After a loved one’s death, immediate family members may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation. Understanding who can bring a wrongful death claim in California is crucial in navigating the legal process.
Wrongful Death vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits
It’s essential to differentiate between wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits. A personal injury claim is filed by an individual who has been injured due to the negligence of another party.
When a person dies as a result of another person’s negligence or wrongful act, the surviving family members can file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation. Wrongful death claims essentially seek to compensate the surviving family members for the loss of their loved one. Common situations leading to wrongful death claims include car accidents, workplace accidents, or even intentional acts of misconduct.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
Several parties are eligible to bring a wrongful death claim in California, including:
The Decedent’s Surviving Spouse
The surviving spouse of the deceased person has the primary right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Deceased Individual’s Children
If the deceased person had children, they can file a wrongful death claim if there is no surviving spouse.
The Deceased Person’s Surviving Parents
If the decedent was a minor, their parents can file a wrongful death claim. In cases where the deceased person was an adult and unmarried, parents can also file a claim.
Minors Who Depended on the Decedent
If the decedent was the legal guardian of a minor who depended on them for more than half of their financial support, that minor can pursue a wrongful death claim.
Other heirs of the deceased individual, such as siblings or grandparents, may file a wrongful death claim.
A Personal Representative of the Deceased’s Estate
If there are no immediate surviving relatives, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death claim.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Wrongful Death Suit?
Navigating the complexities of a wrongful death suit can be challenging, especially while dealing with the emotional distress of losing a loved one. Seeking legal representation is highly advisable. An experienced wrongful death attorney can offer invaluable assistance in the following ways:
- A knowledgeable attorney understands the intricacies of wrongful death laws and can guide you through the legal process.
- Attorneys have the resources to collect crucial evidence that strengthens your wrongful death case, including witness testimonies, medical records, and expert opinions.
- Attorneys can handle communications and negotiations with insurance companies, helping you recover a fair settlement.
- If a settlement cannot be reached, an attorney can represent your interests in court, presenting a compelling case to the judge and jury.
How Do You File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Filing a wrongful death claim involves several steps:
- The process begins with consulting an experienced wrongful death lawyer. During this consultation, you’ll discuss the case details, and the attorney will assess its viability.
- After hiring a wrongful death lawyer, they will conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence supporting your claim. This may involve collecting medical records, police reports, and witness statements.
- Your personal injury attorney will prepare and file a formal complaint against the responsible party, outlining the negligence or intentional actions that led to the death.
- In many cases, the responsible party’s insurance company will negotiate a settlement. An experienced attorney will advocate for your interests during these negotiations.
- If a settlement cannot be reached, your trial lawyer will represent you in court. They will present your wrongful death case to the judge and jury, aiming to secure a favorable verdict.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death cases can arise from various incidents, including:
Reckless or negligent driving that leads to fatal car accidents.
Accidents involving large commercial trucks often result in severe injuries and fatalities, giving rise to wrongful death suits.
Negligent drivers can cause fatal accidents involving pedestrians, leading to wrongful death claims filed by the victim’s family.
Cyclists have no protection comparable to a motor vehicle. Bike accidents often result in fatal injuries.
Motorcycle riders are particularly vulnerable on the road. Motorcycle accidents frequently lead to severe and fatal injuries.
A fatal accident involving rideshare vehicles like Uber or Lyft can lead to complex wrongful death lawsuits involving multiple parties.
Compensation for Wrongful Death Claims
In a wrongful death claim, various types of damages can be sought to compensate the surviving family members for their loss. These damages may include:
Medical Expenses – Any medical bills incurred before the victim’s death, including emergency medical treatment and hospitalization costs.
Funeral and Burial Expenses – Costs associated with the deceased individual’s funeral, burial, or cremation services.
Lost Wages – Compensation for the income the deceased would have provided to their family had they lived, including future earnings potential.
Loss of Companionship – Damages for the emotional and psychological impact of losing a loved one, including the loss of guidance, affection, and emotional support.
Pain and Suffering – Compensation for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased person before their death due to the injury or illness caused by the defendant’s negligence.
The Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death
It’s crucial to be aware of the statute of limitations when pursuing a wrongful death claim. In California, a wrongful death statute is generally two years from the date of the person’s death. It means that the lawsuit must be filed within this timeframe. Otherwise, the court is likely to dismiss the case, which may prevent the opportunity for the family to seek legal recourse.
Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?
Wrongful death settlements in California are generally not considered taxable income for federal income tax purposes. However, if you are awarded punitive damages on your claim, that payment may be taxable. It’s essential to consult with a lawyer to understand the specific implications of your situation, as there can be exceptions or state-specific regulations.
How to Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Winning a wrongful death lawsuit requires a compelling case supported by strong evidence. To increase your chances of success, consider the following strategies:
Gather Strong Evidence
Document the incident thoroughly, collect witness statements, gather medical records, and secure expert testimonies if necessary. Strong evidence forms the backbone of a successful lawsuit. Keep all documents related to the case organized and readily accessible. This includes medical records, correspondence with insurance companies, and legal documents.
Clearly establish that the defendant’s negligence or intentional actions directly caused the death. This often involves demonstrating a breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Work with Experienced Wrongful Death Attorneys
A wrongful death lawyer understands the legal nuances and can build a robust case on your behalf. Their expertise is invaluable in navigating the complexities of the legal system.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Take?
The duration of a wrongful death settlement can vary widely based on several factors including the complexity of the case and the willingness of the insurance parties to settle. Complicated cases involving multiple parties, extensive damages, or contested liability can take longer to resolve.
The negotiation process with insurance companies or the defendant’s legal team can extend the timeline. Both parties may need time to review evidence and make settlement offers. If both parties are willing to negotiate and reach a settlement, the process can be expedited.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney Today
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or intentional act, seeking legal representation is crucial. At Commonwealth Accident Lawyers, an experienced wrongful death attorney will help provide compassionate support while fighting for your rights. We maintain a 99% success rate and have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to our Fullerton law office today to explore your legal options. We will help you pursue the justice and compensation your family deserves. Call us to schedule a free consultation today.