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Losing a family member is one of the most challenging events anyone can ever go through. What makes it even more traumatic is if the death was the result of a preventable accident. When this happens, the surviving family members are often left trying to figure out what they can do about this situation while dealing with their immense grief and significant financial burdens. And even though a guilty sentence against the responsible party can bring some sort of relief, it will do nothing to alleviate the other hardships the family is going through.
In California, when a wrongful death results, close family members of the deceased have a right to hold the negligent individual, corporation, or entity at fault for the actions that resulted in their loved one’s death. However, maneuvering a wrongful death lawsuit is not an easy feat. Not only does it require extensive evidence to show liability and damages, but California only allows certain parties to file while also having stringent timelines to get the job done.
In this blog post, we explore the specifics of California wrongful death claims, explaining what you need to know about them, the statute of limitations involved, and how a wrongful death attorney can help you.
The statute of limitations is a law that requires specific lawsuits to be initiated within a certain time period. The length of time varies depending on the facts of the case and the type of claim involved.
Cases not filed within the window of time set out in a statute of limitations are barred—that is, the injured party loses the legal right to make the claim.
The purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that parties bring legal claims for damages forward within a timeframe that reasonably allows for the swift and fair administration of justice based on reliable evidence.
In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is generally two years from the date of the death. However, exceptions to this statute of limitations can increase or decrease the amount of time available to take legal action, which is why it is important to speak with a California wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible after a loved one’s tragic death.
Exceptions to the two-year limitations window can include:
Sometimes, an individual’s cause of death is not apparent right away, but emerges later through investigation or the revelation of an important fact that had been hidden. In those instances, the law may extend the amount of time the deceased’s family has to file a wrongful death action to two years from the date of the discovery of the information showing the cause of death.
Do not assume that your family has no right to take legal action simply because more than two years have passed since your loved one’s death. In many cases, a reasonable investigation would not have revealed the cause of death at the time, making the discovery rule a potential avenue for asserting your rights more than two years later.
In some (relatively rare) circumstances, the person who caused a wrongful death cannot be served with a lawsuit because the person is in hiding or has left the country. In those instances, the statute of limitations timer gets paused for as long as the person remains unavailable.
Sometimes, the only party with the right to take legal action for wrongful death is a minor child (for example, in a case in which both of the minor’s parents die in a motor vehicle accident). In those instances, the two-year timer for filing a wrongful death action does not begin running until the minor turns 18.
If the person with the legal right to sue for wrongful death is an incapacitated person, then the clock stops running on the statute of limitations in California until that incapacity has been removed. Generally, incapacity means an inability to care for oneself and/or to manage one’s own affairs, such as when an elderly person has dementia, or a person is in a coma. Incapacity is cured by the person regaining their capabilities, or by the appointment of a legal representative for the incapacitated person.
If the party legally liable for causing a California wrongful death is a governmental or a public entity, such as the state of California, a town, or a county, then the family may have as little as six months to begin taking legal action.
If the death results from an instance of medical malpractice, the family may have as little as one year from the date of death to take legal action. Actions involving medical malpractice also have special procedural requirements, so speak with an experienced attorney right away if they suspect a medical error caused their loved one’s death.
As the examples above reflect, figuring out how much time your family may have to take legal action for a wrongful death can get extremely complicated. For that reason, we encourage anyone who has lost a loved one because of someone else’s wrongful decisions or actions to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.
A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit seeking compensation for wrongful actions (either intentional or unintentional) that result in someone’s death. The events that lead to a wrongful death claim vary widely, from car crashes to accidental fires. Anyone whose careless, reckless, or intentionally harmful decisions or actions led to someone’s death can face legal liability in a wrongful death action, including individuals, businesses, and governmental agencies.
Under California law, only the following individuals may file a lawsuit for wrongful death:
The point of wrongful death damages is to compensate the family for the deceased’s death, including by providing the value of the support the deceased person could have been reasonably expected to provide for them.
These damages may include:
The amount of damages a family member may seek as compensation for a wrongful death varies widely depending upon the circumstances. Some of the categories of damages listed above are more straightforward to calculate than others. For example, medical and funeral expenses are reflected in bills and invoices.
Other categories of California wrongful death damages can prove more challenging to figure out, because they depend on several independent factors.
For instance, the loss of income resulting from a wrongful death may depend on:
Perhaps the most challenging category of compensation to calculate is so-called non-economic damages, which are harms not associated with specific expenses or financial losses. Pain and suffering is a category of non-economic damages, for instance.
In California, there is no fixed standard for or cap on the amount of non-economic damages that the surviving family members of a wrongful death victim may receive (the most notable exception being wrongful death resulting from medical malpractice). Instead, non-economic damages require a reasonable assessment of the personal harm done by a wrongful death, which can vary widely.
To determine the amount of damages your family may expect to recover through a wrongful death action, contact a knowledgeable and trusted wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you speak with an attorney about a tragic death, the better your family’s chances of recovering the full measure of damages you deserve for your loss.
To prove a California wrongful death claim, the attorney for the family must have evidence to show that someone’s careless, reckless, or intentionally-harmful actions caused the family member’s death. The evidence that can prove that claim comes in a wide range of forms, depending upon the circumstances of the death.
Every wrongful death case features particular and unique facts and circumstances that may help a lawyer prove a claim. Families of wrongful death victims should save everything they have relating to the death for their lawyer to review. What seems like the smallest scrap of paper or random photograph could provide the key to proving a wrongful death claim.
Losing a family member takes a heavy toll. Dealing with a significant loss adds a significant burden to daily life, making it difficult to juggle demands on your time and energy. The last thing you have the time to think about is how to manage your legal rights.
Trust an experienced wrongful death attorney to handle the legal affairs related to your loved one’s tragic death. Lawyers can investigate who owes you compensation, negotiate with defense lawyers and insurance companies to try and achieve a fair settlement, and litigate in California courts if that is what it takes to get you and your family the justice and compensation you deserve.
Contact a knowledgeable, experienced, and compassionate wrongful death lawyer today for a free, confidential, no-obligation case evaluation.
John Gomez founded the firm alone in 2005. Today, John acts as President and Lead Trial Attorney. He has been voted by his peers as a top ten San Diego litigator in three separate fields: Personal Injury, Insurance and Corporate Litigation. Since 2000, he has recovered over $800 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients with more than 160 separate recoveries of one million dollars or more. A prolific trial lawyer, John has tried to jury verdict more than 60 separate cases.
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