In the state of California, wrongful death plaintiffs typically have two years from the date on which the victim passed to file a lawsuit. If the cause of action was not immediately apparent, however, this deadline may extend to two years from when it was discovered (or should have been discovered).
Since there are a few exceptions that can shorten the time limit considerably, though, it’s advisable to consult a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible if you believe your family has grounds for a claim. This is especially true if you intend to bring a suit against a government entity.
Should your case involve a government agency, you must submit an administrative claim within just six months of the date of death. The entity in question then has 45 days to conduct an internal investigation. Based on their findings, they will either accept or deny your claim.
If the government denies your claim, you will have six months from the date on which you receive notice of their decision to proceed to court. If for whatever reason you do not receive a response, you will have two years from when the cause of action occurred to file a formal suit.
There’s a different filing deadline for cases involving medical malpractice. If the victim died as a result of receiving substandard care, surviving family members have one year from when the malpractice was discovered (or should have been discovered) to take legal action.
Failing to file your suit before the applicable deadline has passed will almost certainly result in a dismissal of your case.
Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
Although an unanticipated death might affect dozens of people, only certain relatives of the deceased are entitled to take legal action against those liable for the resulting losses. In the state of California, such individuals include:
- The personal representative of the deceased’s estate;
- The spouse or domestic partner of the deceased;
- The children and/or stepchildren of the deceased;
- The parents, siblings, or grandparents of the deceased; and
- Any minors who resided with the deceased for at least 180 days leading up to the victim’s death.
How Much Is My Family’s Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
Because every family’s financial situation is unique, there’s no standard formula for determining the total value of any given wrongful death claim. During your initial consultation, however, you can ask the attorney about factors that may influence the potential settlement or verdict.
Such factors might include:
- The victim’s age and overall health prior to the death;
- The victim’s total life expectancy;
- The number of years the victim would have likely continued working to support the family financially;
- The victim’s anticipated career trajectory;
- The victim’s anticipated retirement contributions;
- The victim’s vocational skills and education level; and
- How inflation would have influenced the victim’s earnings over time.
After evaluating the details of the case, your lawyer can also explain the various damages that your family may be able to recover. This will provide a more concrete idea as to what your claim may be worth.
In California, wrongful death plaintiffs may seek compensation for:
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses;
- Lost income and benefits that the deceased would have provided the household over the course of his or her life, had it not been cut short;
- Loss of domestic help like housekeeping, meal preparation, and child care;
- Loss of financial support for essential household services; and
- Loss of moral support, guidance, love, and affection.
Depending on the circumstances of the victim’s death, your family may also have grounds for a survival action. Instead of seeking damages incurred by family members after the death, survival actions are intended to pursue losses that the deceased incurred prior to passing. Examples include pain and suffering, lost wages, medical bills, and property damage. If the defendant’s conduct constituted fraud, malice, or oppression, punitive damages may also be awarded.
Will My Family Have to Go to Court?
Navigating complicated legal proceedings is the last thing you should have to worry about when grieving the loss of a loved one. Thankfully, most wrongful death cases are resolved before actually going to court.
As long as sufficient evidence exists to support your case, there’s a good chance the opposing party would be willing to negotiate for a settlement. If for some reason they are uncooperative, though, filing a formal lawsuit may be the only way to pursue the compensation your family deserves.
While many wrongful death suits are resolved in the early stages of litigation, there’s always the chance that your case will make it all the way to trial. Fortunately, if you hire a seasoned trial attorney, going to court won’t necessarily come with added stress. Your legal team will handle all the logistics of the case while protecting your rights—and advocating for your best interests—every step of the way.
Since going to trial essentially means relinquishing control over the outcome of the case, though, it’s important that you hire an attorney who will employ proven negotiation strategies. You should also take steps to prevent disputes. For example, you can track the damages diligently, preserve evidence, and avoid discussing the death or your case on social media.
Call (562) 206-1939 to Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Wrongful Death Lawyer
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If your loved one died because another party failed to act with reasonable care, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to determine the most strategic way to proceed. A top-rated trial lawyer, Michael D. Waks has been advocating for accident victims and their families for more than 30 years.
With his legal guidance, our resourceful firm has recovered numerous six- and seven-figure settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients. To start building your family’s wrongful death claim, call (562) 206-1939 or use our Online Contact Form to set up a free consultation with a wrongful death attorney in Long Beach. We’re here 24/7 to take your call.
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