How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California?

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California?

In California, if you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person or party, you may be entitled to wrongful death damages for your losses. However, before the court will award financial compensation, you must be able to prove negligence, which typically requires the help of a California wrongful death attorney.

What is a Wrongful Death Suit?

A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit brought against another party when it is believed that their negligence caused the death of a loved one. This can include car accidents, premises liability accidents, medical malpractice, and nursing home abuse and neglect.

However, it’s important to understand that wrongful death lawsuits should not be confused with criminal cases. Criminal cases aim to punish the guilty party for causing death, such as by issuing a prison sentence. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases, which means the purpose is to hold the guilty party financially liable for the losses suffered by the deceased’s family members.

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California Cases?

To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you must be able to prove that the party you are filing the claim against did, in fact, act negligently and that their negligence was the direct cause of the death that occurred.

Specifically, these three factors must be present for you to pursue a wrongful death claim:

  1. A loved one or family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child, must have suffered injuries that contributed to their death.
  2. Their injuries must have been the result of someone else’s negligence.
  3. The injuries caused by the negligent party must have been the cause of death.

For example, if your loved one died in a car accident, and you are filing a lawsuit against another driver, you must be able to prove that the driver’s negligent actions are what caused the accident and, therefore, the death. Evidence that you could use to prove this, for example, could include showing that the driver was speeding or driving while texting on their cell phone.

There are four elements of negligence that you must prove to win your wrongful death case:

  1. Duty of Care: To win your case, you must first prove that the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care. Drivers, for example, have a duty to obey the laws and operate their vehicles with care to protect themselves and others around them — this is their duty of care.
  2. Breach of Duty: After you have established that the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care, you must prove that they breached this duty. If the incident was a car accident, then you can prove this by showing that the driver disobeyed the law in some way, such as by running a red light.
  3. Causation: Once you have proven there was a breach of duty, you must show that the breach of duty directly caused the death. So if the driver ran a red light and crashed into your loved one, you must show that this is what caused their death. If your loved one died due to other causes unrelated to the accident, then you cannot hold the defendant liable.
  4. Damages: Finally, to recover financial compensation, you must prove that as a result of the death, you or other family members suffered losses. These must be tangible financial losses. While you can recover compensation for emotional losses, you must also have suffered financial losses to win your case, such as lost income that the deceased provided and funeral expenses.

Intentional Harm in Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death cases generally involve negligence, which is viewed as an unintentional cause of harm. For example, if someone runs a red light, they are not purposely doing so with the intent to cause an accident and kill someone.

However, there are some cases where the guilty party might have acted with the intention of harming your loved one. If this is true, and you can prove it, it constitutes felony homicide. And in felony homicide cases, you can seek punitive damages in addition to other damages, which are specifically awarded as a way to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing.

Calculating Wrongful Death Damages

Damages awarded for wrongful death lawsuits can vary. First, the court must decide who is entitled to compensation. According to California civil code, there are limitations on which family members can make a wrongful death claim and recover compensation. Those eligible include:

  • Surviving spouses
  • Surviving domestic partners
  • Surviving children or step-children
  • Surviving parents
  • Surviving siblings
  • Surviving dependents

Once it is determined which loved ones are eligible to receive compensation, the court will evaluate the various losses suffered by the parties.

Such losses or damages that loved ones can recover compensation for can include:

  • Funeral or burial expenses
  • Medical expenses from the treatment of the loved one before they died
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of love and companionship
  • Loss of household services
  • Loss of parental guidance
  • Loss of childcare

Once all of these factors have been taken into consideration, the court will calculate death damages to arrive at a settlement amount. That settlement will then be distributed to the entitled family members or loved ones. If a family member or loved one is not eligible to receive the money, then the settlement will be placed into the estate of the deceased or given to the personal representative of the estate, and from there the funds can be distributed as the estate representative sees fit.

Survival Action Cases vs. Wrongful Death Cases

In some situations, it may also be possible to file a survival action to recover compensation for the damages the deceased loved one suffered before they died. For example, if they were injured but survived for a period of time before they finally passed away from their injuries, you could file a survival action claim for the suffering they experienced during that period, such as their physical pain & suffering, and even their medical expenses.

You can only recover damages from that short period between when the accident occurred and when they died, however. This is different than a wrongful death claim in that a survival action is for the damages suffered by your deceased loved one, whereas wrongful death claims are for damages suffered by you or other potential surviving loved ones.

Survival action claims, however, are not always worth the effort. If your loved one died almost immediately or within a few hours of the accident, then there are likely not enough damages suffered to make the claim worth the effort. However, if the deceased loved one had substantial assets and their estate is going to be liable for outrageous medical bills, then you would likely want to make a survival action claim to ensure the estate remains complete.

Additionally, if the accident and death were caused by a drunk driver, you may be able to seek punitive damages, which could be awarded through a survival action but not through a wrongful death claim. In this case, a survival action might be the right course of action to take.

If you aren’t sure whether or not you should pursue a survival action in addition to a wrongful death claim, your attorney can offer you guidance and help you determine the best move to make.

Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers: California Pedestrian and Wrongful Death Attorneys

If you have lost a loved one in California due to someone else’s negligent actions, our team can assist you in filing your claim. We understand how devastating the loss of a loved one can be and are here to help.

Call our San Francisco wrongful death lawyers at 877-380-8852 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation.

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It is essential to know your rights after a traffic accident so you can protect yourself and the value of your claim.
This guide will help you:

  • 1Know what to do when dealing with insurance claims, police reports and lawyers.
  • 2Avoid making mistakes that undermine the value of your claim
  • 3Put yourself in a position to get the best settlement possible