The loss of a loved one is an experience every family dreads. When that loss is caused by the negligence of another, it can be even harder to bear. In California when the death of a loved one is caused by the negligence of another, a wrongful death lawsuit can be a great help to the remaining members of the family.
What is “Wrongful Death” and who can bring a lawsuit?
Wrongful death is a cause of action for those family members left behind when someone is a victim of negligence and it causes their death. Family members may recover damages by bringing a lawsuit against the negligent party who caused the death.
“Family members” include: the surviving spouse or the children of the victim.
It is important to mention that in California a wrongful death action may also be brought by a domestic partner. In addition, certain dependents of the victim may have a right to bring suit provided that they fit within the framework of California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60.
What can the family members recover?
Wrongful death lawsuits traditionally cover both economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses may include: any past and future loss of financial support provided by the victim, funeral and burial expenses and the value of lost household services should the family member contribute to the family dynamic in that way.
Non-economic damages include: the loss of a loved one’s companionship, comfort, affection, guidance, mentoring and society. These losses are sometimes referred to as losses of consortium and/or losses of parental guidance. There is no fixed standard for deciding the amount of non-economic damages as it is impossible to put a value on the emotional loss a family experiences when a loved one is gone.
Many people confuse a lawsuit for wrongful death with a lawsuit for survivorship.
Survivorship actions provide a cause of action in negligence which survives the death of the family member. So while wrongful death provides compensation for the effects of the victim’s death, survivorship helps to compensate the family for the damages which occurred before the untimely death.
The California Code of Civil Procedure 377.34 describes these damages as: “the loss or damage that the decedent sustained or incurred before death, including any penalties or punitive or exemplary damages that the decedent would have been entitled to recover had the decedent lived, and do not include damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement.”
Survivorship can be easily understood as the basic negligence lawsuit the victim would have had, if they had not died.
Be Aware! The law limits the time to file a wrongful death claim. Should you miss this deadline, you may be denied the right to file.