When a family member is tragically and unexpectedly killed in an accident, the devastation is felt in so many ways. There's the psychological and emotional trauma that comes from the shock of losing a parent, sibling, child, spouse or partner. As well as dealing with that level of distress, the financial impact can leave entire families reeling for decades to come.
When you combine all that with the added pain that is felt when a loved one’s death was caused by someone else's negligent or even intentional behavior, the anguish is almost unimaginable and can leave entire families languishing in despair.
In California, the official definition of a wrongful death is one that occurs "when a person dies due to the negligent, careless, intentional or reckless act of another person or entity." While nothing can replace the life that has been so cruelly snatched away, those left behind do have certain legal means available to them to ensure they don’t suffer long-term financial difficulties on top of the emotional trauma already experienced.
To prove a wrongful death claim requires an almost unfair level of attention to the case from as soon after the fatal incident as possible. Beyond any doubt whatever, anyone in California contemplating a wrongful death lawsuit should make it their first order of duty to find an experienced and reputable wrongful death attorney, someone who can act quickly to preserve vital evidence and identify all possible defendants. These are two essential elements in proving a wrongful death claim.
Only certain individuals related to the victim can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Ask your attorney if you’re in any doubt, but as a rule, only the following (in order of priority) can make a wrongful death claim:
If no one who survived the victim falls into any of the categories listed above, then under laws of intestate succession, the following potential heirs of a victim’s estate may be entitled to make a wrongful death claim:
Clearly, this is a complicated area and another reason it’s a good idea to retain an experienced attorney. Simply having a knowledgeable lawyer dealing with the case can prevent a great deal of “in-fighting” and bad blood between members of the victim’s extended family.
Wrongful death lawsuits require an inordinate amount of skillful preparation, investigation and presentation if they are to succeed. Insurance companies who may be joined in a wrongful death lawsuit will vigorously defend such claims due to the potential for extremely large awards.
An experienced wrongful death attorney will help you make a number of difficult decisions and deal with complex legal issues, including:
In California, juries are allowed to take a number of factors into consideration when deciding on a dollar amount in a wrongful death lawsuit. In general, compensation for economic losses can be based on:
California juries are also allowed under law to award monetary compensation for certain non-economic losses in a wrongful death claim, including:
Finally, punitive damages may also be awarded in certain instances, like if the victim survived the incident, even briefly, before their death, or if the victim’s property was damaged or lost before they died.
California juries are prohibited from considering or making awards based on the grief, sorrow or mental anguish of the claimant. They are also not allowed to take into consideration how much money the claimant has or hasn’t got.
Clearly, a California wrongful death claim is a legal minefield, full of booby traps and pitfalls, and it’s an area into which no inexperienced person should travel. However, a wrongful death lawsuit may be your absolute entitlement if a loved one was taken from you through another’s negligence or deliberate act. In addition, you and the rest of the family that has been left behind may need the compensation that can be gained from a wrongful death lawsuit just to survive the years that lie ahead.
Do not delay. If you are considering making a California wrongful death claim, contact a vastly experienced Sacramento wrongful death attorney for a free consultation. They will listen to your story with a sympathetic ear, and then set about getting you and your family the compensation you need and deserve.