California law allows the surviving relatives or heirs of deceased car accident victims to seek compensation for their loved ones' wrongful deaths. A wrongful death claim in California arises when an individual dies due to another person’s negligence or wrongful act. Under California law, a wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. It’s presented to court directly by the deceased person’s estate, personal representative, or by other eligible survivors of the deceased. If the lawsuit is successful, the court may order the liable party in the car accident to pay the deceased’s survivors.
Essentially, this law helps you recover compensation if your loved one dies due to another person's wrongful acts. If you have lost your loved one in California due to another person’s negligence, the Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney can help you file a wrongful death claim.
Steps to Follow When Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
If your loved one dies in a car accident due to another party's negligence, the steps you should follow to seek compensation for the damages are:
Hire a Competent Attorney
After losing your loved one in a car accident due to another person’s negligence, you might wonder what to do next. In situations of anger and bitterness following a car accident, it’s normal to experience a feeling of confusion. Even amidst the pain, it’s essential to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages for your loved one's loss.
You have the option of filing a lawsuit without involving an attorney, but this is not a good idea. It’s advisable to work with a competent car accident attorney. This is because a single mistake is all it takes to water down your wrongful death claim efforts. Your attorney will guide you through the legal process and assist you to know which procedures to follow. He or she also comes in handy in determining whether you are eligible to file a wrongful death claim. An attorney will raise your chance of receiving compensation and help protect your rights. He or she will also advise you on what you should expect from the court.
Insurance companies often use dirty tricks to deny the claimants their deserved compensation. They use claim investigators to frustrate the claimants’ efforts to seek compensation. You should not attempt to face the car accident investigators on your own. Their main aim is to maximize the insurance companies profit by reducing the claimants’ compensation. Car accident attorneys are aware of the tricks used by claim investigators and will ensure that you receive justice for your loved one.
In California, not every attorney can represent you in a wrongful death case and help you receive compensation for the loss of your loved one. Some of the qualities you should look for in a wrongful death attorney are:
Before choosing an attorney to help you file a wrongful death claim, you should do some research. You should be confident that the attorney will provide success, expertise, and the care you need. You should only seek assistance from an attorney with a positive reputation in the society. An attorney of great repute is competent, professional, and has a record of accomplishment and positive client reviews. A reputable attorney will increase your chances of winning as you seek compensation for your loved ones' loss in wrongful death.
Puts Your Interests First
A reasonable attorney will have your best interests at heart and will do anything to ensure you receive reasonable compensation. An attorney should put your interests above the profits that he or she will receive from representing you. The attorney should treat your situation with sensitivity and compassion. He or she should have empathy and demonstrate a genuine interest in your claim, instead of focusing on the money he or she will make from your case. Your attorney should also keep your records or conversations private and confidential.
A good attorney should have vast experience in filing wrongful death claims. You should look for an experienced attorney in the general legal field and, in particular, wrongful death. Experience is crucial because it enables an attorney to handle the insurance company with the firmness and clarity required to win you the deserved compensation. Your attorney’s experience may play a vital role as he or she takes your case to court and negotiates with the insurance company and other liable parties.
Determine Your Eligibility to File for a Claim
If your loved one dies tragically in a car accident due to another person's negligence, naturally, you want justice for him or her through legal action. However, under California law, not everyone qualifies to come forward and seek compensation for wrongful death. Under California civil law procedure 377.60, only particular individuals qualify to seek compensation for their loved ones' wrongful death. The qualifying individuals are:
Children of the Deceased
You may seek compensation for wrongful death if you lose your adoptive or biological parent in a car accident due to another party's negligence. The stepchildren also qualify for the same if they provide evidence that the deceased was their financial supporter at the time of death. Even if they are not legal children, the minors who rely on the deceased for at least 50% of financial support can seek compensation. However, they should have stayed with the deceased for at least 18 days before his or her demise.
Parents of the Deceased
Under California law, you have the right to seek compensation for wrongful death if you lose your adult child or minor child with no descendants. If parents can prove beyond doubt that they depended on their child financially, they can present a claim in court.
Spouse of the Deceased
You have the right to seek compensation for wrongful death in California if you are the deceased's surviving spouse. Under California law, putative spouses and domestic partners are eligible for compensation. An individual who believes that they were in a valid marriage with the deceased is a putative spouse. A spouse has a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit if he or she relied on the deceased person financially and believes they were married.
According to California's intestacy laws, other relatives who are the deceased’s heirs also have the right to seek compensation for wrongful death. The law only allows this if no child or spouse survives the deceased.
There might be several individuals qualifying to seek compensation for a wrongful death case. Potential defendants could become unruly, and it might be challenging for a single attorney to represent all the qualified beneficiaries without an ethical conflict. Therefore, it's upon the court's discretion to simplify the case by allowing the deceased person's estate representative to file the claim on behalf of all eligible members. If an award or a settlement is obtained, the personal representative can distribute the compensation equitably to the survivors.
Comply With the Statute of Limitations
To file a wrongful death claim successfully, you need to comply with the Statute of Limitations. In California, a Statute of Limitations outlines the time within which a person should file a lawsuit. The Statute of Limitations for wrongful death in California is two years from the date the person dies. You may not have a hearing on your case's merits if you fail to file a wrongful death lawsuit within this Statute of Limitations.
However, you could seek an exemption from filing a case within the time outlined in the Statute of Limitations based on California's discovery rule. The actual cause of an individual’s death may have been apparent at the time of his or her passing. You may only have come to learn about the cause of your loved one's wrongful death later. In this situation, the court may extend the period for filing the wrongful death claim. You could therefore have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit if the discovery rule applies.
In most cases, the court will give you two years from when you discovered the real cause of your loved one’s death. Your attorney will come in handy to help you understand more about the exemptions provided under California’s discovery rule.
If the car accident happened because of poor road conditions, you could file a claim against the government department responsible for road maintenance. If you are filing a wrongful death claim against the government department, then a different time limit will apply. You will have six months to file a claim against the government department from the time your loved one passed on.
The Statute of Limitations could give a longer if a child below 18 years intends a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of his or her parents in a car accident. The Statute of Limitations will be two years from when the child attains 18 years of age. For instance, a parent may die in a negligent car accident, but a twelve-year-old son survives the parent. The son does not have to file a wrongful death claim before he turns 18 years. The law allows him to wait until he attains 18 years to file the wrongful death claim. Therefore, more extended statutes of limitations will apply.
If you wait too long before filing a wrongful death claim, you will have to rush the claim process. The insurance adjusters could take advantage of you if they realize that you have limited time to file the claim. The adjusters will offer you much less compensation than what you deserve. By filing your claim on time, you will have ample time to negotiate for reasonable compensation.
Prove the Defendant’s Negligence
To receive compensation for your loved one's wrongful death in a car accident, you need proof of negligence against the liable party. In your evidence, all the elements of negligence must be apparent such as:
It should be evident that the breach of duty of care caused the accident, which led to the death of your loved one
It must be apparent that the deceased’s death caused losses to you and other claimants
The liable party owed the deceased a duty of care
The liable party breached his or her duty of care to the deceased
When a car accident occurs, many people assume that the driver is to blame for the accident. However, this is not always the case. The wrongful death of your loved one could have occurred due to the negligence of different parties. Some of the parties against which you can file a wrongful death claim are:
The Vehicle Driver
Drivers owe other road users a duty of care while on the road. A driver who is driving recklessly, not paying attention, drunk, talking on the phone, or texting on the phone, may cause a car accident. If you lose your loved one in a car accident because of a negligent driver, you have the right to sue him or her to compensate you for the loss of your loved one.
In California, most accidents involve vehicles owned by companies. Companies have an obligation under the law to exercise care when maintaining vehicles and while recruiting their drivers. If a company exercises negligence while employing drivers or fails to maintain their vehicles properly, they will be liable in an accident. If you lose your loved one in a car accident due to a vehicle company’s negligence, you can seek compensation for wrongful death with your attorney's help.
Auto Parts Manufacturers
At times, a car accident may occur due to defective vehicle parts. There are many car accidents caused by defective parts in California, and these accidents are always fatal. With your car accident attorney's help, you may sue the auto parts manufacturer for compensation if you lose your loved one in a car accident due to faulty vehicle parts.
Most car accidents occur due to poor road maintenance, improper signage, and other dangerous conditions that government departments are liable for. If your loved one dies in a car accident caused by potholes on the road, you can file a claim against the government. The poor road conditions should have existed for a long time without repair. You can contact a competent attorney to help you seek compensation for your loved one's wrongful death due to the government’s road department’s failure.
Determine the Extent of Damages
Under California law, compensation for wrongful death damages aims to compensate the deceased's relatives and heirs for the value of the support he or she could have given them while alive. The compensatory damages you could receive are both non-economic and economic. When determining the extent of damages, the court considers several factors:
The life expectancy of the plaintiff at the time of the wrongful death
The deceased life expectancy at the time of the wrongful death
The deceased survivor’s or heirs could receive non-economic damages after the loss of their loved ones:
Children could receive compensation for the loss of training or guidance that their parent could have provided
Relatives could receive compensation for the loss of companionship and love of the deceased
The domestic partner or spouse could be compensated for of enjoyment of sexual relations he or she had with the deceased
There's no fixed standard for calculating the amount of non-economic damages in California's wrongful death lawsuit. It’s upon the court's discretion to decide on the just and fair amount you receive based on common sense and your evidence. Your attorney may also help you decide on a reasonable figure based on past similar car accident cases he or she could have handled.
It’s important to note that you cannot recover non-economic damages for sorrow, grief, suffering, pain, or emotional distress caused by your loved one's death. You can file a separate claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and a claim of wrongful death against the same liable party.
In California, a wrongful death lawsuit does not seek to compensate a deceased person for his or her loss and suffering before he or she passes on. The lawsuit only seeks to compensate the heirs and close relatives for the loss of their loved one.
Economic damages are the most significant compensatory damages you can pursue in a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, the economic damages you could receive compensation for after filing a wrongful death claim of your loved one are:
The number of household services you could have received from the deceased
The burial and funeral expenses
The loss of benefits or gifts the heirs could have received from the deceased
The financial support the deceased could have given to the family during their lifetime
In California, economic damages are determined based on losses you incur after losing your loved one in wrongful death. For instance, you are required to sum up funeral and burial expenses and then present it to the court. You must keep a record of all essential expenses incurred in the wrongful death. If your lawsuit succeeds, the jury will incorporate all economic damages into one final value that the liable party must pay you.
Note that California law considers only reasonable expenses. If you waste money on non-essentials or organize a lavish memorial service, you may then receive only a portion of those expenses.
On the other hand, it’s substantially complicated to determine future financial support you lose due to your loved one's wrongful death. In this case, your attorney seeks an economic specialist's assistance to determine future financial support you lost due to the deceased’s death. The economic specialist will be required to present the total amount to the court. The jury will then sum up the level of damages that the liable party must pay you.
Don’t Yield to Social Pressure
It is socially acceptable in California to seek compensation after losing your loved one in a wrongful death due to another person's negligence. However, after losing your loved one in a car accident, some family members may still be hesitant to file a claim. Some family members fail to seek compensation for fear of seeming as if they are part of the compensation culture. You may also fear that your friends and co-workers might have a negative perception against you. Most insurance companies may attempt to give you this perception to prevent you from filing a claim.
The rationale behind the wrongful death claim is to help you recover from the grief of losing your loved one. Therefore, don’t hesitate about filing a claim or fear of how individuals in the family and the community will perceive you. In California, it’s your legal right to file a claim after losing your loved one in a car accident due to another party's negligence. You should never feel ashamed for exercising your right as stipulated in California law.
Create a Good Impression
The amount that the insurance adjuster will present to you for losing your loved one in a wrongful death will depend on the impression you create. The amount of compensation will also depend on the liable party’s assumption of how the court will handle the case if it proceeds to trial.
In California, courts make judgments regarding accident compensation based on the available information during the court proceedings. It’s essential to make an effort to be polite and respectful at all times. These minor gestures could make the liable parties feel that the court will be sympathetic to you and give a higher compensation for your loved one's loss. This effort could make the liable parties give you reasonable compensation and suggest that you settle the case out of court.
Find a Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney Near Me
It can be painful to lose a loved one in a car accident due to another party's negligence. Most survivors often have to bear with financial and emotional damages of this sorrowful event. With the assistance of a competent attorney, you can pursue compensation for your loved one's wrongful death. If you are in California, Los Angeles Car Accident Attorney can assist you in seeking compensation. Contact us at 424-237-3600 and speak to one of our attorneys.