Dozens of people may be personally affected by a wrongful death, but only certain individuals have the right to bring a claim against the liable party. Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, the following parties have the right to bring a wrongful death claim if they meet specific criteria:
- The personal representative of the deceased’s estate;
- The deceased’s spouse or domestic partner and children or stepchildren;
- The deceased’s putative spouse and his or her children;
- The deceased’s parents, siblings, or grandparents; and
- Any minors who lived with the deceased for at least 180 days prior to the accident.
How Long Does My Family Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In California, plaintiffs in wrongful death cases typically have two years from the date on which the victim died to file suit. If the cause of action was not immediately apparent, however, the deadline may be two years from the date when the cause of action was discovered or should have been discovered.
Because there are several exceptions to these deadlines—some of which can shorten the time limit considerably—it’s wise to consult with an attorney about your case as soon as possible. For example, if you intend to sue a government entity, you must file an administrative claim within just six months of the date of death. The agency then has 45 days to conduct an investigation. If they end up denying your claim, you have six months from the date on which you received the denial to file a formal suit. If you do not receive any response, you have two years from the date on which the cause of action accrued to proceed to court.
Another exception applies to actions arising from medical malpractice. The standard statute of limitations for medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits is one year from the date when the cause of action was discovered. If you fail to file your wrongful death lawsuit before the deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly dismiss your case.
What Kinds of Damages Can I Pursue?
Because every family’s situation is different, there’s no set formula for calculating the total value of a wrongful death claim. Generally speaking, though, claimants have the right to pursue compensation for the following damages:
- Income and any corresponding benefits that the deceased would have earned for the family had he or she survived;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Loss of household services like meal preparation, cleaning, and child care;
- Loss of financial support for necessary household services; and
- Loss of love, affection, guidance, and moral support.
If you want to pursue compensation for damages the deceased incurred prior to passing, you must bring a survival action. These actions are filed alongside wrongful death claims and serve to compensate the deceased’s family for his or her:
- Medical bills;
- Pain and suffering;
- Property damage; and
- Lost wages.
If the defendant’s misconduct constituted malice, oppression, or fraud, a survival action may also yield a punitive award.
What Factors Determine the Potential Value of a Wrongful Death Claim?
You may be wondering how much your claim is worth. Unfortunately, there’s no way to approximate a fair settlement amount until a thorough investigation has been conducted. Factors that may influence the potential value of your wrongful death claim include:
- The victim’s age and overall heath prior to the final injury or illness;
- The number of years the victim would have been reasonably certain to continue working had he or she not passed;
- The victim’s education level and vocational skills;
- The victim’s likely career trajectory;
- The victim’s anticipated retirement contributions; and
- How inflation would have affected the victim’s income over time.
Will I Have to Go to Court?
Most wrongful death claims are resolved before a lawsuit is actually filed. And of those that do end up in court, many are resolved relatively early in the proceedings. There are, however, some circumstances when litigation can draw out the proceedings considerably, so it’s usually in the best interests of all parties involved to reach an agreement out of court.
If the bills are adding up, you may be worried about going through a lengthy trial. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that may increase the chances of reaching a satisfactory settlement. For example, you can track all economic damages diligently, keep a journal about how the loss is affecting your wellbeing, and gather any available evidence of fault.
You should also be proactive about preventing the insurance company from disputing liability or damages. For example, it’s a good idea to avoid posting about the accident, your loved one’s death, or the case on social media. It’s also wise to direct any correspondence from the insurance adjuster to your lawyer so you don’t provide any recorded statements that could be used to challenge your claim.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim can be filed against a private individual, a government agency, or another entity such as a business or organization. The nature of the party against whom you bring the claim could affect the process considerably. For example, there are different procedures to follow when bringing a claim against a private individual compared to a government entity. A skilled attorney can take help you identify all liable parties, navigate the proceedings, and avoid critical mistakes.
Call (562) 206-1939 to Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Wrongful Death Attorney
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you want to file a wrongful death claim in California, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to discuss your case. Michael D. Waks is a top-rated trial lawyer who has been representing accident victims and their families for more than three decades.
Available 24/7 to take your call, we are committed to being readily accessible to our clients when they have questions or concerns. Dial (562) 206-1939 or use our Online Contact Form to set up a free case evaluation with a wrongful death lawyer in Long Beach.
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