Anyone who has experienced the death of a close loved one due to someone else’s negligence has felt a particular kind of sorrow. Your grief is mixed with anger at a negligent person, not to mention plenty of confusion and worry about the future.
What if you suddenly lost your spouse or domestic partner? What if your child is gone because of someone’s irresponsibility? You may have the legal standing to bring a wrongful death suit, although some limitations may apply.
In California, Certain People Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit
Not every loved one of a deceased person is eligible to make a wrongful death claim. The California Wrongful Death Statute, which is covered under 377.60 through 377.62 of the California Civil Code, states that legal proceedings in response to the death of an individual can be initiated by:
- Surviving spouses
- Surviving domestic partners
- Surviving children
- Surviving dependents
Generally speaking, there’s an order in which family members have priority for claims. It’s similar to if someone passes without having a will or a trust in place and intestate succession sets forth rules of order.
So, for instance, if the person was married, their children can’t necessarily make the claim, nor could the mother or brother. This option goes to the spouse according to the rules, then others in the line of descent.
There’s a separate statute set out for wrongful death claims. If you have a close family member who passed at the hands of another person, wrongful death is most likely something you can bring, and if it’s not you, it could be one of your other family members. This is why you’d want to consult with a wrongful death attorney to find out if you are the person to make the claim or if it’s someone else in your family.
In Some Cases, Parents or Other Parties May Qualify
While wrongful death claims in San Francisco are most often filed by surviving spouses, any of the parties mentioned above may have the legal right to do so. In fact, at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we handled a case where a mother filed a wrongful death claim for the loss of her unmarried 40-year old son.
However, only one wrongful death action may be pursued in any given case. There’s also a time limit of two years after which no wrongful death claim may be made.
So talk to a wrongful death attorney to clarify which circumstances may make you eligible or ineligible to start a suit. Again, if it’s not you, it could be another family member and you don’t want them to lose the chance to start a lawsuit on behalf of the entire family.
Meeting the Conditions for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Certain elements must be present in each San Francisco wrongful death case. First, the death must have been directly attributable to a certain individual. It doesn’t mean that this person intended to kill your loved one, but their action or inaction must have directly led to your loved one’s death.
There are many circumstances where wrongful deaths occur. The negligent party could be someone who drives drunk and kills your spouse in a car accident, a distracted Uber driver who runs over your sister on the sidewalk, or even a lousy mechanic failing to repair an automobile correctly and causing your parents’ death.
Next, you have to prove that you have suffered a quantifiable loss from the person’s death. Although this sounds harsh, the law says losing a loved one alone isn’t enough. You must prove that you lost one or more of the following things:
- Direct financial support through a paycheck or disbursement
- Physical support, like yard work and household assistance
- Emotional support
- Love and affection
- Care and comfort
- Social benefits
If you can indeed prove a loss described above, you may also be able to prove the loss of consortium, although it can’t be claimed alone. Loss of consortium involves losing the benefits of a spousal relationship like moral support and intimacy.
Another condition of proving a wrongful death lawsuit is building an overwhelming pile of evidence that supports your claims. That evidence can include:
- Physical evidence like accident scene photographs, video surveillance, broken machine parts, and other physical objects
- Documentation like mechanic’s inspection records, public records, and medical reports
- Statements from eyewitnesses, whistleblowers, or even the at-fault party themselves
If you can establish all of the points above, you may have the standing and the proof you need to navigate a successful wrongful death lawsuit. But we strenuously urge you not to do it alone in a chaotic time while you’re still grieving. You need legal help.
During a difficult time, hiring a wrongful death lawyer comes as a huge relief. At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, have a reputation for securing much-needed compensation for families in wrongful death lawsuits. We’re here to handle your case with skill and care.
“Thank you Sally Morin for taking good care of me. I called Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers after being involved in a car accident– an accident that that left me broken emotionally and physically. When Lauren said she will work on my case, I felt so relieved. She’s very compassionate, honest and very professional. Lauren negotiated with the insurance companies while I focused on getting better. After hours of therapy sessions, my left humerus is now the strongest bone. I’ve never felt so empowered knowing that there are people out there who will fight for us “little guys.” Again, thank you Sally and Lauren… You FIERCE ladies helped me get my inner strength back. You are both beautiful and amazing!!!” – Vivien A.
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Which kind of compensation can be recovered in wrongful death cases? Is something that is quite different than normal personal injury cases. When you bring a wrongful death action, you are bringing a claim for yourself. You’re not bringing a claim on behalf of the deceased family member. You are bringing a claim for your losses. Your losses that are compensable under a wrongful death claim are those of financial support, emotional support, companionship, any gifts that the decedent would give you on a regular basis. I’ve had a lot of wrongful death cases where there wasn’t the financial support element. Let’s say you’re a non-working spouse and your working spouse is killed in an accident. You obviously have a very large component to damages with regards to the decedent’s loss of earnings, so that’s a big economic component. Let’s say, for instance, in a case I had where it was a single mother who was only survived by an adult son, who was like 40. The mother didn’t contribute financially to the son but they had a very tight emotional relationship. The damages that he recovered were loss of her companionship, her mentorship and some more emotional damages. There wasn’t any financial loss, it was all an emotional loss. So that’s important to know. If you were very dependent on the person who passed for financial support, those claims are pretty easy to make because you have documentation of what they made and how they supported the family. However, if you don’t have that, then you need to have a lot of documentation, which is strange, of your relationship with that person. Because those are the damages now you’ll be claiming. You’ll be claiming, “Well, my mother and I had such a close relationship,” and it’s really crazy, but the other side will be like, “Well, do you have any letters or emails or things like that, that show how that relationship was?” It can get pretty ugly. The other side will dig into how good the relationship was or try and point out things, trouble in the relationships.So, it’s very important to get a wrongful death attorney on the case as soon as possible, so that you can avoid dealing with that sort of thing from the other side.