What is Wrongful Death?

In California, a wrongful death occurs when a person dies as the result of another person’s actions or failure to act. Given the complexity of these actions, accident victims often require a wrongful death attorney to recover financially. This article provides a brief overview on wrongful death claims and potential recovery.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

A wrongful death can result from a number of accidents including, but not limited to:

  • Car accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Negligence
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals at work, and
  • Criminal activity

Wrongful Death Personal Injury Lawsuits

Families can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party(ies) to recover monetary compensation for the loss of their loved one. A successful wrongful death claim for damages will require the family to prove:

  • A loved one died;
  • The loved one’s death was the result of the negligence or criminal behavior of another person; and
  • The victim and/or family suffered an injury as a result of the death.

In California, Civil Procedure section 377.60 governs wrongful death claims for damages. It provides families of a person who is wrongfully killed as the result of another’s wrongful conduct or neglect to the right to file a claim for damages within two years of the date the accident or death.

The statute of limitations may be extended in certain situations. For example, if medical malpractice is the reason for the wrongful death, the statute of limitations is extended to one year from the date the malpractice is discovered.

Who Can File Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

Generally, family members and/or dependents of an accident victim may file a wrongful death claim for damages. California law provides a hierarchy for family members and dependents who wish to file a claim against the at-fault party(ies).

In California, the following parties may file a wrongful death claim for damages:

  1. Surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and grandchildren of a victim;
  2. Persons entitled to the victim’s property if there are no surviving spouses, domestic partners, children, or grandchildren;
  3. A putative spouse, the children of a putative spouse,* stepchildren, and parents;
  4. A minor who lived with the victim for 180 days prior to the wrongful death who relied on the victim for at least half of their support.

*A putative spouse is defined as a surviving spouse of a void/voidable marriage who legitimately believed the marriage to be valid. A void/voidable marriage may include a common law marriage in California or a marriage subject to an annulment.

What Damages Can I Recover from a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Damages for injuries sustained by the victim and his or her family may be recoverable through a wrongful death lawsuit. Damages for injuries sustained by the victim generally must be sought by the administrator of his or her estate. Damages for injuries sustained by the family may be sought by the family. Generally, damages in a wrongful death personal injury lawsuit may include:

  • Medical expenses incurred before the victim’s death, such as hospital bills, surgery, prescriptions, and ambulance fees;
  • Costs related to the funeral and/or burial of the victim;
  • Reasonably calculated lost future wages; and
  • Loss of consortium.

It is important to note that punitive damages are generally not awarded in California wrongful death cases. However, there is an exception to the rule if the at-fault party is convicted of a felony-murder charge for the death of the victim.

Wrongful Death Damages – Are They Taxable?

Damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit may or may not be taxable. The answer depends on the type of damages awarded.

Economic damages – or those awarded for verifiable out-of-pocket expenses– are generally not taxable. The purpose of these damages is to make the family whole again. An exception arises, however, when a family takes itemized tax deductions for medical expenses paid to care for the lost loved one. If an itemized deduction is taken, the amount of the award equal to that deduction will be taxable.

Non-economic damages – or those awarded for harder to calculate injuries – are generally taxable. The purpose of these damages is to account for emotional distress and grief caused by the loss of a loved one.

How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help With My Wrongful Death Claim For Damages?

The days, weeks, and months after the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one can be incredibly trying. A personal injury attorney can handle the heavy legal lifting while you and your family grieve and begin to understand life without your family member. Wrongful death lawsuits can be time-consuming and complex.

An experienced personal injury attorney understands the process and steps required to build a substantial and moving case. When you enlist the assistance of a qualified California personal injury attorney they will build a case by:

  • Investigating the accident that resulted in the wrongful death of your loved one;
  • Determining which parties may be liable;
  • Consulting with experts and accident recreationists to highlight the at-fault party’s liability;
  • Locating and interviewing witnesses;
  • Communicating with the opposing party(ies);
  • Negotiating with insurance companies;
  • Researching relevant case law and statutes; and
  • Filing claims and documents with the court in a timely fashion.

The assistance of an experienced California personal injury attorney can be invaluable in a wrongful death law claim for damages. If you have recently lost a loved one in a California accident you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about your rights and legal options.

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