Family members at funeral of person killed in wrongful death accident

Experiencing the loss of a loved one is a profoundly distressing ordeal, particularly when it occurs unexpectedly. In such cases, certain incidents are categorized as “wrongful deaths.” These tragic occurrences occur when an individual loses their life as a result of the negligence or wrongful actions of another party. Wrongful deaths can occur in diverse settings and under various circumstances. Our skilled team of Wrongful Death Attorneys is ready to help you navigate the complexities of such cases, offering support during this challenging time.

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This is an informational page on some of the common questions we receive from families of victims of wrongful death situations.

To help with some of the complex wording of the law, here are some terms to know:

Decedent – This is the victim of the wrongful death – the person who has lost their life.

Pecuniary Loss – This is a legal term referencing monetary or economic loss.

Putative – This word means “commonly accepted or supposed.”

What are some of the common types of wrongful death lawsuits?

Wrongful Death lawsuits arise from many different types of fatal accidents such as:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Defective products
  • Airplane accidents
  • Train accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Semi-Truck accidents
  • Bicycle accidents

Tragically, these types of accidents are all too common. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, in 2021 alone there were 1,108 pedestrian fatalities in California and another 125 bicyclist fatalities. Also in 2021, there were 462 fatal workplace injuries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys can handle any type of wrongful death case. If your loved one was killed by someone else’s negligent or wrongful conduct, contact us today for a free consultation.

How do you prove a wrongful death case?

To prove a wrongful death case you must prove each of the following:

  • That someone was negligent or committed a wrongful act;
  • That the negligence or wrongful act caused the death;
  • Damages, consisting of the pecuniary loss suffered by the heirs.

(Lattimore v. Dickey (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 959.)

Who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit?

Not just anyone can file for a Wrongful Death lawsuit, but together with our Wrongful Death Attorneys here are the people that can start a claim:

  1. The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession. If the parents of the decedent would be entitled to bring an action under this subdivision, and the parents are deceased, then the legal guardians of the decedent, if any, may bring an action under this subdivision as if they were the decedent’s parents. (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (a).)
  2. Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, parents, or the legal guardians of the decedent if the parents are deceased. (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (b)(1).)
  3. A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support. (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (c).

Who is a putative spouse?

A “putative spouse” is the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid. (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (b)(2).)

What is a “domestic partner?”

A “domestic partner” is defined as a person who, at the time of the decedent’s death, was the domestic partner of the decedent in a registered domestic partnership established in accordance with subdivision (b) of Section 297 of the Family Code. (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60, subdivision (f)(1).)

What damages are available in a wrongful death case?

“In an action under this article, damages may be awarded that, under all the circumstances of the case, may be just, but may not include damages recoverable under Section 377.34. The court shall determine the respective rights in an award of the persons entitled to assert the cause of action.” (Code of Civil Procedure section 377.61.)

These can include both economic and non-economic damages:

ECONOMIC DAMAGES (California Civil Jury Instructions, No. 3921)

  • The financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the decedent had prior to the decedent’s death or the life expectancy of the plaintiff, whichever is shorter;
  • The loss of gifts or benefits that the plaintiff would have expected to receive from the decedent;
  • Funeral and burial expenses, and
  • The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided.

NONECONOMIC DAMAGES (California Civil Jury Instructions, No. 3921)

  • The loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; and
  • The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations; and
  • The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance.

Our Wrongful Death Attorneys are here to assist in untangling the complexities of such cases. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is already challenging without the added burden of a legal battle. Our experienced attorneys have the knowledge and dedication needed to help you pursue justice for your lost family member.

What is not allowed as damages to the plaintiff?

The plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;

The decedent’s pain and suffering; or

The poverty or wealth of the plaintiff.

How is the decedent’s life expectancy determined?

The jury assesses the life expectancy of the decedent by considering various factors, such as the decedent’s gender, health, habits, lifestyle, and occupation, alongside the average life expectancy for an individual of that age.

How are the wrongful death damages divided amongst the plaintiffs?

The jury evaluates all plaintiffs’ losses, issues a verdict, and consolidates the damages into a single amount for all plaintiffs. The judge then allocates this amount among the plaintiffs based on their individual damages.

If you or someone you know has questions about a wrongful death case on behalf of the deceased, schedule an appointment with our team today to secure one of our Wrongful Death Attorneys.  Let us fight for the compensation that is deserved, and let us handle some of the stress of such a complicated issue.