No tragedy can match the grief of losing a family member in a sudden car accident. When the death is expected, you at least have the opportunity to say goodbye, but if the loss was caused by another person’s negligence, the burden can be especially difficult to bear.
Beyond the emotional trauma, you and your family may also be facing financial turmoil due to medical bills, lost income, and funeral costs. In the state of California, though, certain family members can bring tort claims against the parties who are liable for a wrongful death. Although filing such a claim will not undo the adversity you have experienced, it may help restore your financial security and prevent overwhelming debt.
Unfortunately, filing a successful wrongful death claim often involves an uphill legal battle. The opposing party will try to identify any weaknesses in your case and find reasons to dispute liability and damages. One misguided statement, email, or even a social media post could be all it takes to jeopardize your claim, so it is important that you are careful about what you say and do while your case is ongoing.
Below are the answers to four FAQs about car accident wrongful death claims in California. If you still have questions or if you’d like to discuss your case with a wrongful death attorney, please call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at (562) 206-1939. We are available 24/7, and your initial consultation is free.
1. What Damages Might Be Available in a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
California law gives the court discretion to determine the types of damages that family members may recover following a wrongful death. The statute is relatively vague, stating that the court may award any “just” damages given the situation. The kinds of damages that might be available to you will depend on your relationship with the deceased, how the loss has affected you personally, and various other factors.
As a result, it is impossible to determine the damages you might be able to recover without performing a thorough evaluation of your case; however, below are a few types of damages that are often available in California wrongful death claims:
- Income and benefits the decedent would have earned had the incident not occurred;
- Burial and funeral expenses;
- Loss of household services such as cooking, cleaning, and child care;
- Loss of financial support for the decedent’s household; and
- Loss of affection, love, guidance, and moral support.
Any damages suffered by the deceased between the time of injury and the time of death can be pursued by bringing a survival action. These damages might include medical bills, pain and suffering the deceased endured, and punitive damages if the responsible party’s actions were especially egregious. In the state of California, punitive damages may be awarded if the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.
2. What Factors Will Affect the Potential Value of My Wrongful Death Claim?
Each wrongful death claim is unique. The potential value of your case will depend on a variety of factors including:
- The age of the deceased;
- The number of years the deceased would have been expected to continue working had the incident not occurred;
- The skills and education level of the deceased;
- The likelihood that the deceased would have received a raise or promotion had he or she continued working;
- Whether the deceased would have received benefits or retirement account contributions; and
- How the deceased’s wages and earnings might have changed due to inflation over the coming years.
3. Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, a wrongful death claim may be brought by any of the following people or by the deceased’s personal representative on their behalf:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse, children, domestic partner, and issue of any deceased children. If there is no surviving issue of the deceased, the claim may be brought by the people who would be entitled to the deceased’s property by intestate succession.
- The following parties may bring the claim if they were dependent on the deceased: the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, parents, or stepchildren.
- A minor who resided with the deceased in the deceased’s household for 180 days prior to the wrongful death and who was dependent on the deceased for at least half of the minor’s support.
A “putative spouse” is the surviving spouse of a voidable or void marriage who the court finds to have believed in good faith that his or her marriage to the deceased was valid. A “domestic partner” is a person who, at the time of the deceased’s death, was in a registered domestic partnership with the deceased established pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 297 of the Family Code.
4. How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
A statute of limitations is a procedural rule that requires lawsuits to be filed within a certain time period. If you attempt to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the statute of limitations has passed, your case will almost certainly be dismissed.
In most cases, the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in California is two years after the date of death; however, if the cause of action could not have been discovered through reasonable diligence upon the date of death, the time period in which the lawsuit must be filed may be extended. This is known as the “discovery rule.” In this scenario, the statute of limitations would be two years from the date of discovering the cause of action, or from the date when the cause of action should have been discovered through reasonable diligence—whichever comes first.
A different statute of limitations applies to wrongful death lawsuits filed against government entities. If, for example, a person died in a car accident due to negligently maintained road signage, the heirs of the decedent must file an administrative claim with the responsible public entity within six months of the date of death. The entity then has 45 days to respond. If you received a rejection letter, you must file your lawsuit within six months of the date when the letter was mailed or personally delivered to you. If you did not receive this letter, your lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date when the cause of action accrued.
Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you still have questions about wrongful death claims in California, or if you’d like advice regarding your specific case, turn to the Law Office of Michael D. Waks. Attorney Michael Waks has been representing the injured and their surviving loved ones for more than 30 years. He can evaluate your case for free and provide the insight you need to make informed decisions regarding your claim.
If we don’t win your case, you won’t have to pay any attorneys’ fees. To set up a consultation, call our law firm today at (562) 206-1939 or send us a message using our Online Contact Form. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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