When you unexpectedly lose a loved one, the loss you feel is enormous. On top of the pain and suffering you experience, there are often more tangible damages, such as the loss of your loved one’s income or their help with child-rearing. While no amount of financial compensation will alleviate the grief you endure, when your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation.
At Pathway Law Firm, PC, we are proud of our reputation as trial attorneys who offer our clients a sympathetic ear combined with zealous representation. We will fight for the recovery you deserve.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
A death is considered “wrongful” when the negligence of another party causes it. A useful way to determine if a cause of action for wrongful death is appropriate is to consider whether or not the person who died would have had a personal injury claim if they had lived. If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, then the surviving family members have a wrongful death claim.
There are many ways in which the negligence of another can cause death, but some of the more common include the following:
For a wrongful death claim to be successful, it must be shown that the negligence of the defendant was the cause of death and that the surviving family members have suffered damages as a result.
Who Can Recover For Wrongful Death?
California law provides a cause of action for “wrongful death.” This allows the surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and sometimes parents of the deceased to recover economic and noneconomic damages from the responsible party.
To file a wrongful death claim in Bakersfield, California, you must be a surviving family member of the deceased. Specifically, California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 provides that the following persons may bring a wrongful death action:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner;
- The decedent’s surviving children; or
- The decedent’s surviving stepchildren (provided that they were partially or fully dependent on the decedent at the time of his or her death).
In some cases, the decedent’s surviving parents may also be able to bring a wrongful death claim. This is only allowed if:
- Neither the decedent’s spouse nor any of his or her children survive him or her; OR
- The decedent was not married and did not have any children at the time of his or her death, but his or her parents were partially or fully dependent on him or her for support at the time of his or her death.
There are specifications that apply to wrongful death lawsuits, so to determine your eligibility to bring a claim, you should speak with a California wrongful death lawyer.
What Are Common Causes of Wrongful Death?
Any accident that results in a fatality can be considered as wrongful death. For example, if a loved one died in a car accident on Interstate 5 because he or she was cut off by another driver, you may have a claim for a wrongful death lawsuit. Other common types of accidents resulting in wrongful death include truck, third-party work, motorcycle, construction, and pedestrian accidents.
What Damages Can Be Recovered?
As the surviving family member of a wrongful death victim, you may be entitled to receive compensation for both financial and non-financial losses, including:
- Funeral and Burial Costs
- Loss of Companionship and Guidance
- Medical Bills (for the time between when the accident occurred and death)
- Loss of Potential Retirement Income
- Loss of Future Earnings
- Loss of Potential Inheritance
- Mental Anguish
- Value of Household Service
How Long Do I Have To File A Wrongful Death Suit?
It is understandable that the last thing on a surviving family member’s mind is filing a lawsuit. However, there is a two-year statute of limitations on filing a suit for wrongful death, which means a wrongful death lawsuit must be brought within two years after the accident that caused the death. If the suit is not filed within the two-year time frame, the survivors may be forever barred from bringing the suit.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in Bakersfield?
The elements necessary to prove wrongful death are:
- Duty – The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased.
- Breach of Duty – The defendant breached that duty by acting (or failing to act) in a way that violated the standard of care.
- Causation – The breach of duty directly caused the death of the deceased.
- Damages – The survivors have suffered quantifiable damages due to their loved one’s death.
To prove causation, you will need to show that the death would not have occurred were it not for the defendant’s breach of duty. In other words, you will need to show that the death directly resulted from the defendant’s negligence.
To prove damages, you will need to present evidence of the financial and non-financial losses you have suffered as a result of your loved one’s death. This may include medical bills, funeral expenses, lost income, loss of companionship, and more. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you determine what damages you may be entitled to recover.
What is the Difference between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?
A wrongful death claim is brought by the survivors of the deceased for the losses they have suffered as a result of the death. On the other hand, a survival action is brought by the estate of the deceased for the injuries the deceased sustained prior to death. In other words, a survival action is brought for the pain and suffering the deceased experienced before death, while a wrongful death claim is brought for the losses the survivors have suffered as a result of the death.
Will My Case Go to Trial?
Most wrongful death cases do not go to trial. In fact, the vast majority of cases are settled out of court. However, there is always the possibility that your case will go to trial if a settlement cannot be reached. If your case goes to trial, a jury will decide whether the defendant is liable for the death of your loved one and, if so, how much you are entitled to recover in damages.
What if the Defendant Was intoxicated at the Time of the Accident?
If the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident, you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct. To recover punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant’s intoxication was a factor in the accident and that the defendant knew, or should have known, that his or her intoxication was a danger to others.
What if there is more than one defendant? Can all of them be held liable for wrongful death?
The answer is yes. More than one defendant can be held liable for causing the same decedent’s death. However, each defendant can only be held liable for those damages attributable to his or her negligence—no more and no less.
For example, assume that both a drunk driver and the manufacturer of the car he or she was driving are found to be at fault for causing a fatal car accident. The drunk driver would likely be held 100% liable for the victim’s death because his or her intoxication was the sole cause of the accident. However, the manufacturer of the car would only be held liable for those damages attributable to the defective design or manufacturing of the car—not the victim’s death itself.
Common Pitfalls in Bakersfield Wrongful Death Claims
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, you may be considering filing a wrongful death claim. While this can be a complex and emotional process, it is important to take the time to ensure that your claim is strong and has a good chance of success. With that in mind, here are common pitfalls to avoid when filing a wrongful death claim in California:
- Not Filing within the Statute of Limitations: In California, you generally have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim. If you wait too long, you may be barred from recovery.
- Not Pursuing All Possible Defendants: It is important to identify all potential defendants in your case. Multiple parties may sometimes be liable for your loved one’s death. For example, a truck driver and the trucking company he or she works for may both be liable if the driver’s negligence caused the death of your loved one. In a personal injury from a car accident, the negligent driver, as well as the owner of the vehicle, may be held liable.
- Not Properly Documenting Your Losses: To recover damages in a wrongful death claim, you will need to prove the financial losses you have suffered as a result of your loved one’s death. This includes funeral and burial expenses, lost income, and loss of companionship, among other things. It is important to keep detailed records of your expenses and losses to ensure that you are able to recover the full amount to which you are entitled.
- Not Hiring an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer: Pursuing a wrongful death claim can be a complex and emotional process. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you navigate the legal system, investigate your claim, and build a strong case for damages.
- Accepting the First Settlement Offer: Insurance companies will often try to settle wrongful death claims quickly and for as little money as possible. This often happens before the full extent of the damages is known. It is important to consult with a wrongful death lawyer before accepting any settlement offer to ensure that you are not being taken advantage of and that the offer adequately compensates you for your losses.
A simple mistake in how you approach your claim could be the difference in whether or not you are successful. Even when odds seem insurmountable, it is important to avoid caution by contacting an experienced wrongful death attorney to discuss your claim and ensure that you are taking the best possible course of action.
Contact the Wrongful Death Attorneys at Pathway Law Firm Today
If your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence of another, contact Pathway Law Firm, PC, today. We understand the pain and suffering caused by your loss and provide the assertive representation you need to recover the compensation you deserve. Your consultation is free – call today to learn about your legal options.