San Diego Wrongful Death Attorney

As our San Diego wrongful death lawyers know all too well, the sudden death of a loved one causes unimaginable grief, which the victim’s friends and family will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Learning to live the rest of your life without a husband, a wife, a child, a parent, or another loved one can seem like an insurmountable challenge, one which nobody can really relate to unless they have experienced such a loss.

To make matters worse, when a loved one’s death was wrongfully caused by the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another, the surviving family members may be left with financial hardships. Working with our San Diego wrongful death attorneys, a wrongful death action can be brought by the victim’s surviving heirs against the wrong-doer to recover funeral and medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earnings of the deceased person, loss of companionship and services, pain and suffering (in some types of claims), and other sometimes significant compensation and monetary damages.

Although no amount of money can compensate for the incredible loss the victim’s loved ones are experiencing, obtaining monetary compensation will ease the financial stress and anxiety that survivors experience as a result of added expenses or a decrease in familial income.

What Is Wrongful Death? | Wrongful Death Definition

Wrongful death is a legal term referring to a death caused by someone else's negligent actions or intentional wrongdoing. Wrongful death can include accidents due to recklessness or negligence, such as a car accident, or intentional misconduct, such as murder.

When a wrongful death occurs, grieving family members can file a lawsuit for “wrongful death.”

In some cases, a wrongful death results in criminal prosecution. Wrongful death lawsuits, however, are civil actions and separate from any criminal charges that may or may not be filed. Civil cases have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases; this means family members can be successful at recovering compensation and seeking justice even if criminal charges aren’t pursued or there is no conviction.

California Wrongful Death Statute

Wrongful death lawsuits are notoriously complex. California law defines not only what is considered a wrongful death but also who may file a claim, in what circumstances, and what type of compensation may be recovered.

California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 grants family members the right to recover economic and non-economic compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one. Under California’s wrongful death statute, family members can recover damages including:

  • Final expenses
  • The amount of income the deceased would have earned
  • Compensation for loss of support and companionship

Wrongful death claims may be combined with a “survival” cause of action under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30. These actions are brought on behalf of a victim’s estate to compensate for the losses the victim suffered rather than the family.

While wrongful death lawsuits in California do not allow for punitive damages, a survival cause of action may allow for this type of compensation in some cases.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in San Diego, CA?

Under California law, only certain people are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Biological and adopted children
  • Next living heir or descendent, such as siblings or parents, when there are no surviving family members in the victim’s line of descent
  • Parents in the case of a deceased fetus
  • People financially dependent on the deceased, such as stepchildren and putative spouses

California’s “one action rule” requires that all known heirs to the deceased’s estate be included in the lawsuit.

There are a few exceptions to who can file a wrongful death action in California. A claim may not be allowed if the decedent died while committing a felony or in the case of medical malpractice if the decedent’s chance of survival was lower than 50% before the negligent act.

A San Diego wrongful death lawyer can help if you are unsure if you are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of a loved one.

Wrongful Death Statistics

Wrongful death can occur due to any number of circumstances, including unintentional accidents and intentional wrongful actions. There are about 170,000 “unintentional injury fatalities” in the United States every year, according to the CDC, and many of these cases may be eligible for wrongful death lawsuits. The following statistics shed light on the shocking number of potential wrongful death claims in California and the rest of the country.

  • Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death and claim over 250,000 lives every year in the U.S., according to a John Hopkins study.
  • Traffic accidents are responsible for 6,900 fatalities every year in California alone.
  • Over 17,000 people are killed due to slip and fall injuries per year, according to the CDC.
  • The BLS reports that more than 5,200 workers are killed in workplace accidents every year.
  • Traumatic brain injuries kill an estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. every year.
  • There are nearly 1,800 homicides in California annually, according to the FBI.

Types of San Diego Wrongful Death Cases We Handle

Wrongful death claims can be brought after any type of act in which recklessness, negligence, or intentional wrongful acts lead to the death of someone else. The following examples of wrongful death cases are not exhaustive.

Traffic accidents

A number of our wrongful death cases have come as a result of tragic car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and large truck accidents. Most traffic accidents are caused by negligence, such as distracted or reckless driving, speeding, or drunk driving. If you have lost a loved one due to a similar accident, a San Diego wrongful death attorney from our firm will be happy to hear your case and assist you with your claim.

Slip and fall accidents

Slip and fall injuries fall under an area of law called premises liability which requires that property owners and managers maintain a safe environment for visitors and address any hazards they know or have reason to know exists. If a loved one suffered a fatal slip and fall injury on someone else’s property, a San Diego wrongful death lawyer can help you explore your legal options.

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice is a leading cause of accidental death in the United States and it can include everything from failure to treat, misdiagnosis, and delayed diagnosis to surgical errors and birth injuries.

Nursing home abuse and neglect

One of the most common wrongful death cases we handle is centered around claims of abuse or negligence of an elderly individual who was in the care of a nursing home facility. The legal team at our San Diego wrongful death law firm is recognized for our expertise and experience managing wrongful death cases with skilled nursing homes and related elder care facilities.

Workplace accidents

Employers have a legal duty to maintain a safe work environment for their employees. Wrongful death can occur in any industry. The leading cause of fatal workplace accidents is transportation accidents, but a wrongful death can also be the result of heavy machinery accidents, defective products, unsafe work conditions, and falls.

Strict liability cases

Under California law, family members can file a wrongful death claim in some situations, even when the defendant was not negligent. This includes cases of fatal dog bites and defective products.

Assault and battery, murder, and manslaughter

Unfortunately, wrongful death isn’t always the result of negligence or an accident; many cases involve intentional wrongdoing. These cases are more likely to also come with criminal charges for the defendant, but the outcome of any criminal trial (if one occurs) has no effect on a plaintiff’s ability to file a wrongful death action.

Other types of wrongful death cases

The following are other examples of situations in which a wrongful death claim may arise:

  • Fire
  • Drowning
  • Suicide in some cases of bullying or if someone with a special duty of care, such as a therapist, was a major factor in the suicide
  • Child abuse or neglect

Compensation Available in Wrongful Death Claims in California

Family members who are successful in a wrongful death claim may seek many types of economic and non-economic damages. These damages are designed to compensate heirs for the value of support they would have received from their loved one.

An aggressive wrongful death law firm in San Diego will help you seek the following types of damages:

  • Financial support the victim would have provided. This includes loss of the victim’s reasonably expected earnings, typically through their anticipated retirement, and may include wages, work benefits, and some government benefits
  • The loss of benefits and gifts heirs could have expected
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Household services the victim would have provided
  • Loss of training and guidance, moral support, affection, protection, companionship, and sexual relations
  • Pain and suffering (the victims and their loved ones) *Note the unique guidelines below for recovering from pain and suffering

There is no standard for how a jury decides the amount of non-economic damages like loss of protection. Economic damages are calculated, in part, based on the decedent’s life expectancy and health.

Note that California’s wrongful death statute does not allow damages for a survivor’s pain and suffering or punitive damages. Additional types of damages may be available through a survival action, however. This separate wrongful death claim is a unique type of personal injury claim.

A survival action allows a representative of the estate to assume the decedent’s legal rights and seek damages the victim would have been able to seek if they had survived. A wrongful death lawsuit, by comparison, compensates survivors for their losses.

A survival action is only allowed when the decedent survived for any amount of time after the incident or accident that caused his or her death. A survival action can allow for additional types of damages not available in wrongful death cases, including punitive damages but it does not include damages for disfigurement, pain, and suffering.

The only exception to this is the Elder Abuse Act, which allows for damages for a victim’s pain and suffering in a survival claim involving elder abuse or neglect. In these claims, heightened legal remedies are possible to award for the victim’s pre-death disfigurement, pain, and suffering when the defendant committed malice, fraud, oppression, and recklessness. These pre-death injuries the victim suffered are considered separate from the damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death action to compensate family members for their injuries.

An important consideration to take into account when hiring a San Diego wrongful death lawyer and pursuing a wrongful death claim is that the claim may be limited depending upon the conduct which forms the basis for the action. More specifically, a wrongful death claim based upon medical malpractice may be capped at $250,000 under the provisions of MICRA if the defendant's medical provider is found to have been merely negligent. However, if the defendant's medical treater is found to have acted recklessly or neglectfully (any conduct that was more than merely negligent), then that limitation would not apply.

Similarly, the $250,000 limit would not apply if the wrongful death claim is based upon the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (also known as the California Elder Abuse Act) because abuse amounts to more than mere negligent conduct.

Our San Diego wrongful death attorneys are extremely familiar with all state laws as they relate to wrongful death and medical malpractice and will fight to make sure you receive the greatest compensation possible under the law.

Visit our case results page to see verdicts and settlements our San Diego wrongful death law firm achieved in past wrong death cases. You can also learn more about wrongful death settlements.

Who Receives the Settlement in a San Diego Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

While the decedent’s estate files the wrongful death lawsuit, how damages are paid is determined by the court hearing the lawsuit. The court will decide how compensation is distributed among the surviving spouse and/or children. How damages are awarded will depend on the personal losses of each family member as a result of the fatal accident and the specific circumstances of the case.

Is There a San Diego Wrongful Death Settlement Calculator?

A settlement calculator is impossible to create as every case is unique. The value of your wrongful death claim will be based on many factors. Some types of damages can be easy to establish such as funeral expenses and medical bills. For other types of damages, wrongful death lawyers in San Diego use evidence to argue for the highest possible compensation for non-economic damages like loss of companionship and support.

Juries are typically advised to award a reasonable amount based on their common sense and the evidence. Your loved one’s age, health, and life expectancy may be used to determine an award for financial compensation and household services they would have provided.

How to Prove a Wrongful Death Suit

A wrongful death lawsuit requires proving several key areas of the case:

  • Duty of care, or that the defendant owed the decedent a duty of care
  • Breach of duty of care, or that the defendant breached this duty
  • Causation, or that the defendant’s actions (or lack of action) led to the wrongful death
  • Victim's surviving family members suffered damages

The most complex aspect of a wrongful death claim to prove is that the death would not have occurred except for the defendant’s negligent or wrongful actions. At Berman & Riedel, LLP, our San Diego wrongful death law firm will help you gather evidence such as:

  • Witness statements
  • Expert testimony
  • Photographs
  • Police reports
  • Records or logs
  • Video evidence
  • Medical reports

Financial and tax statements, personal testimony, and bills may be used to prove the damages your family has suffered.

California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations refers to the time period in which a civil lawsuit must be brought. In California, the wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from the date of the victim’s death. If a case is not filed within this time limit, you will lose the right to file a lawsuit.

There are some exceptions to this statute of limitations, such as cases involving negligence by a governmental body. It’s crucial to seek representation from an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to begin building your case.

How a San Diego Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help You

Wrongful death claims are notoriously complex. While civil cases don’t have the same very high burden of proof as criminal cases, you must still show the defendant was responsible for your loved one’s death based on the preponderance of evidence.

An attorney specializing in wrongful death claims has intricate knowledge of the legal process with wrongful death claims, understands the value of your claim, and provides support throughout the process. A San Diego wrongful death lawyer will also represent you during negotiations, take your case to trial if necessary, gather the evidence necessary to prove your claim, and seek maximum compensation for the loss you have suffered.

When choosing a wrongful death attorney in San Diego, it is important that the victim’s heirs look for not only a law firm with extensive experience in handling such cases but also one with compassionate, caring attorneys and professional staff who will respect the incredible suffering and sadness their clients are experiencing.

At Berman & Riedel, LLP, our San Diego wrongful death attorneys have years of experience in handling wrongful death cases and understand not only the intricate legal aspects of handling such cases but also the emotionally sensitive aspects affecting our clients. We work diligently to see these cases through to completion so as to relieve as much stress as possible during this trying time in our clients’ lives.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our San Diego Wrongful Death Lawyers

If you have suffered the tragic death of a loved one due to someone else's negligence, Berman & Riedel, LLP, can offer the experience and skill necessary to provide you with sound advice on how to protect your legal rights. Contact our office to speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer in San Diego at our firm today. We will help you explore your options to seek compensation for your family. Initial consultations are always free of charge. If we don’t recover compensation, there are no legal fees!


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Jean’s mother was a victim of neglect while at a skilled nursing facility, resulting in surgery that she did not survive. Berman was there to listen and provide support that the client needed.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to common questions people have about personal injury cases and working with a lawyer. During your initial consultation, we will be happy to answer questions that are particular to your case.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?

The attorneys at Berman & Riedel, LLP, accept cases on a contingency-fee basis. This type of agreement means you do not pay any attorneys’ fees out-of-pocket for legal representation. Attorneys’ fees are also contingent on the outcome of your case.

You benefit from legal representation in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of a settlement or jury award. We will only recover a fee if you recover compensation.

Can You Tell Me How Much My Case Is Worth?

There is no way to determine the exact value of a personal injury case, especially early in your case. However, an experienced attorney can give you an estimated range based on their experience with similar cases.

There are many factors that may influence the value of your case, such as:

  • Your total financial or economic damages
  • The severity of your injuries
  • The impact of your injuries on your daily life
  • The strength of your case
  • Whether you share fault for your accident
  • Insurance policy limits 

Some damages are easy to calculate, such as lost wages and medical bills. Calculating the value of diminished earnings for the rest of your life or future medical needs; however, may require the help of experts. Non-economic damages like pain and suffering have no intrinsic financial value. These damages are challenging to calculate. 

If your case goes before a jury, you may potentially be able to recover more than you could through a settlement. However, this introduces a new element of risk: the jury. The circumstances of your accident and even how sympathetic you or the defendant are can influence the outcome.

During your consultation, and throughout your case, we will help you understand how these factors influence your case. We will also work tirelessly to document the value of all your damages and pursue maximum compensation on your behalf.

Will My Case Go to Trial?

The vast majority of cases are resolved by reaching a settlement agreement outside of court. Very few personal injury cases actually go to trial, but it is more likely if the facts in your case are in dispute, a legal issue is being contested, or you have a high-value case.

An experienced lawyer will build your case as if it will go to trial from the beginning. The stronger your case and evidence, the more likely a fair settlement will be reached.

How Do I Know If I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

If your case involves mostly property damage or minor injuries, you likely do not need a lawyer to handle a claim with the insurance company. The more serious your injuries, or the more complex your case, the more important it becomes to seek experienced legal counsel.

Remember that the insurance company is not on your side, even if the insurance adjuster seems sympathetic and you receive a settlement offer. If you are being blamed for your accident or sustained serious injury, a lawyer will help you protect your rights and build the strongest case possible. This includes calculating the full value of your current and future losses.

Legal representation is also vital if your case involves a complex area of law such as elder abuse or neglect, premises liability, commercial vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, or serious work-related accidents. Determining liability, navigating decades of legal precedence, and interpreting specific statutes in these cases is best done with years of relevant legal experience.

Do You Accept Cases Outside of San Diego?

While our law office is located in San Diego, Berman & Riedel, LLP, accepts cases throughout the state of California.


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