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Wrongful Death

Wrongful death claims arise when someone’s death was caused by negligent or otherwise wrongful conduct of another. Normally, personal injury lawsuits seek to recover damages for the individual that personally experienced injury in an accident. Wrongful death suits, however, are designed instead to benefit the survivors of someone now deceased.

Parties with Standing to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

California enacted laws limiting the types of people who may bring a wrongful death claim. If more than one survivor exists, barring any conflicts of interest they may elect to be represented by a single attorney in a joint wrongful death suit. Eligible survivors for individual and joint lawsuits may include:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse;
  • Surviving registered domestic partner;
  • Surviving children;
  • Offspring of any deceased children;
  • Surviving parents;
  • Surviving siblings;
  • Surviving grandparents;
  • Financial dependents of the deceased;
  • The decedent’s estate; and
  • In cases where the deceased has no living issue, people that would be entitled to inherit the deceased’s property through intestacy.

A putative spouse and their children, parents, or stepchildren may bring a claim if they were financially dependent on the deceased victim. Putative in this instance means the individual was not actually married to the deceased, but despite the void or voidable marriage the courts would find in good faith they believed their “marriage” to be valid.

San Diego Wrongful Death Damages

In California, statutes were specifically created to provide the decedent’s successors in interest and dependents with an avenue to recover for the losses they personally suffered as a result of the decedent’s death. There are many damages that may arise from wrongful death claims, including:

  • Damages for the loss of love, companionship, comfort, consortium, protection, society, and moral support;
  • Damages which reflect the financial benefit such as wages the survivors were receiving from decedent and those reasonably expected in the future;
  • The loss of gifts or benefits the individual would have expected to receive; and
  • Funeral expenses.

Damages are associated with either a victim’s death or their survivor’s personal loss and loss of household services. Damages associated with the death are economic and can be substantiated by documents like receipts, pay stubs, and medical bills. Non-economic damages are meant to cover the survivor’s personal loss including loss of love and their loss of household services with regards to things such as child-rearing. Awarding non-economic damages is subjective, as emotional trauma has no fixed price tag and a survivor cannot be made whole merely by money.

California law is not concrete on the amount or types of compensatory damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. Courts have discretion in each situation to award “just” damages, so your recovery may be based on your relationship with the deceased or how the loss has personally impacted you and your life. Additionally, if a survivor can prove a defendant acted with fraud, oppression, or malice, they may receive further compensation in the form of punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongful conduct and deter similar behavior in the future.

Wrongful death cases can come about for many different reasons, including car accidents, trucking accidents, bicycle accidents, medical malpractice, elder abuse, defective products, dangerous conditions or construction accidents. However, all the claims arise from the fact someone’s negligence or intentional act is responsible for a death.

Wrongful death cases can be very complex and are always unique to the individual who is being compensated for the loss of a loved one. There is no fixed standard for a jury or court to decide the value of the loss, which makes it imperative that you consult with an experienced attorney.

San Diego Statute of Limitations for Filing Wrongful Death Claims

Despite the immense loss a survivor suffers upon the death of a loved one, it is advisable to reach out to an experienced lawyer soon after the death to avoid the statute of limitations barring your wrongful death claim. Unless an exception applies, California law requires you to bring your lawsuit within two years of the victim’s death. This includes claims against individuals, corporations, and third-party businesses, and will not be tolled unless the cause of action was not discoverable using reasonable diligence on the date of the victim’s death.

Claims against government agencies operate on a different timeline. A qualified survivor has six months from the death to file an administrative claim with the appropriate public entity, to which the entity must respond in 45 days. On receiving a rejection letter, you have six more months to file a lawsuit. If you receive no response letter to your administrative claim, the suit must be filed within two years of the date of death. It is always a good idea to follow up with the administrative body you sent the claim to in order to confirm no letter was sent out after the initial 45 days. This will ensure you understand your statute of limitations correctly.

The sudden loss of a family member or loved one can be too much to bear, particularly when caused by another’s wrongful acts. The complex statute of limitation laws, in conjunction with the fact multiple parties are often involved, make it very important to contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer. That attorney can analyze the specific individuals that you are entitled to bring a claim against, help you navigate the legal system, and aggressively advocate for you to recover the damages you deserve.

For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced San Diego wrongful death attorney, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.

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