What is "Wrongful Death"?
Wrongful death refers to a type of claim that may be asserted by a family member (or other limited types of people identified below) when a person is killed as a result of someone else’s wrongdoing, whether intentional or accidental. When this happens, the family members of the deceased may be entitled to compensation by the at-fault party. Not all family members of the deceased, however, may make a claim for compensation. In California, only the following types of family members may make a wrongful death claim:
- Legal Spouses (although in some case, assumed or supposed spouses, although not legally married, may be able to file a claim as well);
- Registered Domestic Partners (although in some case, assumed or supposed spouses, although not legally married, may be able to file a claim as well);
- Children (need not be minors);
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person’s children are no longer living);
- Other minor children who depended on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support, such as stepchildren; and
- Anyone else that would have been entitled to the deceased person’s property under California laws.
What types of compensation are available in the event of a wrongful death claim?
A wrongful death claim is meant to compensate the family member(s) for the support they would have received had the deceased person’s life not been cut short. This lost “support” may be in financial or emotional terms. For example, a family member may be compensated for income the deceased would have contributed to the family as well as for the affection and moral support they will now lose out on because of the deceased person’s untimely death.
If you have lost a loved one and fall within one of the categories above, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the following damages:
- Loss of financial support from the deceased;
- Loss of benefits or gifts from the deceased;
- Funeral expenses;
- The reasonable value of household services (such as cleaning the house, landscaping chores, laundry, etc.) that the deceased would have provided;
- Loss of love;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss of comfort;
- Loss of care;
- Loss of assistance;
- Loss of protection;
- Loss of affection;
- Loss of society (community and friendship);
- Loss of moral support;
- Loss of enjoyment of sexual relations; and
- Loss of training and guidance.
What nees to be proved in a wrongful death case?
To be successful in a wrongful death claim, you must prove all of the following:
- You are either a spouse, domestic partner, child, or grandchild (in certain circumstances) of the deceased; a minor child dependent who was receiving at least 50% of your support from the deceased; or you would have been entitled to the deceased person’s property under California law;
- The party you believe to be responsible for your loved one’s death committed a wrongful act—was negligent (for example, caused a car accident) or committed an intentional unlawful act (for example, murder, manslaughter, battery, assault);
- The wrongful act caused the deceased person’s death;
- You suffered or will suffer damages, such as lost income, funeral expenses, loss of love/affection, and loss of support.
It is important to note that there is another type of claim that can be made when a loved one dies due to someone else’s negligence or intentional wrongful act. This other claim is called a “Survival” claim. Survival claims are brought by a representative of the deceased’s “estate” to compensate the deceased (as opposed to the deceased’s family members) for damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and lost or damaged personal property. In short, this type of claim is meant to compensate the deceased, through their estate, for losses sustained as a result of their untimely death. A deceased person’s “estate” refers to everything they owned, such as cars, real estate, furniture, cash, stocks, and anything else of value. A deceased persons heirs typically receive what is left over of the estate after all debts are collected or settled.
Should I hire a personal injury attorney for my wrongful death case?
Wrongful death cases are never easy and clients often need more from their attorney than to just take care of the claim or lawsuit—they also need their attorney to be understanding, reliable, and compassionate. If you are dealing with the death of a loved one caused by someone else’s fault, we can help.