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Wrongful Death Claims: What to Know

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A wrongful death claim allows the victim’s family to sue for damages when a person dies due to someone else’s wrongful act regardless of whether it was intentional or unintentional. 

Different states may have varying laws involving wrongful death claims. In California, California Law Section 377.60 states that wrongful death is “the death of a person from the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

If your loved one died because of someone else’s negligence, you must immediately file a wrongful death claim. Each state follows a “statute of limitations,” indicating how long you have to file a wrongful death claim. In California, the statute of limitations states that you generally have two years from the date of the loved one’s death to file for a wrongful death claim. However, there are certain scenarios where this time frame may be different.

  • If the wrongful death occurs as part of medical error or medical malpractice, then the statute of limitations is extended to three years.
  • If a government entity, such as a Los Angeles city vehicle, caused the wrongful death, then the claim must be filed within six months of the injury.

What can be considered a wrongful death? 

A wrongful death happens when another party is responsible for the victim’s death, regardless of whether it was intentional or unintentional. Wrongful deaths can be any of the following: 

  • Intentional acts – This includes murder, manslaughter, and other reckless conduct. However, there is an exception to this rule. If it were proven that the case was a justifiable homicide, which means the victim was killed due to self-defense, it would not be considered a wrongful act. 
  • Negligent driving – This can include car accidents and reckless driving such as running a red light, driving at an unsafe speed, texting, and driving, drunk driving, or others. 
  • Failure to maintain safe premises – People who invite others into their homes and business owners who open their stores or offices to the public have a responsibility to keep the premises safe. If a deadly fall could have been prevented by replacing a missing handrail or if electrocution results from faulty wiring, the property owner or manager can be held responsible.
  • Medical malpractice – This happens when a physician fails to properly diagnose a patient with the condition that could have been treated, such as cancer. This may also include surgeon errors during an operation. 
  • Unsafe products – Unsafe products can include drugs that haven’t been tested properly by pharmaceutical companies or food that was not adequately inspected or properly prepared. 
  • Work-related deaths – This includes victims that died while working on the job. Worker’s compensation laws usually regulate the majority of workplaces in California. Still, if a fatality occurs at work due to a third party, wrongful death laws may apply.

Who can file a wrongful death claim? 

Only the deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children may file the claim.

If these people do not exist, anyone “entitled to the property of the decedent” may file the claim. This could include the person’s parents or siblings. If the decedent’s parents, stepchildren, or putative spouse can prove that they are financially dependent on the person, the courts may allow these parties to file the claim.

What damages can you recover from a wrongful death claim? 

A wrongful death claim will allow the victim’s survivors to recover compensatory damages. There are generally two types of damages you can get, economic damages and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages 

Economic damages are tangible losses. They can be any of the following: 

  • The financial support the deceased would have contributed to the family during their lifetimes;
  • The loss of gifts or benefits the heirs could have expected to receive from the deceased;
  • Funeral and burial expenses; and
  • The reasonable value of household services the deceased would have provided.

Non-Economic damages

On the other hand, non-economic damages are damages that don’t have any physical manifestations. There is no definitive standard for deciding the amount of non-economic damages in California. Non-economic damages may include the following: 

  • Society and companionship,
  • Protection,
  • Affection,
  • Moral support,
  • Training and guidance, and
  • Sexual relations

According to the California state jury instructions (CACI No. 3921), there is no single, fully objective formula for calculating non-economic damages in a wrongful death claim. Instead, the legal system instructs each jury member to “decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence and your common sense.”

The courts may award compensation for all of these intangible losses, as well as for tangible damages like funeral and burial expenses or the decedent’s accident-related medical care up until the time of death. A wrongful death claim can provide an important source of financial relief for loved ones the decedent left behind.

Wrongful death claims can be complicated to deal with. This is why it is important to seek the assistance of experienced California wrongful death lawyers

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