Your wrongful death case will or will not be settled out of court since the answer will depend primarily on whether both parties agree during negotiations. If you and the liable party come to acceptable terms with the settlement offer, there is no need to go to trial.
Usually, the deceased’s will establishes a representative of the estate, and the potential awards go to this party. The representative is often a family member, such as a spouse, and they retain the authority to divide the awards among the surviving family members. In the case that there is no will, the court usually appoints a surviving family member as the representative.
Possible Damages Awarded in a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death is a civil claim aiming to compensate the survivors or dependents who will likely suffer because of the deceased’s absence. The awarded damages may come from those liable for the resulting death due to their misconduct.
In California, recoverable damages for wrongful death may include the following:
- Lost future earnings, including benefits and income raises
- Medical expenses incurred right before death
- Burial and funeral costs
- Pain and suffering, such as mental anguish or emotional distress
- Loss of companionship, relationship, or guidance
- Value of decedent’s contribution to the household
Estimating a reasonable compensation amount is often the most challenging and complex issue when parties try to settle wrongful death claims outside of court. When calculating the full extent of compensatory damages, your lawyer will consider several factors, such as the decedent’s income history, potential future income, and life expectancy. These will determine the reasonable amount of lost earnings because of the wrongful death. Sometimes, a lawyer will also account for the survivor’s or dependent’s reduced quality of life due to the sudden loss of financial support.
California’s Statute of Limitations
Like personal injury claims, wrongful death cases are subject to state-imposed time limits or statute of limitations. In California, surviving family members or dependents have two years after the date of death to file the claim in court under the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) §335.1. Once it expires, they can no longer pursue any legal action from involved parties.
When filed, a wrongful death lawsuit may or may not go to court. It happens when both parties agree to discuss settlement arrangements without a judge or jury. During mediation proceedings, the legal representatives from both sides present their case and proposed monetary payout based on facts. Discussions will continue until they reach an acceptable offer and terms.
Elements of a Wrongful Death
Whether a wrongful death case gets settled in or out of court, a strong claim for damages must have all the essential elements for it to be valid. Those seeking relief should prove the following:
A wrongful death claim only becomes actionable when a person died. There is no legitimate cause of action if the victim is alive, even with catastrophic injuries.
Negligence or Intent
The surviving family members or dependents must link the decedent’s death to the liable party’s reckless conduct or wrongful act. Like in personal injury cases, a claim of this nature has to show negligence, which caused one’s passing.
Negligence is a commonly used legal theory in establishing one’s liability for resulting damages. A party becomes liable or financially responsible because they failed to act similarly to a reasonably prudent person, given the same circumstances. Proving this aspect requires presenting substantial evidence as to how and why the death occurred.
Impact on Family Members or Dependents
A wrongful death claim must demonstrate the significant impact of the deceased’s absence on survivors and dependents. Due to the sudden loss of financial support or care, those who depended on the decedent have suffered somehow.
Right to Recover
Only those with legal rights to recover can pursue a wrongful death claim. It means that not everyone can file a lawsuit and receive compensation. Generally, states have different statutes on such matters. In California, surviving family members include:
- Spouses or domestic partners
- Parents, siblings, and relatives who may be entitled to the property by intestate succession
Meanwhile, dependents are those who rely on the decedent for financial support or care.
Seek Legal Assistance with Your Wrongful Death Claim
If you recently suffered the loss of a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you can turn to a lawyer to help you seek recovery. You can reach out to Pintas & Mullins Law Firm for help with a claim or lawsuit.
To get started, get in touch at (800) 223-5115.