In the state of California, if someone you love dies accidentally and suddenly – in a traffic collision or in any other accident scenario – because another person was careless, reckless, or negligent, you will have to juggle difficult legal and emotional issues simultaneously.
Although it might be painful, if you suddenly and accidentally lose a loved one, you must speak at once to a Fresno lawyer who handles wrongful death cases. When someone else’s negligence causes an accidental sudden death, the surviving family members are entitled by law to compensation.
How does California law define wrongful death? Who may file a wrongful death claim, and what does a wrongful death claim accomplish?
HOW DO WRONGFUL DEATHS HAPPEN?
Except for job-related fatalities, how a wrongful death happens in California does not matter. If someone’s negligence is the cause of someone else’s accidental death, the negligent party can be held legally accountable with a wrongful death claim – a legal claim for monetary compensation.
Other wrongful deaths may include traffic fatalities caused by negligent, distracted, or impaired drivers; slipping and falling from a balcony or a staircase because a safety railing went unrepaired; and fatal reactions to prescription drugs due to a lack of instructions or warnings.
In fact, wrongful deaths in California happen every single day and in virtually every conceivable manner. When a wrongful death happens, the surviving family members may bring a wrongful death claim against the negligent party who caused the fatality.
EXACTLY WHO MAY FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM IN THIS STATE?
In this state, your right to pursue a wrongful death claim after the accidental death of a loved one hinges on your exact relationship with the deceased person. California lets a deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, and surviving children file a wrongful death claim.
If a wrongful death victim has no spouse, domestic partner, or children, only then may a wrongful death claim be filed by anyone who is “entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession,” such as the victim’s siblings or parents.
Stepchildren may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim in California only if they can prove they were dependent financially on the stepparent/wrongful death victim.
HOW DOES A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM WORK?
Wrongful death claims seek monetary damages. The party who brings the legal action is the “plaintiff,” while the party who is accused of being negligent – and of being liable for the wrongful death – is the “defendant.”
The lawyers for each side in a California wrongful death case are usually able to negotiate a settlement privately and outside of the courtroom. In most cases, surviving family members won’t even have to appear in court.
But if no settlement is possible, and a plaintiff chooses to take the case to trial, the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s lawyer will have to prove that the family member’s death was a wrongful death, that the defendant was negligent, and the defendant’s negligence was a direct cause of the death.
WHAT DO PLAINTIFFS HAVE TO PROVE IN WRONGFUL DEATH TRIALS?
What follows are the exact legal arguments that an experienced wrongful death attorney must make on a plaintiff’s behalf in a California wrongful death trial.
First, the plaintiff’s side must prove that a defendant owed a legal “duty of care” to the victim. What is a duty of care?
Drivers, for instance, owe the rest of us a duty of care to drive cautiously. Private property owners are obligated to repair potentially hazardous conditions at their properties. Drug companies are obligated to test their items and to provide sufficient instructions and warnings.
WHAT ELSE WILL A WRONGFUL DEATH PLAINTIFF HAVE TO PROVE?
Secondly, the plaintiff’s side must show that the duty of care was violated by the defendant. In other words, the plaintiff’s side must show that a defendant acted negligently.
Third and finally, in a California wrongful death trial, it isn’t sufficient to prove that there was a duty of care or that a defendant was negligent. The plaintiff’s lawyer must show a direct link between the negligence and the wrongful death and prove that the negligence was, in fact, a direct cause of the death.
In California, if the plaintiff’s side cannot prove all of these elements of the case, a wrongful death action will not prevail, and the surviving family members will recover no damages.
HOW WILL A TOP WRONGFUL DEATH LAW FIRM HELP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?
It will be difficult during a time of grief, but if you qualify to file a wrongful death claim, you must let an accomplished Fresno wrongful death attorney offer the sound advice, insights, and the reliable legal guidance that your family will require.
Frequently, a good wrongful death lawyer can rapidly determine if your family has adequate legal grounds to bring a wrongful death action and if you have enough evidence for your claim to prevail.
As mentioned previously, except for employment-related deaths, it does not matter how a wrongful death happened in California – the surviving family members have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim. What makes job-related fatalities legally different?
California does not allow surviving family members to file wrongful death claims for work-related fatalities if the employer alone was negligent. California’s courts have ruled that deaths which are exclusively job-related are covered by the state’s workers’ compensation system.
WHAT COMPENSATION SHOULD FAMILIES EXPECT?
Of course, no sum of money can substitute for someone you love or even begin to compensate you for that kind of loss. Still, it is imperative to hold a liable party accountable – with a wrongful death claim – so that another tragedy does not happen in the future.
And a successful wrongful death claim can compensate family members for their loved one’s outstanding medical and funeral expenses, lost future earnings, and more. A claim that prevails can help your family transition positively and constructively into the future.
What you have just read is only a general discussion of wrongful death and the law in California.
If a wrongful death actually occurs in your own family, you will need to let an experienced Fresno wrongful death attorney provide personalized advice to you and your family members about your legal rights and your best options.
A good attorney’s help is your right, and after a wrongful death, your family’s future could depend on it.