In California, when someone is killed because of another person’s negligence, the victim’s surviving family members are entitled to make a claim for damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death actions are full of complexities and demand skill, sensitivity, legal expertise, and extensive experience. They require understanding the laws that apply to the type of injury that caused the death, the laws of estates and probate, along with how to handle the adjuster from the defendant’s insurance company and how to prove liability and assess the value of the claim. These cases should be pursued only with the assistance of a California lawyer who handles many wrongful death cases.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful deaths may occur in many ways:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Airplane crashes
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Defective products
Dealing with Insurance Companies
The insurance company of the party whose negligence caused the accident that resulted in the wrongful death will often contact the surviving family of the deceased with a settlement offer. The adjuster will attempt to get a signed agreement to accept an amount much lower than the family would likely receive from a jury or a settlement negotiated by an attorney. No family member should discuss the incident or sign any papers with an insurance adjuster without consulting a California wrongful death lawyer.
Types of Damage Awards
In wrongful death cases, it is possible to be awarded two types of damages—compensatory damages to recover for losses from the death, and punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer when the act or negligence that caused the death was especially egregious. Insurance does not cover punitive damages; they are the defendant’s sole responsibility.
These are categories of potential compensatory damages that can be awarded:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Income the deceased would have earned but for the death
- Loss of companionship, guidance and instruction; grief, and mental anguish
- Other expenses incurred because of the death
Juries sometimes award punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer and discourage future negligent behavior, usually in cases where a corporation knew of the problem that led to the wrongful death or deaths and did nothing about it, or in certain drunk driving cases when the defendant is a habitual offender.
Who Can Make a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
Only those with certain relationships to the deceased are able to claim damages under California law. Primarily, these include a surviving spouse, children, dependent stepchildren, dependent minors living in the victim’s household for at least six months, and dependent parents. If there are none of these, we look to intestate succession law, in which case the right is extended to parents, regardless of whether they were dependent; if none, then siblings or children of deceased siblings; if none, then grandparents; if none, then children of a deceased spouse. Where none of these exists, the right to file a wrongful death suit goes to the next of kin.
Protect Your Family’s Interests
A death in the family can be emotionally devastating, and you may not feel up to coping with the many tasks that must be addressed. When you allow the Abronson law firm to assume the burden for you, you can focus on helping your family through the grieving process knowing your interests are protected.
Abronson Law in Los Gatos accepts wrongful death cases in Santa Clara County and the Bay Area on a contingency basis. You pay no attorneys fees unless you recover compensation.