Lost a loved one in an accident? Call our Sacramento wrongful death lawyers now to get the help you need.
A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the negligent, careless, intentional or reckless act of another person or entity.
Most violence-related fatal injuries are the result of intentional or reckless acts, and the perpetrator can be held both criminally culpable and civilly liable for the death.It’s important to note that the fatal injury does not have to be caused intentionally in order to establish fault. In California, the “strict liability” rule applies to wrongful death lawsuits.
For example, in the case of an accidental death caused by a faulty product, plaintiffs don’t have to prove the manufacturer put the product on the market with the knowledge that is was defective. If a person is fatally injured because a property owner failed to maintain that property, the property owner as well as the person responsible for the maintenance may be legally at fault, even though they didn’t intend for anyone to be injured.
Strict liability applies to anyone who causes a fatal accident, including individuals, companies and government agencies.
When someone dies due to the fault of another person or entity, the survivors of the victim may be able to bring a wrongful death claim in pursuit of compensation for the survivors’ damages, such as funeral expenses, lost earnings from the deceased, and lost companionship.
Wrongful death claims can also be made against:
- Public agencies
- Cities or the state
- A city jail or a state prison
- A state-run or private hospital
- Public companies
- Nursing homes or other care facilities
The standard of proof that any of the above caused the death of a person must be shown by what is called a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt, as is the case in a criminal lawsuit.
Extremely negligent acts that result in someone’s death can be used as grounds to file a Sacramento wrongful death lawsuit. Similarly, if the victim’s death was the direct result of a deliberate act, this, too, constitutes grounds for filing a claim. In some instances, a wrongful death lawsuit is the only opportunity for families and dependents to seek restitution, since a company, city or the State of California cannot be charged with murder.
Conditions vary from state to state, but in California, the people who can make a wrongful death claim include:
- The surviving spouse or domestic partner
- The victim’s children
- The offspring of deceased children
- The persons who would be entitled to the property of the deceased if the victim had died without a will
- People who were dependents of the victim, including:
- Any minor who had resided with the victim for at least six months prior to death, and who was dependent on the deceased for at least 50 percent of their support
However, who are “family members” as defined by that law? What if there is no immediate family or even extended family? Can friends file wrongful death suits? Once we begin to explore these questions, we see that the initial query is not as strange as it seems.
Wrongful death occurs under a variety of circumstances. For example, a death from a car accident may be classified as a wrongful death or it may simply be classified as a personal injury, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Just as death from an auto accident is not automatically classified as wrongful death, other types of accidents are not always wrongful death cases, either.
The California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 377.60, defines the people who can benefit from a wrongful death case. They are, more or less in order of precedence, the surviving spouse or domestic partner*, the children, and grandchildren of the victim. If there are no surviving relatives of this description, then the person on people who would normally inherit under the deceased person’s will could bring a wrongful death lawsuit, in the following order: Parents, whether or not they were dependent; siblings or children of deceased siblings; grandparents;and children of a deceased spouse. If none of these relatives exist, then the next of kin may file a wrongful death suit.
A wrongful death victim’s personal representative can also bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the individuals listed above. A personal representative is a person appointed by the probate court to handle the wrongful death victim’s assets, or estate. When proceeds are received from the wrongful death suit, they may be distributed by the personal representative according to the wrongful death statute.
Problems arise when there are more than one dependent or relatives who are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim and only one of them wants to do so. In these cases, it is sometimes necessary to bring the matter to a court’s attention prior to the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit. In other cases, the parties can amicably agree on the way to handle the situation.
No matter how complicated the relationships between the people who might be entitled to file a claim for accidental death, a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer can help. A professional attorney who has experience handling these types of cases can be an invaluable asset not only in handling the claim itself, but in negotiating and dealing with relatives whose interests may conflict. It is very important that you consult an attorney who has experience in handling these types of lawsuits in order for you to get the very best legal advice and the person with the most experience to handle your claim.
*Domestic partners are defined as people who are “registered” domestic partners; those who share a lease, mortgage, insurance plan, or other financial ties with the deceased person and who lived with him or her prior to the accident.
In most cases, a claim must be filed by an adult – either a parent, step-parent or guardian. However, if you are under 18 and the sole surviving family member, you may be permitted to file the case yourself, although the court may choose to appoint a guardian instead. If you are a minor thinking about filing a wrongful death suit, contact Demas Law Group, P.C., and one our personal injury attorneys can explain your legal options free of charge.
A settlement (or verdict award) in a wrongful death case is comprised of two elements: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages that can be claimed include:
- Financial support that the deceased would have contributed during either the life expectancy of the victim or the claimant, whichever is shorter.
- The loss of gifts or benefits that the claimant would have expected to receive from the victim.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Any household service the deceased may have provided to the claimant.
Non-economic damages can include the following:
- The loss of the deceased’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection and society.
- The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations, if applicable.
- The loss of the training and guidance of the victim, if applicable.
Some very important elements that one cannot get compensated for are grief, sorrow and mental anguish. Please note that non-economic damages in a wrongful death case depend heavily on the quality of the relationship between the claimant and the deceased. The nature of the relationship can be proved through letters, emails, photographs, videos, and witnesses. Wrongful death cases can be very complex and very few injury attorneys, including experienced ones, have the knowledge and ability to present compelling and pertinent evidence. Demas Law Group, P.C., has experience in successfully representing wrongful death claims.
Damages that can be recovered in wrongful death lawsuits are many and varied, and this is just one of the reasons why anyone contemplating filing a California wrongful death lawsuit should acquire the services of an experienced wrongful death attorney. Proving the levels of income and support that have been lost can often depend on expert testimony and complex calculations. Lost income alone can include:
- Lost wages that the deceased could have reasonably been expected to earn during the course of his life expectancy
- Bonuses, benefits and pensions
- Increased income due to the promotions that the deceased could reasonably have been expected to be given
- Gifts and other fringe benefits the deceased could have reasonably expected to receive in the course of his career
After that, your attorney must also show the effects in terms of loss of companionship is worth in dollar terms. This requires skill and experience, and is just one more reason to hire the best wrongful death attorney you can find.
Yes. In cases where wrongful death is of a child, parents will mostly recover non-economic damages, like those related to loss of love and affection. Economic damages may also be pursued. California law does limit damages a parent can claim for the death of their child.
Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.34, monetary recovery is limited for any loss or damage that the child suffered before death. This means California law gives parents the right to sue for any punitive damages (damages that financially punish the party that caused the child’s death to help keep the action from happening again). The only claims a parent can’t sue for are the child’s actual pain and suffering they would’ve experienced had they lived.
When determining the types of damages a surviving parent may pursue, these are the things to consider:
- Loss of child’s love and companionship
- Cost of healthcare and hospitalization which were required because of the defendant’s negligence that caused the child’s death
- Cost of the funeral and burial
- Reasonable cost of psychiatric or psychological counseling incurred by the surviving parents and minor siblings as a result of the child’s death
- Child’s uninsured debts, including debts that the parent was required to pay on the child’s behalf
- Loss of child’s services
No amount of compensation can ever bring the child back. But, a wrongful death suit can help healing begin.
Whether a lawsuit can be brought for someone who dies while at work depends on who is responsible for the death. If an employee dies at work and the death was caused by an employer or a co-employee, a personal injury lawsuit cannot be filed against the co-employee or the employer. However, heirs may still recover workers’ compensation benefits, as provided by law.When an employee is killed on the job by a third party’s negligence, then a wrongful death claim can be brought by the legal heirs. This is a very complex area of law, especially if the death occurred at a construction site and general contractors and subcontractors are involved. Consulting with our wrongful death lawyers at Demas Law Group, P.C., is strongly recommended.
In most cases, you have two years from the date of the fatality to file a wrongful death lawsuit. There are some important exceptions to this law. For example, if the defendant is a government agency, you must file a complaint with that agency within the first six months in order to later file a lawsuit. Please consult with one of our wrongful death attorneys regarding the Statute of Limitations for your case.
Demas Law Group, P.C., has a long track record of securing six- and seven-figure awards for clients. In wrongful death cases, how much each individual case is worth depends on the extent of economic and non-economic damages that have been caused by the wrongful death. We take the same approach to every case – we are dedicated to securing the best settlement possible for your claim.
Yes. Wrongful death cases can be extremely complex and require exceptional preparation in order to be successful. Determining the fair value of economic and non-economic damages you’ve been deprived of requires professional skill and expertise. The many tasks involved in reaching that determination can involve the following legal actions:
- Conducting a sophisticated analysis of the decedent’s life expectancy
- Calculating lost wages and benefits
- Establishing the value of non-economic damages such as loss of love, companionship and intimacy
- If there are many claimants in a case, a probate estate may have to be established
- If the case doesn’t settle before trial, the case may need to be proved before a jury
There are of course many other legal actions required in any wrongful death suit. Rather than go down this potential legal minefield on your own, consider contacting an experienced wrongful death attorney at Demas Law Group, P.C.
Losing a loved one in a preventable accident can be one of the most difficult experiences to endure. But you do not have to go through it alone. Reach out to the compassionate Sacramento injury attorneys at Demas Law Group, P.C., to receive the high quality representation you need to overcome your legal and financial struggles following the passing of your loved one. To discuss your case with one of our dedicated legal team members, call (916) 444-0100.
Yes, the evidence in your favor may be overwhelming, but wrongful death claims are very different from personal injury lawsuits, and it’s the things you might not know that could ultimately cost you tens of thousands of dollars. For example:
If the drunk driver was in a company car or supposedly at work, you could sue his company or employer as well. Did you know that?
The statute of limitations on California wrongful death claims is very strict, and if you miss the deadline for filing the lawsuit, your case has no chance of succeeding, regardless of the validity of your claim. Do you know what the statute of limitations is? Do you know how to actually go about filing a claim?
Wrongful death lawsuits in California allow for the recovery of damages including the income your partner would have been likely to earn over his or her lifetime. Do you know how to calculate that income, including bonuses, commissions, gifts from the company, pensions, etc.? Expert testimony will be required to substantiate this part of your claim. Do you know where to find these experts, and how much will they charge to testify on your behalf?
Wrongful death lawsuits also provide for compensation for loss of companionship. Do you know how to put a dollar figure on loss of companionship, and do you really want to have to stand up in court and make a statement to that effect to a jury of strangers?
What if you find out later on that the traffic lights at the intersection just might have been faulty, and both the drunk driver and your partner just might have had green lights? If the lawyer for the insurance company defending your claim brought this up in court, how would you deal with it? Also, if that was the case, you would have had an opportunity to sue the city or county responsible for maintaining those lights, in which case even stricter statutes of limitation would apply.
Then what happens when your partner’s ex-wife or husband shows up and wants a cut of your claim, either for themselves or for the children they had with your partner? Do you know if they can make a separate claim, or are they entitled to anything at all?
Each and every one of these questions are answered by Sacramento wrongful death attorneys on a regular basis, and the fact is, anyone proceeding with a wrongful death claim without proper legal representation is taking a huge and unnecessary risk with their future and that of the rest of their family. Even with an “open-and-shut” case, unless you know all the technicalities involved in making a wrongful death claim – the paperwork required, the time limits, all potential parties against whom you could be making your claim, where to find the experts needed to validate your claim, and so on, ad infinitum – you are literally walking around dollars to save cents.
Another factor you may want to consider is that insurance companies are notoriously difficult to deal with in such cases, because wrongful death awards can amount to extremely large sums of money. If an insurance company sees an individual making a wrongful death claim without legal representation, it’s like waving a pork chop in front of a hungry wolf. They’d be delighted, because they know the chances of paying a hugely reduced sum of money have just been greatly increased.
What’s more, if it does go to court (again, all the more likely if you don’t have a good wrongful death attorney on your side from the very beginning), the insurance company will have hired expert witnesses and aggressive lawyers who will try their best to undermine your entire case. They honestly don’t care about being fair. It is their job to save their stockholders money by paying you as little as possible, regardless of how badly you’ve been affected.
Even the simplest and most straightforward of lawsuits is complex enough because of the way the judicial system is structured. And there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – simple or straightforward about a wrongful death claim.
If the worst has happened, and you have lost a partner, a provider, a companion and one of your children’s parents, don’t allow the future to become any more uncertain than it already has. Give yourselves the best chance of at least a secure financial future by securing the services of someone who has all the answers to the questions asked above. Contact an experienced and reputable Sacramento wrongful death attorney for a free consultation.
A good Sacramento attorney will explain the entire process to you and guide you through the options, time limits and potential outcomes. They will also be able to source the expert testimony, carry out additional investigations into the crash, file the necessary paperwork, and make a convincing appeal to the jury on your behalf. As a result, you will have a greatly improved chance of getting the compensation you and your family deserves, and which you will need to face the years ahead.
We provide free, comprehensive, and confidential consultations to prospective clients. Call our office or submit an online contact form and we will be with you quickly to serve all your legal needs.
Some helpful resources are listed below:
- You may wish to order our book on coping with the loss of a loved one in a fatal injury accident – available free with no obligation: View All Books By John Demas
- The Centers for Disease Control run an excellent website that includes helpful information on fatal injury accidents: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html
- The website eHow offers this excellent guide to coping with accidental death: http://www.ehow.com/how_8087224_cope-accidental-death.html.
This literature may be considered attorney advertising or an offer of professional services, according to rule 1-400 Rules of Professional Conduct by the State Bar of California. The information does not constitute a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the outcome of your potential legal matter.