California Wrongful Death - Lawsuits,Damages, and Help

California law addresses wrongful deaths and establishes the opportunity for wrongful death lawsuits. A wrongful death lawsuit is designed to provide compensation to the family of a person whose death is caused by someone else's negligent or intentional action. Typically, under California law a wrongful death lawsuit must be brought within two years from the time the death occurred.

What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a form of tort damage for which a victim's family members can seek financial recovery. Under the body of tort law, a person who is negligent or who intentionally hurts someone else is held legally liable for that action. If the victim lives, the victim is able to sue to recover for his medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the victim dies, the family members of the victim are allowed to sue for wrongful death.

What Do You Have To Prove?

Because wrongful death law is grounded in tort, to win a wrongful death lawsuit you must prove that the defendant was negligent. The proof begins by showing that the negligence was the proximate (or direct) cause of the death. A reasonable person standard is used to determine negligence. This means that if a reasonable person would have behaved with a higher standard of care, then the defendant can be liable for failing to exhibit that care.

In some cases, such as when the wrongful death lawsuit results from medical malpractice, a reasonable professional standard is used. This means that if a reasonable doctor would not have made the medical decisions, the medical error, or the misdiagnosis that resulted in the death, then the doctor can be held legally liable in a wrongful death lawsuit under wrongful death law.

What Types of California Wrongful Death Lawsuits Occur?

Wrongful death lawsuits can occur in any situation where one person's negligence or intentional actions cause another person's death. For example, a wrongful death lawsuit can occur:

  • In a medical malpractice case
  • In a nursing home negligence case
  • In a product liability case
  • In a car accident case
  • In a dog bite case
  • In a slip and fall case

The type of case may play a role in determining the standard of proof required to recover for wrongful death. For example, in some cases, such as product liability or dog bites, strict liability is applied. This means you may not have to prove the defendant was negligent to win your wrongful death lawsuit - you only have to show that strict liability applied to the situation and that death resulted. If you can do so, then the defendant is automatically liable.

Who Can Sue?

Under California law, there are a number of different individuals who are qualified to bring a wrongful death action under wrongful death law. For example:

  • A surviving spouse can sue
  • A domestic partner can sue
  • Children can sue
  • Grandchildren can sue
  • If there are no surviving children or grandchildren, whomever would be entitled to the decedent's property under intestacy rules has standing to sue
  • Stepchildren or parents who were dependent on the deceased victim for support can sue
  • Any minor who lived in the deceased person's home for 180 days prior to the death and who depended on the deceased person for ½ of his support or more can sue

What Damages Can You Recover?

Under California law, any damages may be awarded that "under all the circumstances of the case, may be just." However, damages cannot duplicate those already available under a different California law that provides for the estate to recover damages for loss sustained or incurred before death.

In other words, this means that the law permits the estate of a deceased victim to recover damages that the decedent would have been entitled to, including penalties and punitive damages, but not including damages for pain, suffering or disfigurement. California law also permits the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit to recover additional damages that seem fair. These damages often include:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of any future earnings the deceased person would have made, had he lived
  • Any benefits, such as medical benefits or 401K benefits, that were lost as a result of the victim's death
  • Pain and suffering on the part of the survivor caused by the death
  • Loss of companionship

Getting Help

If one of your family members has been the victim of an injury, a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate so that you can recover financial compensation for your suffering. Consulting with a wrongful death lawyer is essential in ensuring that your legal rights are protected and in bringing a successful wrongful death lawsuit. Furtado, Jaspovice & Simons has extensive experience as California wrongful death lawyers. Furtado, Jaspovice & Simons has been helping families through wrongful death lawsuits for over 60 years, and in addition to winning verdicts for bereaved family members, their success in wrongful death lawsuits has helped to create changes in behavior that have saved future victims from wrongful death. If you are looking for help with your wrongful death lawsuit, contact Furtado, Jaspovice & Simons today to see what they can do for you.