Losing a loved one can be overwhelming. When your loved one’s death happens unexpectedly as a result of the negligent or intentional actions of someone else, it can be even more devastating. Under California law, certain family members of people who are wrongfully killed are entitled to recover damages through wrongful death lawsuits. An experienced wrongful death accident lawyer Palo Alto at the San Jose Personal Injury Attorneys understands the overwhelming grief and losses that people who lose loved ones because of the actions of others experience. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights of our clients to be fully compensated for all of the losses that they have suffered because of their loved ones’ deaths.
What is wrongful death?
A wrongful death occurs when someone is killed because of the wrongful or negligent actions of other people or entities. Under Cal. Civ. Code § 377.60, California recognizes the rights of people who have specific family relationships with people who are wrongfully killed to recover damages for their losses. The state law allows the following people to file wrongful death claims:
- Surviving spouse, children, domestic partner, grandchildren of deceased children, or the people who would receive the proceeds of the estate by intestate succession if no surviving children remain
- Putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents who were dependent on the decedent
- Dependent minors who lived in the home with the decedent for 180 or more days before the death and received one-half or more of their support from the decedent
Filing a lawsuit allows people with these types of relationships with the decedents to recover damages so that they can be compensated for their economic and noneconomic losses.
Wrongful death vs. survival action
Wrongful death actions are frequently filed together with survival actions under Cal. Civ. Code § 377.30. Under this statute, the estate of the decedent can file a lawsuit against the defendant to recover damages for the losses suffered by the estate for the benefit of the decedent’s heirs.
Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit
Through a wrongful death lawsuit, people might be able to recover the following types of damages:
- Medical expenses for the decedent from the time that he or she was injured until he or she died
- The decedent’s lost income for his or her life expectancy
- Lost inheritance rights
- Funeral and burial costs
- Physical pain and suffering experienced by the decedent from the time of the injury until he or she died
- Loss of consortium and guidance
It is important to note that punitive damages are not available in a wrongful death lawsuit. Punitive damages are damages that are not meant to compensate the plaintiffs but are instead meant to punish defendants whose conduct was particularly outrageous. However, punitive damages may be available through a survival cause of action. Damages recovered in a survival action go to the estate to be divided among the heirs of the decedent by intestate succession.
Negligence in a wrongful death action
Wrongful death claims may be based on negligence or intentional acts. To prove negligence, the plaintiffs must be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty to act in the same manner that a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances. The plaintiff will then need to prove that the defendant violated the duty of care and that the violation directly or proximately caused the accident and death. Finally, the plaintiff will need to show that they suffered financial harm as a result. Common situations in which negligence will be involved in wrongful death claims include motor vehicle accidents, commercial truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and others.
Wrongful death claims may also be filed against defendants who killed their loved ones through intentional or reckless actions. These claims may be filed at the same time as criminal charges. Criminal charges and civil wrongful death actions fall under two different bodies of law and can proceed simultaneously. It is a good idea to pursue a wrongful death action even though a criminal case is pending because of the difference in the burden of proof. Criminal charges must be proven by the prosecutors beyond a reasonable doubt. Wrongful death claims must be proven by the plaintiffs by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower burden of proof. It is sometimes possible to prevail in a wrongful death action even if the criminal charges are dismissed.
Get help from an experienced wrongful death accident lawyer Palo Alto
Getting help from an experienced wrongful death accident lawyer Palo Alto is crucial when you have lost a loved one because of the negligent or intentional actions of others. Insurance companies sometimes use tactics to try to avoid or reduce the amounts of compensation that they might be forced to pay. The lawyers at the San Jose Personal Injury Attorneys understand the tactics that are used and how to combat them. This helps us to protect our clients’ rights to recover the damages that they deserve and to help them to hold the defendants accountable for their actions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling 408.217.1778.