Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful act, it’s natural to want to know how you can hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. One way you can do so is by filing a wrongful death claim.
While a legal action won’t replace the person’s presence in your life, it can help you seek a measure of justice and solace. It can also make up for the financial burden their loss has had and will have on surviving family members. However, wrongful death claims in California can be complicated. Not everyone is legally allowed to file a claim.
Our firm has stood firmly behind families who’ve lost loved ones in tragic accidents in California for more than 30 years. During that time, we have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in fair and just compensation. Our attorney, Pius Joseph, has also gained widespread recognition for his efforts, including an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and being named to the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 trial attorneys.
If you’ve lost someone in an accident that could have been prevented, call the Law Offices of Pius Joseph for a free and confidential consultation. It’s understandable that you may hesitate about talking to a lawyer while grieving. However, many families find solace in seeking justice on behalf of their deceased loved one.
What Is Wrongful Death in California?
Broadly speaking, California defines wrongful death as one that occurs when someone dies due to the negligent or wrongful actions of another party. A wrongful death is a civil claim, not a criminal case, though sometimes criminal charges may be filed in addition to the civil suit when someone dies.
Let’s look at a practical example. Suppose your spouse is driving home from work and they’re hit by a drunk driver. If your spouse were to die from their injuries sustained in the accident, you would likely have a wrongful death case against the drunk driver because the driver broke the law and your spouse died as a result of their negligent actions.
In addition to your civil suit, the police would also likely charge the drunk driver with a crime. The driver could face stiff penalties for their actions, but grieving family members would not be owed any monetary compensation in a criminal case. When you file a civil wrongful death lawsuit, however, you could recover compensation for your spouse’s death. That could be true even if the drunk driver were acquitted or never charged. The criminal and civil matters are completely separate.
Accidents That Can Result in Wrongful Death
Tragic fatal accidents happen all the time. For example, there were 10,497 drunk driving deaths nationwide in a single recent year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A study from the University of California at Berkeley found that there were 1,059 drunk driving deaths statewide that same year. In cases where the person who died was not the drunk driver, these deaths would likely be considered wrongful deaths.
Drunk driving accidents are not the only cause of untimely death. Examples of other accidents that could prove to be fatal include:
- Other car accidents – Just because a driver is not intoxicated doesn’t mean that they weren’t negligent when they caused an accident. They may have been speeding, driving recklessly, driving while distracted, or otherwise failing to exercise due care and caution.
- Motorcycle accidents – Motorcycle accidents tend to result in more severe injuries than other traffic accidents. This is because motorcycles offer less protection to riders than cars and trucks. Other vehicles also place motorcyclists in danger by following too closely or not paying enough attention when merging or changing lanes.
- Truck accidents – Commercial semi-trucks are much bigger and heavier than even the largest SUVs. In fact, they can weigh up to 80,000 pounds with a full trailer. This means that when a big rig strikes another vehicle, it hits with much more force compared to a car. More impact force means greater injuries and a greater likelihood of death. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that there were 4,136 deaths nationwide due to large truck accidents in one recent year, and 67 percent of those deaths were drivers or passengers in other vehicles. Many of these deaths would likely be considered wrongful death cases.
- Pedestrian accidents – Drivers have a responsibility to watch out for pedestrians, but they’re not always as careful as they should be. If a driver strikes and kills a pedestrian because they were driving recklessly, intoxicated, fatigued, or distracted, then the pedestrian’s surviving family would likely have a viable wrongful death case.
- Defective products – Defective product accidents include everything from bad medicine to malfunctioning machinery. The designers, manufacturers, and sellers of these products are responsible for making sure that the product doesn’t harm or kill consumers. When these parties fail to do their duty and lives are lost, consumers may have a strong case for a wrongful death claim.
- Work accidents – Employers are legally required to provide a safe working environment for employees. Unfortunately, many employers neglect this responsibility, putting their workers at risk. Examples of workplace negligence run the gamut from failing to address hazards on the premises (inadequate lighting, spilled liquids that aren’t cleaned up, malfunctioning guardrails, etc.) to employees being exposed to noxious chemicals. Workers’ compensation death benefits are often available. In some circumstances, a third party may be held liable in a separate wrongful death action.
- Medical malpractice – Johns Hopkins University reported that medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death nationwide. Common examples of medical malpractice include surgical errors, medication errors, missed or delayed diagnoses, and poor follow-up care after surgeries. In many cases, these errors can lead to a patient’s death. Medical malpractice claims can be difficult to prove, but it’s important to hold healthcare providers accountable when they make negligent mistakes that result in death.
- Nursing home abuse and neglect – When we place a parent or other older relative in a nursing home, we trust the facility’s staff to provide compassionate and responsible care. All too often, however, staff members fail in this duty. Common types of nursing home abuse and neglect include medication mistakes, patients getting infections from unclean or unsanitary conditions, patients not being given enough to eat or drink, patients being injured after being handled too roughly by staff, and bed sores caused by failure to reposition the resident.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
Not everyone can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California. In most cases, only close relatives can file these lawsuits, though there are a few exceptions. The people who get first priority in filing a wrongful death suit are:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse
- The deceased’s surviving domestic partner
- The deceased’s surviving children
If there is no surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children, then California law allows anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” to file a wrongful death suit. This can include people like the deceased’s parents or siblings.
Finally, other parties who can demonstrate that they were financially dependent on the deceased may be able to file a wrongful death claim. This includes the deceased’s parents, a former spouse from a prior marriage, and any stepchildren the deceased may have had.
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered?
In a wrongful death claim, California law allows the deceased’s surviving family to seek compensation for a range of financial and other losses. These include:
- Funeral and burial costs for the deceased
- The deceased’s medical bills related to their final injury or illness
- The deceased’s missed wages during their final injury or illness
- The income the deceased would have earned in the future had they not died in the accident
- Compensation for the loss of emotional support of the deceased (sometimes known as “loss of consortium”)
In addition to the wrongful death claim, a representative of the deceased’s estate can also file a survival action on the deceased’s behalf. This is when the deceased’s representative seeks compensation for the deceased related to any damages they suffered before dying. A survival action allows the deceased’s estate to pursue compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses prior to their death.
Fighting for Wrongful Death Compensation in Pasadena, CA
Wrongful death claims can be difficult to demonstrate because the deceased can’t argue on their own behalf. To win your case, you’ll need strong evidence showing that the deceased died directly as a result of the negligent behavior of another party. You’ll also need evidence showing the losses your family and the deceased suffered as a result of the accident. The more evidence you have, the better chance you’ll have of recovering fair compensation on your claim.
If you’ve recently lost a family member, your focus should be on the process of grieving. Our compassionate, dedicated team can handle all of the legal legwork while you and your family focus on helping each other through this difficult time. Our goal will be to take as much of the burden off of your shoulders and to give you the time and space you need to heal. We will be focused on seeking the full and fair compensation you need and deserve.
How Can the Law Offices of Pius Joseph Help Me?
Our team has the experience, knowledge, and dedication to help you pursue answers and justice.
Any wrongful death is a tragedy, but the legal system can help you secure compensation and attain closure. Hiring an experienced wrongful death claim lawyer is important to get your started. Call the Law Offices of Pius Joseph in Pasadena, CA today or visit our contact page for a free consultation.