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 other 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 which survivors experience as a result of added expenses or a decrease in familial income.
Wrongful Death Definition | What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a legal term referring to a death caused by negligence or someone else’s misconduct. 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, surviving 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.
San Diego Wrongful Death Lawsuit
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 Wrongful Death Statute
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.
California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
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 experienced San Diego wrongful death attorneys as soon as possible to begin building your case.
Who Can Sue in a San Diego Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
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
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.
A number of our wrongful death cases have come as a result of tragic auto, boating and large vehicle accidents such as commercial big-rig trucks. 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 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 are 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.
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:
- 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
San Diego Wrongful Death Settlements
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:
- 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
- Burial and funeral 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 victim’s and their loved ones) *Note the unique guidelines below for recovering for 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.
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 medical provider is found to have been merely negligent. However, if the defendant 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.
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 spouse and/or children. How damages are awarded will depend on each family member’s personal losses as a result of the wrongful death and the specific circumstances of the case.
How Does a San Diego Wrongful Death Attorney Prove the Case?
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.
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
- 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.
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 Do I Choose a San Diego Wrongful Death Attorney?
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, and 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 not only look for 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.
If you have suffered losses associated with the wrongful death of a loved one, 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 one of our wrongful death attorneys in San Diego at our firm today to discuss your legal options. Initial consultations are always free of charge. If we don’t recover compensation, there are no legal fees!