Wrongful death occurs when someone’s negligence or bad intent causes the death of another.
- Wrongful death differs from murder to the extent that in a murder trial, guilt must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt”, while in a wrongful death suit, only fault by a “preponderance of the evidence” is required, a lower standard of proof.
- Civil courts hear wrongful death suits, verses criminal courts for murder cases. Because of this and depending on the circumstances, the statute of limitations can vary, so it is best to consult a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after the incident has occurred.
- An experienced wrongful death lawyer will be able to guide you as to which parties you can sue for compensation. Compensation can take the form of medical and funeral expenses, loss of income, and survivor benefits.
What to do if your family has suffered a wrongful death?
The worst thing that can happen in this life is to have someone you love taken from you prematurely. And when there is no reason for it, when it is due to negligence, it’s even worse. Nothing can make up for your loss. But those responsible can be held accountable. They should pay for the expenses and hardship left in the wake of your tragic loss.
A Wrongful Death Claim Explained
To put it very simply, when someone dies due to the negligence or bad intent of another, it creates a wrongful death action. The causes are countless. Here are a few examples:
- Someone drag racing on a public road kills a bystander
- A manufacturer does not properly control drug quality, and a patient dies from a tainted drug
- Someone murders your family member creating a civil liability for wrongful death in addition to criminal liability
In the case of a murder, even if a defendant is found innocent in criminal court, because the prosecutor could not establish guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” he may still be found liable for wrongful death in civil court. To prove a civil wrongful death claim, it is only necessary to show fault by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a lower standard of proof.
California Law Dictates Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
As we have just discussed, wrongful death is a civil court matter, unlike criminal court where actions are brought by state prosecutors. California law outlines who may bring a wrongful death suit. These people are
- Surviving spouse or domestic partner
- Surviving children
- Those who would inherit if the deceased did not leave a will (if there is no surviving spouse, domestic partner or surviving children). This may be
- Dependents such as putative spouse and his or her children
California Code of Civil Procedure section 337.60, et seq. covers who may file suit.
The Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Action
The family generally has two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death action. There are some exceptions where you must bring a wrongful death action much earlier. To be sure you preserve your rights, it’s best to consult your California personal injury lawyer immediately, so they can file a claim well in advance of the legal deadline. You may find it difficult to think about calling an attorney so soon after the death of a loved one, but the reality is that you don’t have a lot of time. If you miss the deadline for any reason, you lose your rights to bring an action. Also, witnesses move and their memories fade, making your case weaker as time goes on.
WHO CAN BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE
Who you sue, of course, depends on the nature of the case, but it is often possible to sue multiple parties. Here are a couple examples.
- In the case of a death due to a defective product such as a drug, it may be possible to sue the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the retailer and everyone involved in the commercial supply chain that started with the manufacturer and ended with the deceased.
- If a wrongful death is the result of an accident in the workplace, it may be possible to sue the employer, negligent fellow employees, the manufacturer of defective equipment and more.
Wrongful death actions are complex, and an attorney will need to analyze your case to determine appropriate defendants.
Compensation may be the last thing on your mind right now, but you must be realistic for the sake of your family. You may be facing substantial medical expenses on top of your usual expenses such as mortgage, rent, car payments and the general costs of living. Even as you grieve, life moves relentlessly on. Here are the types of damages for which you can be compensated.
- Funeral Expenses
- Medical expenses
- Lost income including future earnings
- Value of household work
- Loss of anticipated financial support to survivors
- Loss of love and affection by survivors
What to Do Now
The most important thing you can do to preserve your rights is to speak with a good California personal injury attorney who practices in the area of wrongful death. Your attorney can advise you of procedures for seeking wrongful death damages and moving forward to file a claim if they cannot negotiate a good settlement. Most importantly, an attorney can file a claim in time to meet the California statute of limitations for wrongful death actions.
At our firm, we understand this is much more than a law suit; you have suffered a great loss. We can help you to get what you need to maintain your family’s current way of living and also see that justice is served.