Coping with the death of a loved one can be especially difficult when the loss was the preventable result of another’s negligence. A wrongful death lawsuit allows surviving family members to pursue the financial security they need to move forward with their lives.
The Scott Carr Law Firm serves clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. We are dedicated to helping surviving family members recover compensation to deal with funeral expenses, medical bills, and other costs. If you are concerned that a family member’s death may have been caused by someone’s negligence or reckless actions, contact our San Francisco office at 415-799-2229.
What Does California Consider “Wrongful Death”?
Under the California Code of Civil Procedure, a death may be considered “wrongful” if it was the result of negligence or recklessness. A death caused by an intentional wrongful act can also qualify as wrongful death. Here are some examples:
- Medical malpractice
- Car accidents (including DUI)
- Elder abuse or neglect
- Slip-and-fall accidents
There may be other situations that count as wrongful death. In some cases (e.g. murder) the defendant may be brought up on criminal charges.
California also has a “strict liability” law that relates to deaths from defective products and dog attacks. In these circumstances, the defendant may still be considered liable even if they were not found to be negligent.
Who Is Eligible to Initiate a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
The California Code of Civil Procedure provides details on who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state. According to this law, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in one of these circumstances:
- If you are a surviving family member: spouse, domestic partner, child, or grandchild (if the deceased person’s children are also deceased)
- If you are a minor who was dependent on the deceased person for at least half of your financial support (e.g. a stepchild)
- If you are someone who would be entitled to the deceased person’s property via succession
If the liable party faced criminal charges for the incident, you may still initiate a wrongful death suit. The outcome of the criminal trial does not necessarily affect the civil case; a defendant can be found liable even if they were acquitted of criminal charges.
Wrongful Death Cases and Damages
In a wrongful death suit, California law allows you to seek compensation in the form of economic and non-economic damages. California does not have a cap on damages that can be awarded.
Economic damages are based on related expenses and what the survivors/heirs could have expected to receive from the deceased person if they had lived:
- Funeral expenses
- Medical expenses relating to care right before death
- The value of household services the deceased person provided
- Gifts that heirs could have expected to receive
- The value of money the deceased person would have earned
You can also pursue non-economic damages, which are intended to compensate for the loss of the deceased person:
- Sexual relations
- Moral support
You can also seek non-economic damages for the deceased person’s pain and suffering. The jury decides the amount of non-economic damages to award.
Survival Action and Punitive Damages
Under California law, heirs cannot recover punitive damages, unless the wrongful death suit is for a felony homicide and the defendant was convicted. However, survivors may initiate a “survival action” to sue for punitive damages on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.
A survival action is intended to provide compensation to the deceased person’s estate for two factors:
- The injury that caused the death, if the person survived it for some length of time
- An unrelated legal claim that the deceased person would have had the right to sue for
Survival actions are extremely complicated and are best discussed with an experienced attorney.
Do You Need to Hire an Attorney?
California law does not require you to hire a lawyer in a wrongful death suit. However, there are many potential benefits to doing so.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be complex, especially when it comes to building a case to prove the defendant’s liability. Additionally, California has a statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits: two years. A lawyer can help you understand whether you are eligible to file a wrongful death suit and help you build a case efficiently so you can file within the statute of limitations.
The Scott Carr Law Firm Offers Compassionate Legal Advice
California law requires individuals and companies to practice some level of care in order to avoid hurting or killing other people. Knowing that a family member’s death could have been prevented is devastating.
At the Scott Carr Firm, we understand that financial compensation doesn’t make up for the loss of a loved one. However, there are often extremely high costs associated with a family member’s death, and we help clients pursue fair settlements to cover these expenses and regain financial stability. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call our San Francisco office at 415-799-2229.