Accidents happen all the time, be it on the roadways, the workplace, or even those resulting from an electronic product malfunctioning! Since many accidents are unforeseeable, it can be challenging to determine the responsible party.
More often than not, accidents happen due to the negligence of other people. In such a case, another person or company’s carelessness is directly at fault for any injuries or damages you have encountered.
This is called a personal injury claim, and it turns into a wrongful death personal injury claim when the other party loses their life instead of getting injured. When the injured victim dies due to negligence, their family has the right to make a wrongful death claim.
Today, we will determine what a wrongful death claim is, how it works in California and how much the family can recover in damages.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim Personal Injury Claim
A wrongful death claim is a subcategory of a personal injury claim in which the family members of the deceased seek financial compensation for their loss. The compensation is related to any economic or non-economic consequences of the affected party’s death.
There are strict laws in California to ensure the responsible party can’t escape civil liability just because the victim has been pronounced dead. These laws consider that no monetary compensation can ever make up for the emotional trauma and turmoil that follows a loved ones’ death. Instead, they aim to offer financial compensation to help the grieving family heal without having to worry about any money matters.
Hence, the deceased victim’s family can choose to pursue monetary damages from the person or business entity responsible for the death.
Elements to Consider
For a family member to claim wrongful death or any other civil claim, they must establish some essential elements beforehand. Therefore, all these elements are established by state law and best conducted under the supervision of a personal injury lawyer.
In California, the elements of a wrongful death personal injury claim include;
The very first element is also the most obvious one. It establishes that a death has occurred for a fact. Remember, a wrongful death claim cannot be made for an injured party, no matter how severely hurt the victim is. They need to be pronounced dead by medical experts for this claim to stand.
Proof of Defendant’s Negligence Causing the Death
The next element is often the most important one as it verifies that the other party is directly responsible for the death that occurred. This means the defendant owes the deceased party a standard of care that has been breached, resulting in the claim.
For example, if the deceased party was the victim of a car crash, the defendant may have been driving recklessly or been under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the death occurred due to an electronic machine malfunction, it could be because the company didn’t follow all the safety regulations and conduct the required tests during manufacture.
These serve as examples of negligence, which can either be direct, like a doctor’s mistake causing a loss of life, or indirect, like not following traffic rules.
Proof of Plaintiff’s Suffering Due to the Death
This requires you to establish that the plaintiff has suffered as a result of the death. It is usually determined by seeing whether the plaintiff was dependant upon the deceased party for financial support. However, emotional damage claims can also be considered, and compensation demanded sessions with a therapist.
Proof of Plaintiff Having Legal Rights to Recover
Each state has a different wrongful death statute that specifies who can legally make a wrongful death claim. In California, only certain people are allowed to file the claim. They are;
- The deceased party’s surviving spouse.
- The deceased party’s domestic partner.
- The deceased party’s children.
If none of these parties are surviving, and there is no line of descent of the deceased person, then the wrongful death claim can be made by anybody “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.” This includes the affected party’s parents, siblings, or any other family who is alive.
Moreover, if someone can prove that they were financially dependant on the victim, they can also file a wrongful death claim in California. It is limited to the following;
- The ‘putative spouse’ and their children.
- The victim’s stepchildren.
You can learn more about the intricate laws by reading California civil procedure code regarding wrongful death.
One of the most complicated parts of a wrongful death personal injury claim is determining the exact amount that would serve as damages. Since there is no price placed on human life, it can be quite challenging to decide upon a particular number, which would be considered fair compensation.
Law courts consider a variety of numeric factors when estimating the right amount of damages to be awarded. They will look into the deceased party’s past income history, the potential for further raises and promotions, approximate future income had the death not occurred, etc.
They may even attempt to take matters further and determine the victim’s life expectancy had the wrongful death not occurred. This helps them estimate how many years of income they would have brought to properly evaluate the damages amount. Lastly, the court will look over the deceased party’s monetary contributions to the general household budget. If the victim took care of non-financial errands like housekeeping and caregiving, these services’ replacement value is then considered.
Before finalizing the damages, the court will also contemplate any compensatory amount for medical bills, loss of future inheritance, general expenses, loss of companionship, pain, suffering, etc. Suppose it is found that the responsible party’s actions were intentional or a massive act of negligence had occurred. In that case, the case will not be written off as an accident, and instead, punitive damages are considered. These are compensatory measures intended to punish the other party and warn them against a similar error in the future.
Here is a list of possible damages that the grieving family can receive compensation for:
- The deceased party’s pain and suffering prior to their death.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- Medical treatment bills incurred before death.
- Loss of deceased person’s income.
- Value of the services provided by the deceased person.
- Loss of inheritance as a result of death.
- Loss of love and companionship for the partner or spouse.
- Loss of care, guidance, and nurturing for the children.
- Loss of consortium.
Statute of Limitations
There is usually a limitation on when a wrongful death claim can be filed. This timeframe is commonly two years in California and is called the statute of limitations. If the victim’s family fails to file a claim before this time, they forfeit the right to recover damages. If it is infrequent that a wrongful death claim is made, there is an exception to the statute of limitations.
Any Legal Assistance
Everything we discussed above was just the tip of the iceberg. Wrongful death claims tend to be quite complicated and often takes months before a conclusion or settlement is reached. This is because insurance companies do their best to reduce the compensation awarded to the least amount possible.
To stand your ground and get the compensation you deserve for your loved one’s loss, it is best to seek professional legal assistance. Your personal injury lawyer in California will handle all of the elements mentioned above and take care of any evidence required, meetings conducted, etc. They will best inform you of your rights and be your expert legal representation. The lawyer will do everything in their power to ensure you get a fair settlement to live a comfortable life and can grieve in peace without calls from opportunistic insurance people bothering you.
Frequently Asked Questions
This section cleared out some of the most common questions people had about wrongful death personal injury claims and how they’re handled. It includes queries over the calculation method used, who pays for the damages, and any taxation involved. Let’s have a look.
Is Wrongful Death a Personal Injury?
Wrongful death lays under a specific category of personal injury cases. You can think of it as an individual injury case in which the injured party ends up passing away. In such terrible circumstances, the close family or estate of the deceased party receives compensation instead. So yes, wrongful death does classify as a personal injury case and will be best handled by a successful personal injury lawyer.
How is Wrongful Death Damage Calculated?
The method of damage calculation for wrongful death is quite complicated. The judge who is overseeing your case will consider several different factors like the character of the deceased party, their possible future income opportunity, their contributions to the overall household earnings, how likely they were to save, etc. These are all carefully estimated; then, a certain amount is drawn up to compensate for the deceased party’s loss.
What is the Average Settlement for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The settlement amount for a wrongful death lawsuit varies immensely based on who the deceased party was and their financial contribution to the family. Some of these lawsuits settle for tens of millions of dollars while others conjure under a million bucks. Since there are no two cases alike, and no deceased parties amount to the same sum, there is no particular average for a settlement amount.
Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death personal injury claims are mostly covered by insurance companies providing liability coverage to the person or entity responsible for the death. However, keep in mind that insurance policies typically have a specific maximum amount limit. If the damages total is higher than this amount, the company will not cover the extra. The blamed party will be individually liable to pay for it.
Do You Pay Taxes on a Wrongful Death Settlement?
Any settlement amount you receive as a result of a wrongful death settlement remains nontaxable. No matter how big or small the sum is, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) has placed the IRS RULE 1. 104, making the wrongful death settlement non-taxable. This is because the settlement money classifies as a part of a claim that you received due to personal injury (in this case, death) or a physical illness.
At the End
It can be a challenging time to handle all these financial matters and deal with insurance providers right as you’ve lost a family member or loved one. As a result, most families end up letting it go and not filing a lawsuit to get their deserved compensation.
Losing a loved one often results in financial instability in the long run. There is one less member bringing income to the household budget. Furthermore, if the deceased party was the family’s primary breadwinner, things can get even worse. Instead of falling into debt and getting stuck in a never-ending credit cycle, you should employ the services of a personal injury lawyer.
Since wrongful death claims also fall under personal injuries, your personal injury lawyer from Phoong Law will take care of all the proceedings. By hiring our expert lawyers, you place the trust of your lawsuit