The wrongful death of a loved one is one of the most devastating things someone can ever experience. Suddenly the person you loved so much is gone because of someone else’s irresponsibility.
These tragic situations often arise from traffic accidents where a driver did something negligent on the road – something like drunk driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, or failing to follow California’s traffic laws. And ultimately, someone loses their life too soon.
On this page, the team at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers is sharing some helpful information about how you can take action after a wrongful death in the San Francisco Bay area. We’re here to help you seek compensation and place the responsibility where it belongs after the loss of your loved one.Get Started With A FREE CASE EVALUATION
Wrongful death the term for someone being killed by the negligence or wrongdoing of another person. Depending on the circumstances, certain family members may be entitled to compensation for the pain, suffering, and loss of income that arose from the person’s death.
A wrongful death action is a legal action on behalf of the heirs or relations of the deceased. California law recognizes that heirs and relatives of those who die wrongfully are deprived of income, love, and companionship from the person they lost.
Your wrongful death accident claim allows you to start the process of recovering compensation for these losses. Although it comes at a challenging time in your life, you’ll be glad later that you did everything you could to create a secure future for yourself and your family.
Three factors must be present to pursue a wrongful death claim.
This may lead you to wonder: What qualifies as negligence?
Negligence is simply a failure to take proper care or precautions to protect oneself and others from harm. In a San Francisco car accident wrongful death claim, negligence could be something as simple as a driver failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It could also be as complicated as a mechanic improperly repairing a brake system, which later fails and leads to someone’s death.
A wrongful death action can be brought by anyone who has had a close loved one die because of negligence of another person. However, there’s limitations on which family members can make the claim. Those who were dependent on the deceased person, which normally includes their children, surviving spouse, or in some cases, their parents can almost always file a wrongful death lawsuit. Step-children, siblings, and others may have the standing to bring a claim, depending on the situation. Even if the surviving relative(s) was not “dependent” on the deceased person, they can bring a wrongful death claim if they had a close relationship with the decedent.
The California Wrongful Death Statute, which is covered under 377.60 through 377.62 of the Civil Code, states that legal proceedings after the death of an individual can be initiated by:
While such 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. Legal guardians may also qualify for wrongful death claims in certain situations.
Here are some examples:
An unmarried domestic partner or putative spouse often has legal standing to bring a wrongful death action in California. However, a non-cohabiting friend of the deceased may have a more difficult path to proving they have the legal standing it takes.
The outcome may hinge upon who survives the deceased and who would be entitled to the property of the decedent in terms of the legal process of intestate succession. This is a complex area of the law and you should seek the input of an experienced California wrongful death lawyer.
The loss of a child is something no parent ever wants to endure. Generally speaking, a parent can make a wrongful death claim against a person who caused their child’s death if the parents are the sole surviving legal heirs.
However, there is no clear answer about parents suing for wrongful death when their child has a surviving spouse and/or children. Each situation has specific circumstances that may impact the wrongful death claim’s success.
Although the courts look favorably on parents having standing to sue in general, if the deceased person is an adult who had their own children/heirs, things become complicated enough that you should definitely contact a California wrongful death attorney to discuss your options in this situation.
While it’s terrible to think of losing a loved one in terms of the dollars and cents, many people don’t truly understand the financial impact that the unexpected death of a spouse or parent can have on a family until it’s too late.
Among married-couple families with children, about 97% have at least one employed adult and 64% have two employed adults. Losing either of these income earners can have a devastating impact on the family’s quality of life.
An average household in San Francisco could stand to lose about $58,000 per year in annual income when a wage-earner is lost in an accident. Could you handle losing most or all of your annual household income?
In addition, you’re also losing important aspects of your shared life together, like:
After such a life-changing loss, you shouldn’t be worrying about keeping a roof overhead and food on the table. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit in San Francisco after a severe traffic accident can help you compensate for your financial loss and help keep your family living as comfortably as possible.
Accident victims with a lawyer receive an average of 3.5 times more than those who are unrepresented.
Wrongful death claims recover economic and non-economic damages for the surviving family member(s). Recoverable damages can include, but are not limited to:
Additional damages may be recoverable if a survival action is brought in coordination with the wrongful death claim.
Punitive damages are intended to punish someone for their actions. Punitive damages are usually not applicable in a California wrongful death case but may apply to a different type of claim known as a survival action.
Insurance policies typically exclude liability for punitive damages, so you would need to file a lawsuit against the driver personally if they have the assets to cover a judgment. Your lawyer can help you understand how this works.
A survival action is a case that can be brought if the decedent survived for some period of time after the accident – even if it was just hours. A survival action is a claim that is brought for damages suffered by the decedent, not the surviving family member(s). Typically, a survival action is for compensation for the decedent’s medical expenses, pain and suffering (as set out in CCP § 377.34) and loss of earnings.
But, those damages are limited to the period of time between the accident and the death. So, if they only lived for a week, you would make a survival action for their medical expenses, for their loss of earnings for that one week that they survived. A wrongful death case, on the other hand, as described above, is for the damages suffered by the surviving family member(s).
It doesn’t always make sense to bring a survival action. For example, if someone is in a terrible car crash and is rendered immediately unconscious but survives for a few hours at the hospital, they may have exorbitant medical expenses, but really not much in the way of pain and suffering damages since they were unconscious at the moment of impact. So, the survival action would mostly only be a claim for their medical costs. If they had health insurance that paid for the medical costs, that insurance company would seek to be paid back the amount they paid for the treatment. Plus, the lawyer would want to get a percentage of the amount recovered. The entire survival claim may just get “eaten up” by costs and fees, so it would not make sense in that scenario.
However, if the decedent had substantial assets and their estate is going to be liable for the outrageous medical bills, the heirs (or the estate representative) would want to make a survival claim so the estate stays complete and the heirs all receive the money they were supposed to receive from the estate.
Also, if the driver who caused the crash was drunk, punitive damages (which are not available in a wrongful death lawsuit) could be awarded, so making a survival claim might be the right call.
It can be quite complicated as to whether you want to bring a survival action or not and that is why you want to seek a consultation from a wrongful death attorney to determine whether a survival action is the right move or not.
Auto accidents are one of the most common causes of wrongful death actions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that approximately 37,000 to 40,000 people die in car accidents in the U.S. every year.
Many of these result in actions against negligent drivers, but some deal with defects in the manufacturing/design of the car that cause or contribute to crashes. Surviving family members may be able to seek financial compensation from a motorist, a pedestrian, a commercial truck driver or their employer, a government agency, an automobile manufacturer, or another involved party.
In most cases, the courts have upheld immunity for officers involved in high-speed chases, meaning in California it’s very difficult to win a wrongful death claim against the police. This police immunity has been upheld in cases that have reached as high as the Supreme Court.
California Vehicle Code Section 17004 states:
“A public employee is not liable for civil damages on account of personal injury to or death of any person or damage to property resulting from the operation, in the line of duty, of an authorized emergency vehicle while responding to an emergency call or when in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm or other emergency call.”
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A wrongful death attorney helps you start an investigation into the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. They also handle communications with the opposing party, which is a difficult and emotionally-charged task in the aftermath of a death.
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In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is 2 years. So if the date of death (not the date of the accident, if that date is different) was any longer ago than that, it’s very unlikely that you could bring a claim.
Maybe the street was repaved since your loved one died in a skid-related accident. Or maybe the road in question has been completely torn out and replaced with a new highway since then. That’s okay.
Don’t worry if the physical location of your loved one’s death has changed in the time that has elapsed since your loved one died. Technology offers many innovative ways to see and recreate the scene of a traffic accident.
For example, Google Earth captures views of places all around the world. The Wayback Machine preserves old information in an internet archive. WhatWasThere offers old views of streets and sidewalks. The Weather Channel preserves the weather reports for exact dates, which is helpful in fatal car crashes.
As you can see, an experienced wrongful death lawyer knows much more than just the law. They are also experienced accident investigators who know how to access the right technology to support a wrongful death case.
Yes, even if someone was acquitted of a crime related to the death of your loved one, you can still bring a wrongful death claim. In fact, since the standard of proof in a wrongful death claim is less stringent than it is for criminal cases, there’s a good chance that someone could be acquitted of murder or manslaughter and still be found liable for wrongful death.
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"I am happy to say that Rebecca and her team successfully settled my case and I received a financial settlement that was fair and actually for more than what was expected. I happily and wholeheartedly recommend Rebecca and Carmen at Sally Morin Law."
The timeframes for these cases have a lot of variation, so we can’t predict how long it will take until we do a free case evaluation with you. Generally speaking, a wrongful death case takes between several months and several years to resolve. Wrongful death cases involving only emotional damage claims can sometimes take longer than the ones where you're making economic damages for loss of earnings and support.
Numerous factors influence how long your case may take, and most of them are beyond your and your lawyer’s control:
We give our total focus to clients who are seriously injured in accidents and those who are experiencing the painful aftermath of wrongful death. Our expertise is securing high-dollar compensation for people whose lives have been totally shaken up by the negligence of others.
We handle a wide variety of wrongful death situations that involve:
Complete Guide on what to do after an accident in San Francisco
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Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers is an all female team of customer-focused, five-star California personal injury attorneys who exclusively handle traffic accident settlement negotiation. They have California offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland.