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A wrongful death claim are those claims the surviving family members may bring against the individual or entity whose tortious conduct caused the untimely demise of ones loved one. Tragic deaths can result from car accidents, trip and falls, or a variety of tragic events. The claims of the surviving family members can include loss of support, loss of society as general damages as well as economic damages which entails the financial support the deceased would have provided the family had he been alive.

Who Can Legally Bring A Wrongful Death Case Or Claim?

A wrongful death claim can be initiated by the survivors of the individual who has tragically passed on. California follows the rules of intestacy or in laymen terms provides standing or the right to sue to the immediate heirs of the deceased (spouse, children, if none, then parents, in none then surviving siblings).

For example, if a father, the ‘bread earner’ in a family of four passes away in a tragic event caused by another; the spouse would have primary standing, along with his children. If this same individual was single without any children, then his parents would have the right to bring the wrongful death claim. If there are no parents, i.e. they have predeceased him, then his siblings would have standing.

California law affords adopted children the same rights as biological children. With the passing of the Marriage Equality Act, same-sex spouses may now also have the standing to sue and this is codified in California Law.

What Are Potential Damages That Survivors Are Entitled To In Wrongful Death Claims?

In wrongful death cases, like most cases, you are entitled to general and special damages. Your special damages are your economic losses. In the example we provided earlier, the surviving children and spouse would be entitled to the lost income that this family sustained as a result of the loss of father and husband. This amount is calculated based on his earning capacity. In California, we follow the life expectancy table to calculate the expected life of each individual. The amount awarded in special damages is calculated by examining the years of life the deceased would have lived had this tragic incident not occurred for the number of years he would have expected to live (based on the life expectancy table). These damages are analyzed by accountants and economists hired by attorneys presented to the jury.

Survivors of a wrongful death victim are also entitled to general damages, which are losses that do not have a specific monetary value, but for anyone who has lost a loved one it is hard to place a number on the value of that loss, but as attorney we try to quantify these damages. For example, in our earlier scenario, the daughter and son of the deceased father will suffer the loss of society, the loss of a father, and many invaluable memories, such as their father’s presence at their graduation, the daughter’s loss of opportunity to be walked down the aisle or dance with her father at her wedding, and many more innumerable moments. The surviving spouse suffers as well. She suffers the loss of companionship, loss of society. In our example, she will never sleep in the same bed with her husband and wake up to him, and more similar losses. All of these heartbreaking examples are under the umbrella of general damages that counsel will argue before a jury or insurance representative to recover the damages they are entitled to.

In A Case Where There Are Multiple Errors How Are The Damages Divided Up?

In a matter where there is more than one tortfeasor or cause of the injury the attorney must attempt to apportion percentages to each of these responsible parties. In some cases, it may be appropriate to settle with some of the responsible parties and pursue the others in Court. One of the pitfalls however lawyers will experience is the, “empty chair”, i.e. the party with whom you may have settled with may turn out to be responsible for a greater percentage of fault than the others. For these reasons all parties are pursued and kept in the matter. There are many strategies attorneys will employ, but it is best to consult with an attorney so that they may determine who are the responsible parties and to what extent.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Filing A Wrongful Death Claim In California?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is the same as for personal injury cases, which under California law, is two (2) years. There are exceptions, such as when the defendant is a governmental entity. It is best to consult a lawyer immediately to protect your rights before the applicable statute of limitation expires.

For more information on Wrongful Death Claims In California, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (714) 617-2225 today.

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