If your loved one was killed in an auto accident that someone else caused, you and your family may be entitled to monetary damages. In this blog, we will answer a few frequently asked questions about wrongful death claims involving vehicular manslaughter.
1. What Is “Vehicular Manslaughter?”
In the state of California, a person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if they cause the death of another person while driving a vehicle and:
- The offender was committing an unlawful act that did not amount to a felony and acting with gross negligence, or committing a lawful act in an unlawful manner that may cause death, with gross negligence; or
- The offender was committing an unlawful act that did not amount to a felony and acting without gross negligence, or committing a lawful act in an unlawful manner that may cause death, without gross negligence; or
- The offender knowingly caused the accident for financial gain in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550 of the California Penal Code, which pertains to the filing of fraudulent insurance claims.
2. What Is the Difference Between a Survival Action and a Wrongful Death Claim?
A survival action and wrongful death claim are two types of action that may be brought after a wrongful death. Survival actions are brought to recover compensation for damages the deceased incurred between the accident and his or her death. Examples include medical costs, lost income, and property damage. If the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud, punitive damages may also be recoverable.
A wrongful death claim, however, seeks compensation for the damages suffered by certain surviving family members of the deceased. Examples include:
- Loss of financial assistance;
- Loss of gifts or benefits;
- Funeral home and burial expenses;
- Loss of services;
- Loss of training, assistance, advice, love, and protection; and
- Loss of sexual relations (for the decedent’s spouse).
The survival action must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate or, if there is no personal representative, by the deceased’s successor in interest. The wrongful death claim can be brought by certain family members or by their personal representatives.
These actions are often combined and brought to court together.
3. Can I File the Wrongful Death Lawsuit Before the Criminal Case Has Concluded?
Yes. In fact, it is wise to start the proceedings as soon as possible. While you probably have a lot on your plate after the passing of a loved one, putting off your claim could end up being a costly mistake.
Not only are there strict deadlines for filing wrongful death lawsuits, but it is also possible for key evidence to become unavailable. Within just days of an accident, dash cam and surveillance footage may be overwritten, and eyewitnesses might forget important details about what happened.
Also, it is likely that you or someone else in your family will be contacted by the insurance company. No matter how sympathetic the insurance adjuster seems, you should NEVER provide any statements even if the conversation is not recorded—and it probably will be. What you say might be used by the adjuster to dispute liability, causation, or damages. To protect your claim, you should politely decline to answer questions until you have retained legal counsel. Once you have hired an attorney, direct all correspondence from the insurance company or the defendant to your lawyer.
4. What Does “Preponderance of the Evidence” Mean?
In a criminal case, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, but in a civil case, the defendant can be held liable for damages if the evidence indicates that he or she was “more likely than not” responsible for causing such damages. This is called a “preponderance of the evidence,” and it means the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than in a criminal case. In fact, even if the criminal case does not result in a conviction, it may still be possible to collect a settlement or verdict.
5. How Long Will It Take to Resolve My Case?
Wrongful death cases can take anywhere from a few months to well over a year to resolve. The duration of the proceedings will depend on a number of factors including the strength of the evidence and whether the opposing party is willing to cooperate. The amount of compensation being sought can also influence the duration of your case since insurance companies have more incentive to dispute claims that involve significant damages.
If your family is falling behind on essential bills due to the loss of income and other costs related to the death, an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you explore the options to make ends meet while your case is pending. It is important, however, that you do not accept an early settlement if it will not cover your long-term damages. Doing so might lead to financial turmoil, especially if the deceased was a primary income-earner for your family. A seasoned lawyer can help you determine whether a settlement offer is fair or if proceeding to litigation would be the best course of action.
Discuss Your Case with a Car Accident Lawyer in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
Attorney Michael D. Waks has extensive experience negotiating with auto insurance companies and litigating wrongful death cases. Michael can review your case in a free consultation and help you determine the most strategic way to proceed. If you hire Michael for representation, you won’t have to pay anything upfront, and no attorney’s fees will be owed unless the case is resolved in your favor. Dial (562) 206-1939 or send us a message to set up a consultation.
Print Our Free Car Accident Emergency .PDF
The shock of an auto accident can make it impossible to think clearly. If you overlook essential evidence while at the scene, it may be more difficult to win your subsequent claim. To ensure you’re always prepared, download our Car Accident Emergency .PDF and keep it in your glovebox.
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