Wrongful death lawsuits are an extension of personal injury law. When an injured party is killed due to the negligence of another party, close family members and the victim’s estate can file a wrongful death action against the at-fault party.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California, you should be aware that there is a statute of limitations on such actions. Family members have only two years after the date of the decedent’s death. This is strictly enforced and can only be waived for minors or those who are otherwise incapable of bringing the action at the time of their loved one’s death.
In this article, we’ll go over the important parts of California’s wrongful death statute.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Action in California?
California restricts who can bring a wrongful death action against a negligent party but this can get rather complicated. Typically, wrongful death actions may only be brought by:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse or domestic partner,
- The deceased’s surviving children, and
- The parents of the deceased.
In addition, anyone who relied on the deceased for financial security may bring a wrongful death action against the at-fault party. Lastly, if there are no parents, children, or spouses, anyone who was entitled to inherit property from the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death action.
What Kind of Damages Can You Recover in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Grieving family members are entitled to recover damages related to their loved one’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, and funeral or burial expenses. In addition, they can recover damages for their own injuries. These include:
- Loss of financial support;
- Loss of emotional support;
- Loss of consortium (for a spouse);
- Loss of affection; and
- Loss of guidance (for a child).
In addition, family members are not only entitled to recover damages for the deceased’s current wages but his or her anticipated wages for the duration of their lives.
What Kinds of Cases Typically Result in Wrongful Death Actions
There are a number of tort lawsuits that can result after the untimely death of a person. These include:
- Medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is one of the most common reasons wrongful death lawsuits are filed. When a doctor makes a serious and avoidable mistake and this results in their patient’s death, they can be sued for wrongful death under the medical malpractice statute.
- Product liability. Sometimes dangerous or defective products result in serious injuries and death to those who used them. Product liability lawsuits are different than most other kinds of tort cases. Plaintiffs do not need to show that the company was necessarily negligent. They only need to show that the individual was using their product as intended and that resulted in death or a major injury.
- Traffic accidents. If a negligent driver takes the life of another driver on the road, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against that driver. This will generally involve circumventing the insurance claims process and suing the driver’s assets directly.
- Premises liability. Slip and fall accidents don’t generally result in death, but other kinds of premises liability do. For instance, negligent security can result in death if a proprietor does not take adequate care to ensure that their patrons are safe. “Attractive nuisance” cases also are sometimes wrongful death claims. For instance, if a neighbor leaves their pool unattended and a child falls into it and drowns, the family might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against them.
- Intentional torts. In some cases, the individual who caused the death or injury didn’t do so carelessly, they did so intentionally. In these cases, they may be brought to trial by the state but this doesn’t preclude the family from suing them in civil court as well.
Unlike other kinds of damages that are meant to compensate victims and family members, punitive damages are awarded when the defendant’s negligence is especially egregious. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their recklessness. These can be awarded in some traffic accident cases. For instance, if the individual was driving drunk or racing on the road, a jury may award the plaintiff punitive damages to punish the defendant.
Talk to a Bay Area Wrongful Death Attorney
The attorneys at Wakeford Gelini have successfully recovered settlements and verdicts into the millions of dollars for our clients. If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, give us a call or contact us online for a free consultation.