine the victim's internal parts and make standard inspections to determine death cause. The evidence obtained from the autopsy should prove the cause of death, even when the vehicular accident victim died months or weeks ago.
Expert Witness Report
Expert witness reports can be reliable in proving that your loved one wrongful death resulted from a car accident. Different kinds of witness experts may be used depending on the nature of the accident. These experts include doctors, coroners, economists, and accident reconstructionists. Your attorney should find suitable expert witnesses to show a connection between the car accident and your loved one's demise.
Proving That the Other Party's Negligence Led to Your Loved One’s Death
Most wrongful deaths in a car accident usually result from negligence from the at-fault party. Therefore, you should prove that the liable party had a duty of care to your loved one, and he or she breached the duty of care.
While you are implying that the liable party owed a duty of care to your loved one, they should have acted in due caution to ensure every road users' safety. For instance, a driver should follow all traffic rules to show his or her duty of care. Vehicle companies and state agencies should also maintain their vehicles and roads in good condition to ensure that they are safe enough for their users.
While implying that the liable party breached his or her duty of care, you need to prove how a specific aspect led to the car accident. Therefore, most of the causes of car accidents prove that the at-fault party should bear the liability of wrongful death. These causes are as follows.
Drivers often become distracted behind the wheel. In just five seconds, a car traveling at an average of 55 miles per hour can cause a severe accident within five seconds if the driver is distracted by something. Distracted driving includes more than a cell phone use and can include other aspects such as:
- Putting on a makeup
- Eating or drinking behind the food
- Conversing with someone else, especially your children
- Adjusting the radio or temperature control
- Reaching out to something that you dropped in the vehicle
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence is another common cause of a car accident. Taking more drinks causes a higher blood alcohol content, interfering with a driver’s decision-making, reflexes, and fine motor skills. If the driver continues taking more drinks, he or she might end up struggling with tunnel vision. Drunk drivers have a high likelihood of making the wrong decisions while behind the road, increasing the chances of causing an accident with everyone around. Besides alcohol, drivers might be impaired by taking drugs and using both prescribed and non-prescribed drugs.
Like driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, drowsy driving can significantly impact a driver's ability to control a vehicle. Drowsy drivers might fall asleep behind the wheel, leaving them out of control of their vehicles, increasing the possibility of causing an accident.
Speeding or Aggressive Driving
When a driver is speeding, there are greater possibilities of causing an accident. High speed means a more significant force is exerted on both vehicles during the collision. If the speeding vehicle is of substantial weight and size, such as a truck, it can cause severe injuries and possibly death.
Failure to Maintain the Vehicle
Vehicles must be regularly maintained to maintain optimal services. Small damage can cause a significant accident if it is ignored. It would help if you established whether the car accident was due to failed maintenance to decide who is faulty. In this case, you can hold the vehicle's owner or the company responsible for its maintenance.
Defective Spare Parts
Sometimes the cause of a car accident can be traced back to the vehicle's manufacturer or spare parts' supplier when a car accident results from a defective spare part. Holding a vehicle's manufacturer liable for wrongful death is tedious, hence engaging a professional attorney to help you in the claiming process is essential.
Proving Your Dependency on the Decedent
As stated earlier, specific people are eligible for filing a wrongful death claim after a car accident. These particular people are legally referred to as survivors. In California, wrongful death survivors include the following.
The Decedent's Spouse
You would be considered legally dependent on a wrongful death victim if you were legally married at the time of the death. You can also seek compensation even if you were separated or divorced at the time of the accident. A surviving spouse cannot be denied compensation even after remarrying.
The Decedent's Children
Biological or adoptive children may file a wrongful death compensation claim if their parent dies in a car accident. The same is true for stepchildren as long as they prove that they were financially dependent on the decedent at the time of the death.
Minors who lived with the deceased for at least 180 days before the death and relied on them for a minimum of 50% of their financial support can also have a claim, even if they are not legal children.
The Decedent's Parent
You can recover compensation after losing a minor or adult child. Parents can also bring a claim on their adult children if they can demonstrate that they were financially dependent on their children.
The Decedent's Putative Spouse
Under California law, a putative spouse is eligible for a wrongful death claim. A putative spouse is someone who is believed to be married in good faith, given that the person's reliance on the decedent is in good-faith belief. This is different from a ceremonial or statutory marriage that is common in most legal situations.
Other Heirs to the Decedent
If no spouse or child survived with the decedent, other family members considered to be heirs under California intestacy laws could file a wrongful death claim. Heirs are people who can legally inherit a deceased person if he or she died without a will.
A Personal Representative of the Decedent's Estate
Sometimes a representative of the decedent's estate can file a wrongful death claim as highlighted in the decedent's will. If there is no will, the court usually appoints a close family member to participate as the survivor.
Identifying and Proving Damages Incurred in Wrongful Death
In California, surviving family members can recover both economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses include those damages that have a monetary value. Non-economic losses are damages that do not have a monetary value. Here is a closer look at the common damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death claim.
Financial Support Provided by the Decedent
If the wrongful death victim was a breadwinner to their family, the surviving family member could recover the financial support provided by him or her. Calculating financial support can be challenging since there are many factors to take into account. This includes:
- The age of the decedent and the number of years that expected to work
- The decedent's skills and abilities
- Inflation and how wages would have been adjusted over the years
- Retirement benefits
You should seek the help of an economic expert to estimate the amount that you should recover.
Funeral and Burial Expenses
Funeral and burial expenses represent all expenses incurred while burying your loved one after a wrongful death. These expenses should be reasonable before they are recovered in a wrongful death case. In California, courts will look to the decedent's estate condition during the funeral expenses to determine whether they are reasonable. Therefore, you expect a large estate to incur significant funeral expenses while a small estate incurs a lower funeral expense.
If a deceased was responsible for household expenses, the surviving member could seek compensation in a wrongful death suit. The surviving family member should provide a reasonable amount of the costs incurred in running the day-to-day activities while seeking compensation for the losses incurred due to their loved one's death.
Loss of the Victim’s Support and Companionship
Loss of the victim's support and companionship is one of the non-economic damages that a survivor can recover. There is no specific formula that indicates a dollar amount in this case. However, juries should use the best judgment and common sense to arrive at a reasonable figure. Loss of the victim's support and companionship can only be proven through the survivors’ statements and the impact that the death has on them.
Loss of Training and Guidance
Loss of training and guidance is another non-economic damage that is recoverable in a wrongful death suit. Loss of training and guidance is close to loss of companionship, and the survivor should give testimonies on how the victim's death led to this damage.
Punitive damages are types of recoverable losses meant to punish a liable party for gross negligence or malicious actions. In California, survivors can recover economic and non-economic damages. Still, they cannot recover punitive damages despite the level of how gross was the conduct that led to the death.
Survivor Action Lawsuit
Usually, a surviving family member can combine a wrongful death lawsuit with a survivor's action. A wrongful death lawsuit often compensates a surviving family member for their losses, but a survivor lawsuit sues the at-fault party on behalf of the decedent's estate.
The decedent's estate can be compensated for two kinds of losses. This includes claims unrelated to the death which the decedent had to sue before his or her death. It also involves claims for injuries sustained in the accident that led to the death of the decedent.
Typically, survivor actions can help the survivors recover economic damages such as:
- Medical bills incurred due to the wrongful act
- Damages to the deceased's property during the wrongful act
- Wages lost by the deceased between the date of the wrongful act and death
The estate cannot recover damages for pain and suffering in a survivor cause and a wrongful death claim. However, punitive damages are recoverable in survivor actions, unlike wrongful death lawsuits. For the court to award punitive damage in the survivor action, the decedent should have sustained some monetary damages before his or her death, however minimal.
Statute of Limitations in California Car Accident Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In California, wrongful death lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations. The clock starts running on the date of the victim's death. That's why you should seek legal counsel soon after the accident. Two years are too long to gather evidence and develop a strong legal case against the defendant.
If the statute of limitations has passed, this does entirely mean that the survivors cannot bring a wrongful death lawsuit or survivor cause to court. There are circumstances such as failure to discover that the victim’s death can toll the case beyond the two-year limit.
Find a Wrongful Death Attorney Near Me
After a loved one’s death, it is normal to feel angry, depressed, and worried about your future. Therefore, you should focus on spending time with your family instead of worrying about the claim compensation process. At Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney, we have an excellent understanding of the California justice system. We will offer the best legal services as you focus on healing and following up on other important processes. Our car accident attorney will evaluate your case’s facts and develop a strategy that will help obtain the best outcome. Contact us today at 424-237-3600 for an immediate consultation.