A person’s reckless behavior or negligence can cause the death of another person. In California, the surviving family members are allowed by law to file for compensation for their loved one's wrongful death. Even though monetary compensation is never enough to compensate for the loss of a loved one, the money can go a long way in helping the family cater for the funeral and burial expenses. It could also help cover some of the costs taken care of by the deceased before the family can forge a way forward.
Therefore, if you are in Los Angeles, CA, and you have lost your loved one in a car accident caused by another person's negligence, you need the best legal help to get the compensation you deserve. At Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney, we could help you prepare a compelling case against the at-fault party to ensure a win.
Understanding California Wrongful Death Law
All manner of injuries can come out of a car accident, including bodily injuries and death. While an injured person has chances of recovery, one who loses their life will be gone forever. That is why the wrongful death of a person is treated with great concern in California. The existence of wrongful death law in the state gives comfort to a grieving family that they can at least recover something after losing a loved one in another's hands. As provided under Section 377.60 of the state's Code of Civil Procedure, the law ensures that the family can recover damages if they can prove that the death of their loved one was as a result of another’s negligence.
A devastating car accident comes with significant loss to all those involved. So much property is damaged, including vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, and other stuff caught up in the accident. The causes of car accidents have to be determined. Suppose it is established that a person was negligent or careless and that their negligence or a reckless act caused an accident. In that case, that person is held responsible for the resulting damages. Damages are awarded based on the extent of the injuries others have suffered. If lives have been lost, then the extent of damages to recover will be more massive on the at-fault party.
The death of a person brings great loss to the family. It means that the family will never get to enjoy the company and support of the deceased. That is why California has apparent wrongful death laws meant to guide the surviving family as they seek compensation for the loss of a loved one. Experienced personal accident attorneys are also available to help the grieving family pursue compensation with the insurance company or civil court. Though most of these cases are settled out of court, others are determined in civil courts. Therefore, it is crucial to know the processes and procedures involved if you consider filing a similar lawsuit in California.
Wrongful death cases are very similar to those regarding the loss of consortium. People who file claims for loss of consortium lose the intimacy and companionship of their spouse or domestic partner because of another person's wrongful act. The types of damages these partners include in their claims are almost the same as those you can consider in your wrongful death claim. The difference is mainly in the amounts and also the nature of the two cases. A partner filing for wrongful death claims in a civil court has no hope of recovering what they have lost in the future, unlike one who has temporarily lost the companionship of a loved one.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in California?
California Wrongful Death Law only allows certain people in the deceased person’s family to pursue compensation for their loved one's wrongful death. They are:
The surviving spouse
The domestic partner
His/her grandchildren if the children of the deceased person are also deceased
Minor children, for instance, his/her stepchildren. This is only allowed if those minor children depend on the deceased person for at least half of their monetary support.
Any other person who might be included in the deceased person's will as their heir under the state's property laws of intestate succession
Anyone bringing a lawsuit against the alleged at-fault party will be expected to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident to ascertain that indeed the death of their loved one was based on gross negligence, negligence, intentional wrongful acts of recklessness.
Who Can Be Sued?
California law requires drivers and other road users to be careful while using public roads for their safety and the safety of others. There are guidelines in place, as well as traffic rules that should be adhered to. However, most road users are not careful enough, and they end up causing accidents in which people are injured and properties destroyed. While some accidents are just minor and the affected quickly recover from them, others are fatal. A fatal accident will not be swiftly dismissed because the families of those who lose their lives will need to get justice for their loss.
A wrongful death claim will come by when a person dies as a result of another person’s negligence. As mentioned above, every road user owes another a duty of care. If that duty is breached and a person is injured, the responsible person will be held accountable for the resulting damages. It is never the wish of a person to cause another's death, but one's careless actions could claim a life or lives.
For instance, a speeding driver can cause an accident in which people could lose their lives. That is why careless acts, such as speeding, are not allowed in California. If the driver's actions were the direct cause of another's death, the driver would be expected to compensate the deceased person's family for their loss.
Other careless acts that could cause a driver to be held responsible for the wrongful death include:
Distractive driving: Distractions are many on the road, and may include people or things outside the vehicle, mobile devices, and other gadgets in the car. Talking or texting on the phone while driving is a distraction that most drivers are guilty of.
Drunk Driving: An intoxicated driver is at a greater risk of causing an accident than one who is sober. Drunk driving is, in fact, among the most common causes of vehicle accidents in the state. An intoxicated driver is never thoroughly conscious of his/her surroundings and can cause a devastating accident.
Reckless Driving: Recklessness shows a driver’s disregard for the safety of others. It could be manifested in several ways, including running a red light. Most reckless drivers end up causing an accident. If a person is killed in an accident like that, the careless driver will be held responsible.
Other than drivers, the government, too, could be held responsible for a person's wrongful death. In cases where the accident's cause is attributed to bad roads or unclear road signs, the state or civil government could be sued if a person lost their lives in the accident.
Vehicle manufacturers could also be sued for a person's wrongful death if a vehicle accident was attributed to a mechanical problem in the vehicle or a faulty vehicle part.
Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
After determining the cause of the accident and the at-fault party, the surviving family can now pursue compensation for their loss. This can happen in two ways: by following it up with the at-fault party's insurance company or filing a civil court lawsuit. A case in which a driver is an at-fault party will involve pursuing compensation through his/her auto insurer. The issue can be settled out of court, or it can proceed to a civil court where a judge will give a ruling. The help of an experienced car accident attorney will be needed to ensure that the right legal procedure is followed.
The types of damages a person can include in the claim are determined by the losses they have experienced after their kin's death. The losses are basically what the surviving family would reasonably have expected to get from the deceased had he/she lived. Compensatory damages in a case like this will include both monetary and non-monetary losses.
These damages cover all the financial losses the family has suffered after the wrongful death of their loved one. There are several economic losses a family incurs after the death of their loved one. The ones you could include in your claim are:
Medical Expenses: These damages will cover all the expenses the family incurred in the payment of medical services and other hospital-related bills after the accident. If the deceased was rushed to the emergency room before his/her demise, or he/she received any form of medical treatment, the amount of money the family paid for all that will be considered. Medical expenses incurred after the death of their loved one will be considered as well.
Funeral and Burial Costs: The family will also need compensation for the money they spent on their loved one’s funeral and burial. The expenses here will include the services and products paid for, including embalming, casket, grave liners, burial vaults, and preservation products, among others. The family is also allowed to include other minor expenses they paid out of pocket during that period, including transport and catering costs.
Lost Earnings: If the deceased were of an income-earning age, all the earning he/she has would have made up to that period will be considered. This is so mostly if there were dependents. If he/she was a parent or guardian, the children will have lost the source of their livelihood and may have suffered from no income for that period.
Lost earnings will also include the amount of money/fortune the deceased person would have made in the future to cater to the needs of his/her dependents. The court will want to ensure that the dead person's family is well-taken care of, at least until they seek an alternative income source. The deceased's financial support would have given his/her family will be carefully determined to come up with a reasonable amount the family can use for that period.
Lost inheritance: The death of that person may have taken away the only chance his/her heirs had of inheriting something in the future. Thus, all the gifts and benefits the family would have expected from him/her in the future would be considered, and a monetary amount allocated to it.
You need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you come up with a complete list of all economic damages you may have lost due to the wrongful death of your loved one.
These include all other losses the family has incurred, whose value does not have a dollar amount attached. These losses include:
Love and Affection: You may not be able to evaluate the amount of love lost after the death of a loved one, but that does not mean that love no longer matters. Love and affection are fundamental, and their loss is significant. No amount of money can equate to the love a person gives. However, receiving some form of compensation provides the family with some comfort and the ability to cater to a part of their needs.
Companionship: The death of a person who was a friend, a child, partner, or parent comes as a significant blow to all those whom he/she was related to. In essence, this is a person who provided companionship to many people at different levels. Everyone who lost a companionship would deserve compensation if his/her death were a fault of another person.
Pain and suffering: Losing someone significant comes with a lot of pain and suffering. The loss of, say, a spouse, parent, child, or domestic partner will be with you for the rest of your life. No amount of money can compensate you for a significant loss like that. That is why you should include damages for your pain and suffering in your claim. The money you will receive will not take away your pain or suffering, but it will help you cater to your needs.
Sexual relations: This is important for a person who has lost their spouse or domestic partner. Losing a life partner could mean spending the rest of your life in solitude.
Other non-monetary losses include the nurturing the deceased person would have provided if he/she had survived the accident, their protection, moral support, guidance, and training. The law does not provide a specific list of non-monetary losses or the amount of money a person can include in each damage type. The judge will award an amount he/she thinks is reasonable enough, based on common sense and the evidence presented in court.
Again, it helps to work with an experienced personal injury attorney in a case like this. A good lawyer will make a solid case out of the suffering the family experienced after their loved one's death. This may help you recover an even higher amount for the non-monetary damages.
How Are The Amounts Determined?
There is usually no set amount for the damages allowed in a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Plaintiffs have to come up with a rough estimate of an amount they feel is worth their loss and then wait for the court's decision. While it is possible to develop a rough estimate of the amount for economic damages, amounts for non-monetary losses are usually tricky to set.
To substantiate the family's economic damages, an experienced attorney can use verifiable data, which may include receipts, doctor's reports, and expert witness. He/she will gather all documents and receipts, and any information that could be used to show the exact amount of money the family has lost.
But for non-economic damages, the highly experienced attorney will have to express the emotional distress, desolation, inconvenience, and the pain and suffering the family has gone through after the loss of their loved one. He/she has to convince the court why the family deserves compensation for the non-economic damages included in the claim, and why the amounts awarded in the lawsuit and justifiable. The court may/may not grant all the damages included in the claim. The judge will make a decision depending on the evidence gathered against the alleged at-fault party.
Can One Recover Punitive Damages?
The court usually awards punitive damages in most personal injury cases. They are given as punishment to the wrongdoer and a caution to others who may act the same as the wrongdoer. However, they are never awarded in wrongful death lawsuits. It means that the deceased person's heirs will not recover more damages than the monetary and non-monetary losses included in their claim. The only exemption is if the death occurred as a consequence of felony homicide, and the defendant was convicted for the offense.
However, punitive damages could be available through survival action, a lawsuit that could be filed on behalf of the deceased person's estate by his/her heirs. In California, wrongful death claims are, from time to time, combined with survival actions, as provided under Section 377.30 of California law of Civil Procedure. A wrongful death lawsuit will allow close family members to claim compensation for their loss. In contrast, a survival action will allow the deceased person's heirs to sue the at-fault party on behalf of his/her estate.
A survival action will compensate the dead person’s estate two main types of losses:
Losses not related to his/her death which the deceased person had the right to file a claim for as at the date of their death
Losses related to the injuries that led to the demise of the deceased person. These will apply if the deceased person survived the accident for, at least, a few minutes or hours before his/her death.
Survival actions could be complicated, and so, the deceased person's heirs will need the help of an experienced attorney to guide them through the legal process. The good thing about these lawsuits is that they come with a chance for the family to recover punitive damages. The good thing is that California's wrongful death law allows families to file for both types of lawsuits to maximize their compensation.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California
The statute of limitations provided by California law for wrongful death lawsuits is two years. This is the time limit within which the surviving family can file a claim in court for the loss of their loved one. The two years deadline starts from the date of death.
The law also gives the deceased person's heirs a two-year timeline to file a survival action on behalf of the deceased person's estate. In this case, the two-year period will run from the date of the accident or six months after the death.
It is advisable to hire an experienced attorney immediately after the wrongful death of your loved one. It will ensure that he/she has enough time to prepare a strong case against the alleged at-fault party before the deadline. Once the time limit passes, the family will lose their right to file the lawsuit in a civil court.
Find a Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney Near Me
It is very painful to lose a loved one because of the careless acts of another person. That is why California law allows the surviving family to file a lawsuit against the negligent person to recover compensation for their loss. However, the family will have to go through a complicated legal battle to recover compensation. It becomes easy and fast when you engage the help of an experienced attorney. At the Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney, we are offering competent legal services to family members who would like to pursue compensation for their kin's wrongful death. Call us at 424-237-3600 if you are in Los Angeles, CA, and let us help you get the compensation you deserve.