Losing a loved one in an accident can be extremely difficult. While no monetary amount can compensate you for the sudden loss of your family member, a wrongful death lawsuit can help you deal with the financial challenges you are facing. Here, we will discuss how to prove fault and other wrongful death elements.
What Is a Wrongful Death Case?
Wrongful death is a cause of action that arises when someone’s negligence or other wrongful action causes the death of another person. If one of your relatives died as a result of a negligently caused accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.
Wrongful death is a civil claim. The goal is to obtain damages to compensate yourself and your family. This is different from a criminal case in which the goal is punitive towards the defendant. Since wrongful death is a civil claim, the State does not file the case as it would in a criminal proceeding. Certain people with a particular relationship to the deceased person must file a wrongful death claim.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Case?
In California, only certain relatives of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim can be brought by:
- A surviving spouse;
- Domestic partners;
- Surviving children or grandchildren;
- Other relatives, such as siblings or parents who could inherit property from the deceased because of a blood relation; or
- Surviving parents, stepchildren, or a putative spouse who can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased.
A putative spouse is someone who believed that their marriage to the deceased was valid when it was in fact void for reasons such as a pre-existing marriage. Children of the putative spouse who were dependent on the deceased also have standing to bring a claim.
Contact a wrongful death attorney if you are not sure whether you have standing to bring a wrongful death claim. Even if you are unable to file a lawsuit, one of your family members may be able to do so.
Proving Fault for Wrongful Death
Proving fault in a wrongful death case is similar to proving fault in any other personal injury lawsuit. The person bringing the suit, also called the plaintiff, has to show that the defendant was negligent and that the negligence caused the death of the plaintiff’s relative. Negligence can be broken down into several elements.
Duty of Care
As the plaintiff, you must establish that the defendant owed the deceased person a duty of care. This is one of the wrongful death elements that an attorney will be able to help you with. The law recognizes certain duties of care that people owe to other people. For example, the owner of a grocery store owes a duty to the people who shop in the grocery store to maintain the premises in a safe condition. Certain people, such as doctors and other professionals owe specific duties to their patients or clients. Duty is not general, so you will have to prove that the defendant owed a duty specifically to your relative.
You must also prove breach of the duty of care. Breach means the defendant failed to act in accordance with the duty of care that they owed to the deceased person. Breach is the negligent action itself, such as failing to stop at a red light or allowing a dangerous condition to exist.
The defendant’s breach must be a direct and proximate cause of death. If an intervening event aside from the defendant’s negligence caused the accident, then the defendant may not be responsible. While causation sounds like a simple element, it can be deceptively difficult to prove. A skilled personal injury attorney will understand how to establish causation in a wrongful death claim.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Damages in a wrongful death claim may be somewhat different than in a different type of personal injury case. Wrongful death damages can include compensation for both financial and non-financial losses.
Pecuniary damages cover the financial losses you incurred as a result of your loved one’s death. This can include the cost of medical bills incurred prior to death, funeral expenses, and the value of your relative’s lost wages. Courts use various approximation methods for estimating lost wages.
Non-pecuniary damages compensate you for losses that do not have a direct dollar equivalent. For example, you can recover a sum of money that represents the loss of your spouse’s affection and/or moral support. Other aspects of a relationship that may be covered by non-pecuniary damages are loss of the guidance of a parent or loss of household services. Since there is no actual monetary value that adequately represents these losses, the jury provides an estimate based on the facts and circumstances of the situation.
Wrongful Death Attorneys
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident, you should talk to a wrongful death attorney. While the wrongful death elements described above may seem straightforward, there are many confusing aspects of the law. Wrongful death attorneys are familiar with the elements of negligence and the various defenses that a defendant may raise. In addition, a lawyer will know how to gather the strongest possible evidence to support your claim.
If the responsible party in your case is an employer or other large entity, it is especially important to have good legal representation. A corporation will likely have a team of attorneys and deep pockets with which to defend its claim. You may be at a significant disadvantage if you try to represent yourself.
Call Our Office
Farzam Law Firm has been serving clients in the LA area for over two decades, and we are here to answer your wrongful death questions. We have experienced trial lawyers who are not afraid to fight for your rights in court. Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. The Farzam Law Firm handles every case with compassion and professionalism to achieve the best possible result for you. Contact our office today.