The loss of a loved one is consistently recognized by mental health experts as one of the most traumatic events a person can endure in his or her lifetime. The pain and grief that accompanies the death of a loved one is only magnified when that person’s life is taken suddenly because of the careless or reckless actions of another. To make matters worse, families of individuals killed in this manner must often pay for the deceased’s last medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and other similar expenses at a time when they can least afford these costs.
California gives certain surviving family members of the deceased the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to obtain compensation for some of the losses and costs that they experienced as a result of the fatal accident. While no amount of money can bring the deceased back to life, this compensation can often alleviate some of the financial pressure the surviving family members may be experiencing, leaving them free to grieve their loss.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Only certain individuals can file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek compensation. The people permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner;
- The decedent’s surviving children;
- The decedent’s heirs, if there is no surviving partner or spouse or no surviving children;
- The decedent’s putative spouse;
- The decedent’s stepchildren; and
- The decedent’s parents.
If an individual who is not permitted by law to file a wrongful death lawsuit attempts to do so, that person’s case can be dismissed without the merits of the case ever being litigated. This would result in a wasteful expenditure of time and resources.
How Do I Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a typical personal injury lawsuit in that the plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant(s) – those accused of causing the death of the decedent – did in fact act negligently and this negligence caused or contributed to the decedent’s death. The plaintiffs must also show that the death of the decedent caused some loss or injury that is compensable with a monetary damages award.
A Variety of Damages Are Available for Wrongful Death Plaintiffs
A successful wrongful death lawsuit can result in the defendant(s) being ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff for the following losses and expenses:
- The funeral expenses of the decedent;
- The burial expenses of the decedent;
- The medical and hospital bills that the decedent incurred from the moment he or she suffered the fatal injury until he or she died, if there was a delay between these two events; and
- The decedent’s lost income – not only the past income between the date of his or her injury and the date of death (if there was a lapse in time between these two events) but also any income the decedent could have been reasonably expected to earn over his or her lifetime had he or she lived.
Plaintiffs may also be able to obtain damages to compensate them for the losses they personally suffered, such as the loss of the household services provided by the decedent, the loss of the decedent’s companionship and love, and the loss of the financial support the decedent would have provided.
Wrongful death lawsuits can easily become complex when attempting to prove fault and/or establish the extent of damages suffered by the plaintiffs. The assistance of an experienced California wrongful death lawsuit attorney can assist plaintiffs in meeting these burdens.