Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, and when that loss is due to the negligence or wrongful actions of another party, the pain can be even more profound. In California, if you find yourself in such a tragic situation, understanding the process of filing a wrongful death claim is important. This post will provide insights into some key aspects to consider when pursuing a wrongful death claim in the state.
1. The Statute of Limitations
Time is of the essence when filing a wrongful death claim in California. The statute of limitations typically allows you two years from the date of the person’s death to file a claim. While there are exceptions (especially if it’s a government claim, it could be six months to file a claim), it’s vital to initiate legal proceedings within this timeframe to preserve your right to seek compensation.
2. Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death claims are similar to personal injury lawsuits in many ways. However, they occur when an accident results in a death, rather than just injuries.
In a personal injury claim, the victim can sue or negotiate a settlement on their own behalf to gain compensation from those who harmed them. They must show that the defendant intentionally or negligently caused them harm. If they are successful, they can recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress, among other things.
In a wrongful death claim in California, certain parties are eligible to file a wrongful death claim, including the deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, or other dependents. Much of this answer depends on who the surviving heirs are at the time of death. If these parties do not pursue a claim within a certain time, the decedent’s parents, siblings, or other individuals who would be entitled to the decedent’s property through intestate succession may be eligible to file. There are also issues if there’s a surviving heir that has the right to be sued but is not a party to the action.
3. Proving Negligence or Wrongful Conduct
To successfully pursue a wrongful death claim, you need to establish that the defendant’s negligence or intentional wrongful conduct caused the death. This involves demonstrating that the defendant had a duty of care towards the deceased person, breached that duty, and that the breach directly resulted in the death. It’s also important to note that California is a comparative negligence state which apportions fault.
Duty of care is a legal obligation that one person has to another to act reasonably and avoid causing harm. In the context of wrongful death claims, the duty of care is owed by the person or entity who caused the death to the deceased person’s survivors.
To take a few, very limited, examples of cases where a duty of care may be owed:
- A doctor to their patients
- A driver to other drivers on the road
- A property owner to their guests
- An employer to their employees
- A school to their students
- A landlord to their tenants
In other words, wrongful death cases can arise out of negligence as a result of, for example:
- Car accidents, motorcycle accidents, boating accidents, bicycle accidents
- Defective products
- Failure to warn
- Slip and falls cases
- Dog bites and animal attacks
- Construction accidents
4. Calculating Damages: Economic and Non-Economic
Wrongful death claims encompass various types of damages that survivors can seek compensation for. Economic damages include quantifiable losses such as medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of financial support the deceased would have provided. Non-economic damages account for intangible losses like pain, suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.
5. Seeking Legal Counsel for Guidance
Navigating the legal complexities of a wrongful death claim requires experienced legal guidance. Consulting an attorney with expertise in wrongful death cases can help you understand your rights, evaluate the strength of your claim, and determine the appropriate course of action.
6. The Role of an Experienced Attorney
An experienced trial attorney will guide you through the entire process, from gathering evidence and calculating damages to negotiating with insurance companies or representing you in court.They’ll help ensure that your claim is properly filed, deadlines are met, and your rights are protected. Remember it’s important to hire experienced trial attorneys who handle personal injury cases. Ask the firm about their personal injury trial experience.
7. Potential Settlement or Litigation
In many cases, wrongful death claims are resolved through negotiations and settlements. Your attorney will work to reach a fair settlement with the responsible party’s insurance company. If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will be prepared to litigate the case in court to secure the compensation you deserve.
Filing a wrongful death claim in California is a complex and emotionally challenging process. While no amount of compensation can replace the loss of a loved one, pursuing a claim can provide financial support and a sense of justice.
By understanding the statute of limitations, eligibility criteria, the process of proving negligence, calculating damages, and the importance of legal counsel, you can navigate this difficult journey with the best chance of achieving a favorable outcome.
Contact Penney & Associates
If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, seek the guidance of our experienced team of personal injury attorneys at Penney & Associates. We ensure the right steps are taken so you can obtain the compensation and closure you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.