When a loved one is lost due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional choices of another, surviving family members can work with an experienced wrongful death attorney to file a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims allow close loved ones and/or the estate of the deceased to hold those responsible for the loss civilly liable.
Oftentimes, grieving loved ones dismiss the idea of filing a wrongful death claim because they are overwhelmed by the emotional and practical burdens resulting from their loss and they can’t imagine assuming one more stressor. Similarly, some families feel too overwhelmed to explore their legal options until so much time has passed that they’re barred by statute of limitations challenges from filing a claim. If you’ve lost a loved one due to another’s negligent, reckless, or intentional choices, it’s important to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as you possibly can. Yes, dealing with the legal aftermath of your loss can initially seem overwhelming. However, an experienced wrongful death lawyer can take much of this stress off your shoulders by advocating on behalf of your family once they’re familiar with the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. As a result, your family will be able to benefit from seeking justice and compensation for your loss even as you focus primarily on processing your grief.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim operates much like a personal injury claim does. When someone is injured as a result of another’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional behavior, the victim may hold those at fault accountable for the harm they have suffered by filing a personal injury lawsuit. As a result of that lawsuit, the victim may be awarded economic and non-economic compensation directly related to the harm they have suffered caused by the actions or inactions of the liable party or parties. A wrongful death claim is structured in much the same way, except that it is the surviving family or the estate of the deceased that has the right to bring the claim on behalf of themselves and the victim, as the victim is no longer alive to file a suit claiming damages for the injuries that led to their death.
To succeed in a personal injury suit, an accident victim must prove that the defendant owed the victim a legal duty of care, that the duty of care was breached, and that the breach caused the victim harm which resulted in financial and/or non-economic losses. To succeed in a wrongful death action, surviving family members or the estate of the deceased must prove that the deceased perished as a result of harm caused by the defendant’s breach of their duty of care for the deceased and that damages resulted from the family or estate’s loss. The duty of care, nature of the breach, and damages suffered are dependent upon the circumstances of a specific case. For example, motorists owe others on the road a legal duty of care to drive safely. If a motorist breaks the law by driving drunk, they breach that duty of care by their reckless behavior. If a drunk driving accident causes a bystander injury and that injury results in medical bills or lost wages, the victim can file a personal injury claim. However, if that drunk driving accident results in death, the surviving family members of the deceased or the estate of the deceased may sue for the economic and non-economic losses resulting from that death.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In Orange County, California, only certain individuals may file a wrongful death suit after the loss of a loved one. The following individuals are eligible to file a wrongful death claim without qualification:
- A surviving spouse
- A surviving domestic partner
- The child or children of the deceased
- Issue of the deceased children of the deceased
- Those entitled to the property of the deceased by the probate process known as intestate succession (in the event that the deceased has no surviving issue)
- Dependent stepchildren
- A dependent putative spouse
- Dependent children of a putative spouse
- Dependent parents of the deceased
- A minor who, at the time of the decedent’s death, was dependent on the deceased for at least one-half of their support and had resided in the household of the deceased for a minimum of 180 days.
Some of these legal terms are nuanced, so if you have questions about whether you’re eligible to file a wrongful death claim in the wake of your loved one’s loss of life, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney. A wrongful death lawyer can help to clarify your situation so that you can make an informed decision concerning your available legal options.
What Kind of Compensation Is Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you’re eligible to file a wrongful death claim, you can seek different kinds of economic and non-economic compensation related to the loss you’ve suffered. Economic damages must be quantifiable financial losses directly resulting to the harm that your lost loved one and your family have suffered as a result of the actions or inactions of the defendant(s). For example, medical bills resulting from emergency care at the accident site may be compensable as economic damages. By contrast, non-economic damages are much harder to quantify, as there is no amount of money on Earth that can directly compensate those who have experienced “pain and suffering” prior to death and those who have lost companionship in the wake of death.
When wrongful death claims are filed in the state of California, plaintiffs may seek the following kinds of economic and non-economic damages caused by harm resulting from the defendant’s breach of care:
- Medical expenses for the care the deceased received before their death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of financial support experienced by surviving family members and dependents
- Lost wages that the deceased would have reasonably earned had they remained living
- Loss of companionship and affection experienced by surviving family members and dependents
Depending on the circumstances of the case and where its filed, damages may also be claimed for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased pre-death, loss of inheritance caused by the death, and the value of services that would have been provided by the deceased had they remained alive.
Wrongful Death vs. Criminal Cases
It’s important to understand that if those responsible for your loved one’s death are facing criminal charges related to that death, a civil wrongful death claim may still be filed. Criminal charges do not preclude family members from filing a civil case and seeking damages. For example, in the 1990’s, former football star O.J. Simpson was famously acquitted of criminal charges linking him to the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. However, both families successfully sued Simpson for wrongful death in civil court and were awarded substantial damages as a result of that effort.
How Long Does a Family Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In the state of California, wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of an individual’s death. In the event that the death of a loved one could not be reasonably known or confirmed by surviving family members, the two-year statute of limitations does not begin until the date upon which the death could be reasonably known. This exception is referred to as the discovery rule. For example, if an individual has been kidnapped and murdered, but the victim’s death isn’t reasonably known until years after it occurs, the surviving family members have two years from the date upon which that loss is reasonably known to file a wrongful death claim.
Legal Assistance Is Available
If you have lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional choices, please contact an experienced Orange Country wrongful death attorney at Eldessouky Law today. Although it can feel overwhelming to take the first steps towards seeking justice, your family and your future self will almost certainly thank you for your efforts. By filing a wrongful death claim, you’ll not only seek justice on behalf of your departed loved one, you’ll better ensure that your family isn’t burdened by the financial losses resulting from the harm that those liable for your loved one’s death have caused. Money may be the last thing on your mind right now but medical bills, funeral costs, lost wages, and other financial challenges resulting from your loved one’s loss will catch up with your family. By allowing our firm to advocate on your behalf and on behalf of your lost loved one, we can help to ease these financial burdens while you focus on taking care of your family and processing your grief. We take great pride in advocating for surviving loved ones with compassion, dedication, efficiency, and a fierce determination to see justice prevail. We look forward to speaking with you and to being of service to you and your family at this challenging time.