Wrongful Death Claims: What They Are and How to Establish One in California

by cjadmin | April 4th, 2023

Losing a loved one is a painful experience that can be made worse if their death was caused by someone else’s negligence. In such cases, the surviving family members or heirs of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for the damages they have suffered due to their loved one’s death.

Knowing your rights as a surviving family member and how to establish a wrongful death claim can help you get compensation for your loved one’s death. The compassionate attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers can guide you through your legal options and help you file a wrongful death claim.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

When a lawsuit is brought against a person or entity whose negligent or intentional act caused someone’s death, it is considered a wrongful death claim. In California, wrongful death claims differ from survival actions, which are brought by the deceased person’s estate for damages the decedent suffered before they died.

In wrongful death cases, the deceased’s heirs file a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of their loved one’s death, such as financial support and companionship.

You can file a wrongful death claim if you are the deceased’s surviving spouse or domestic partner, children, issue of deceased children, or the person entitled to the decedent’s property under intestate succession.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim in California

You must prove several elements against the negligent party to establish a wrongful death claim in California. You can work with your attorney from Berg Injury Lawyers to show the following four elements:

  • Negligence: The defendant had a duty of care towards the deceased person.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant acted negligently or recklessly, breaching their duty of care.
  • Causation: The deceased person’s death was directly caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.
  • Damages: The plaintiff has suffered damages as a result of the deceased person’s death.

How to Prove Liability in a Wrongful Death Claim

Proving liability in a wrongful death claim requires gathering evidence to support the four elements. Evidence that you and your attorney can use to establish liability includes:

  • Police Report

An official police report of the accident or incident that caused the death can provide valuable information about what happened. For example, if your loved one died in a car crash with a drunk driver, the police report may contain details about BAC or field sobriety testing that proves negligence.

  • Medical Records

Medical records can help establish the extent of the deceased person’s injuries and the medical treatment they received before they died. For instance, if your loved one developed lung cancer due to working with asbestos, your attorney can use medical records to show the progression of mesothelioma and hold their employer responsible.

  • Video or Photos from the Accident Scene

Video or photos taken at the accident scene can provide visual evidence of what happened and who was involved. If your loved one died in a car accident, you can take pictures of the crash site, including traffic lights and signs, property damage, skid marks, and weather conditions to prove the other driver was speeding, causing the collision due to recklessness.

  • Eyewitness or Expert Testimony

Eyewitnesses who saw what happened can provide testimony about the events leading up to the death. Expert witnesses can provide their professional opinion about how the death occurred.

  • Grief Counseling and Personal Records

Records of grief counseling and financial support can show the impact of the deceased person’s death on their surviving family members. You can share payment receipts for therapy, attendance to grief support groups, and personal records like a journal to show the emotional impact of your loved one’s death on your life.

Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death

As a family member of a wrongful death victim, you are entitled to specific compensation under California law. These damages include economic, non-economic, and sometimes punitive damages.

Economic Awards

Economic damages refer to the monetary losses that the surviving family members or heirs of the deceased person have suffered due to their loved one’s death. Some examples include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of future wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of benefits such as medical insurance or pension

Non-Economic Awards

Non-economic damages are damages that are not directly tied to a specific financial loss but instead to the emotional and psychological impact that the wrongful death has had on the surviving family members or heirs.

  • Loss of consortium
  • Mental anguish, or pain and suffering of loved ones
  • Loss of companionship, love, and society
  • Loss of guidance, care, advice, and nurturing

Punitive Damages

You cannot receive punitive damages in California in a wrongful death claim. However, the law does allow punitive damages for some survival action claims by showing that the decedent suffered tangible losses, such as medical expenses or lost wages, before they died.

A Lawyer Can Help You Seek Damages in Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit

It can be a challenging time if you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s wrongdoing. However, seeking compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit can help you and your family find closure and recover damages for your losses.

California wrongful death attorneys can help you navigate the legal system and help ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to.

The attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers can provide you with experienced and empathetic legal representation. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help you seek financial compensation for your loved one’s wrongful death.