Wrongful death in California explained

If a loved one is killed by someone else’s negligence, you may have the right to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

If a loved one is injured by someone else's negligence, he or she has a right to file a lawsuit and recover damages against the negligent party. However, what happens if the negligence leads to your loved one's death? Many people wrongly believe that the right to hold the negligent party accountable ends at the victim's death. However, in reality, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed in such a situation.

What is wrongful death?

A wrongful death occurs in situations where someone is killed because of the neglect, or intentional act of someone else. Common situations where this occurs include medical malpractice, car accidents, workplace accidents and defective products. In some situations, the responsible party may also face criminal charges for his or her actions, but this does not affect the right to file a civil claim, or the outcome of a wrongful death lawsuit.

How is the lawsuit filed?

In California, like most other states, the rules surrounding wrongful death lawsuits are controlled by statute. Under California statutes, spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, siblings and financial dependents may file a wrongful death lawsuit to collect damages. If there were no financial dependents, the personal representative of the deceased's estate may also file the lawsuit to collect damages on behalf of the estate.

What may be recovered?

Wrongful death lawsuits have two primary purposes: 1) to reimburse the estate for expenses caused by the decedent's death; and 2) to compensate the decedent's close family members for emotional and financial losses. Consequently, California law allows several types of damages to be recovered including:

• Medical, funeral and burial expenses

• Loss of financial support

• Loss of future income that decedent would have earned had he or she lived

• Loss of household services

• Loss of decedent's affection, companionship and guidance

In addition to these damages, punitive damages may be awarded in limited cases where the party responsible for the death is convicted of a felony for his or her conduct. However, in most cases, wrongful death lawsuits serve as a way to recover losses, not as a means of punishing the guilty party.

What to do if faced with a wrongful death

If a loved one has died because of someone's carelessness, it is vital to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible, because the law sets time limits on when a lawsuit may be filed. The experienced team of attorneys that work with Hanasab Legal Network can advise you further on your legal rights and work to recover the maximum compensation allowed by law.