We can’t imagine what you’re going through, but we want to help get the justice your loved one deserves.
The loss of a loved one is always shocking. Family members left behind must figure out how to carry on, which can be very difficult when a family breadwinner has died. Survivors often need compensation to help them stay in their home, pay their bills, and plan for the future.
At Levinson Law Group, we have represented many grieving family members in wrongful death lawsuits in California, and we are here to answer any questions you may have.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us today for assistance.
What is Wrongful Death in California?
A wrongful death is any death caused by a wrongful or negligent act. These can include intentional acts, such as shooting or stabbing someone, or careless actions, such as backing up and hitting a pedestrian because the driver did not check the rearview mirror.
Had the victim lived, he or she could bring a personal injury lawsuit for damages against the person who injured them. However, because the victim has died, the person who caused the injury (and death) should not be let off the hook.
For decades, California did not allow family members to sue the person who killed their loved one—a bizarre situation, indeed, where someone could get off scot free because a victim died.
Fortunately, the law has changed, and the person responsible for your loved one’s death can be brought into court and sued for wrongful death damages.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in California?
The California wrongful death statute lays out who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The surviving spouse or domestic partner
- The surviving children
- If there are no survivors, then any who is entitled to the property can bring a lawsuit, such as the deceased person’s siblings
The statute also allows certain people to bring a California wrongful death lawsuit if they were financially dependent on the deceased:
- The deceased’s putative spouse and any children born to the putative spouse
- Stepchildren of the deceased
- The parents of the deceased
If you do not know whether you have an ability to bring this type of lawsuit, then you should meet with an experienced California wrongful death attorney for a free consultation. We can help you review your rights and explain your legal options.
What are Wrongful Death Damages in California?
If the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death, then you can receive compensation in the form of money damages. The purpose of these wrongful death damages is to compensate survivors for their losses.
In California, you might receive damages for the following:
- Household services. Your loved one might have done all the cooking, cleaning, child rearing, or work around the house. Since their death, you need to hire someone else to do these tasks. You can receive a sum of money to pay for it.
- Lost anticipated financial support. This is often a serious loss. If your spouse died, you were probably expecting their income to help support the family. If you are the child of the deceased, then you were expecting support at least until you reach adulthood. You can receive a sum of money to replace this lost support.
- Intangible losses. These can include things like the loss of affection, guidance, attention, moral support, and love. The jury will have to use its experience to calculate how much money can compensate you for these losses.
The estate can also bring a claim for certain expenses, such as the cost of burial and funeral expenses, medical expenses to treat a final illness, and any lost wages from the date of the injury until death.
Proving damages can be tricky and is one of the reasons you need a skilled California wrongful death attorney.
To properly judge loss of financial support, you might need an expert witness who can testify as to how much your loved one could have earned had he lived based on education and experience. To help prove loss of love and affection, you might need to testify about your relationship in court.
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Elements of a California Wrongful Death Case
Under California law, proving a wrongful death claim requires us to demonstrate either negligence or intentional harm by the at-fault party.
Proving Negligence in a Wrongful Death Action
California personal injury attorneys base most of their cases on negligence. However, we also cite negligence in many wrongful death claims. The four elements of negligence are:
- The at-fault party owed the victim of duty of care,
- The at-fault party failed to uphold their duty of care,
- The at-fault party’s actions caused an accident that resulted in the victim’s death, and
- The victim’s family suffered provable damages.
We demonstrate your damages in wrongful death cases with copies of bills, wage statements, and similar documentation.
Proving Intentional Harm in a Wrongful Death Action
Demonstrating intentional harm is typically the approach we use if the victim died due to violence. In these cases, the defendant may also face criminal charges. However, those proceedings take place separately from your civil action. The three elements necessary to make a civil case for intentional harm are:
- The at-fault party intended to commit the act(s) in question,
- The at-fault party made non-consensual contact with the victim, and
- The non-consensual contact caused the victim’s death.
Some examples of circumstances that might indicate intentional harm are shooting deaths or being purposely struck or run over by someone’s car.
How a California Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You
Having an experienced attorney to represent you provides many significant advantages.
As you and your family face this time of stress and grief, having an attorney on your side gives you the time you need to spend with loved ones and handle the many burdens you face. When you choose the California wrongful death attorneys at Levinson Law Group, these are just some of the services we provide for you.
- We investigate and document your claim,
- We calculate the value of your damages,
- We present the strongest possible case to the insurance company,
- We handle all communication on your behalf,
- We negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company, and
- If necessary, we file legal action and make your case in court.
We work to protect your legal rights, ensuring that the insurance company does not take advantage of you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Often, insurers will attempt to coax a recorded statement from you to use against you later.
Or they may push you to accept a low settlement offer that does not fairly represent your damages. We hold the insurance companies to the high ethical standards you deserve, to maximize the value of your wrongful death settlement.
How to File Wrongful Death Claims in California
In most cases, we pursue California wrongful death claims through the at-fault party’s insurance company.
Begin the process by scheduling a no-cost initial consultation with a wrongful death attorney. After the attorney answers your questions and you are satisfied that you have a viable case, you will advise your attorney to proceed with your claim.
Once in the hands of your lawyer and legal team, the typical steps to the process include:
- Investigating and documenting your claim,
- Calculating and documenting your recoverable damages,
- Presenting your claim and demand to the insurance company, and
- Negotiating a fair financial settlement.
If we cannot obtain a reasonable and timely settlement offer from the insurer, we often recommend moving forward with a civil lawsuit. In that case, we will file legal action in the appropriate jurisdiction and prepare your case for trial.
The Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations for California
California does not give surviving family members forever to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, it sets a two-year deadline in its statute of limitations.
This two-year clock starts running from the date of your loved one’s death.
If you fail to file in time, then the defendant can ask the judge to dismiss your case, and the judge almost certainly will. This will result in the defendant being let completely off the hook and surviving family members not receiving any compensation.
It is best to avoid delay, so reach out to a wrongful death California attorney today.
How Wrongful Death Cases Differ from Criminal Trials
Wrongful death lawsuits have several key differences from criminal trials for murder or manslaughter.
Consider the following:
- The prosecutor brings a criminal prosecution. Conversely, surviving family members bring a civil lawsuit in civil court.
- A criminal case has a higher burden of proof—guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the burden of proof is preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for your loved one’s death.
- A defendant convicted of a crime can go to jail, serve time on probation, and will have a criminal record. In a wrongful death lawsuit, a defendant will only pay money to the family members.
- Some conduct doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense. For example, ordinary negligence probably cannot sustain a manslaughter charge. However, a defendant can still be sued for wrongful death.
Wrongful death cases are complicated, and family member should not try to bring them on their own. Instead, reach out to an experienced attorney who can advise you of your rights and build your case in an appropriate manner.
Contact an Experienced California Wrongful Death Attorney Now
After a loved one’s shocking death, you might not know who to turn to or who to trust. You are not alone. Please call us.
At the Levinson Law Group, we have helped many family members bring wrongful death lawsuits, and we understand the unique challenges these cases pose. One of our attorneys can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your options.