Temecula Wrongful Death Attorneys
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Temecula Wrongful Death Attorneys
Unexpectedly losing a loved one in a preventable accident always has far-reaching impacts. The loss itself can be incomprehensible, and the stress and grief of learning to live with that loss can be overwhelming. If another’s negligence or intentional actions caused a loved one’s death, it is natural to feel resentful. When an unnatural death could have been prevented, despite another’s negligence, the responsible party must be held accountable.
Depending on the circumstances causing a loved one’s death, surviving family members may seek compensation for their loss. Before wrongful death and survival laws existed, the family of the deceased could not sue the responsible parties for damages. Now, California law provides a mechanism for surviving family members to seek compensation for losses resulting from a wrongful death.
Accidental injuries are a leading cause of death in the United States, and Temecula is no exception. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the unintentional injury death rate increased by 40 percent during the last seventeen years. In part, the opioid crisis (11 percent) and, especially among older people, unintentional falls (5 percent) account for the increase.
Unintentional injuries recently reached the highest number recorded in the United States—169,936. In California, fatal car accidents are the most common cause of accidental death. In one recent year, 3,563 fatal car crashes took place in California.
When the unanticipated death of a loved one could have been prevented, surviving family members often feel shocked and overwhelmed. Families must learn how to cope with their losses while facing difficult legal and financial issues arising from a wrongful death. Wrongful death laws are complex and the claims process can be extremely complicated.
The experienced Temecula personal injury lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys regularly fight for the rights of injured victims to seek the compensation they deserve. Surviving family members should consider consulting our experienced attorneys for advice and guidance while processing a wrongful death claim.
WHAT IS WRONGFUL DEATH IN TEMECULA?
What happens if a person is injured because of the negligence or intentional harm of another person or entity, but dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit? If someone suffers injuries in an accident that ultimately result in death, the decedent’s surviving family members may be entitled to compensation.
Under California law, when a loved one has died as a result of negligence, surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, a drunk driving accident or an intentional act, such as homicide, may entitle surviving family to compensation for their loss. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that enables families to seek financial compensation. A civil wrongful death claim operates independently from any criminal charges the responsible party may face. A family in California may bring a civil wrongful death claim, even if criminal proceedings are being pursued against the responsible party.
The standard of proof required to prove a civil wrongful death claim is less rigorous than the standard of proof applied to criminal cases. Therefore, an individual may beat the criminal charges, but remain civilly liable to the decedent’s family for wrongful death. A successful wrongful death lawsuit entitles a decedent’s surviving family members to compensation for losses resulting from the death.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WRONGFUL DEATH AND A SURVIVAL ACTION?
Under California law, a wrongful death claim may be joined with a separate survival action, when the claims arise out of the same underlying wrongful act. A wrongful death lawsuit is intended to compensate the family of the person who died for their losses. However, a survival lawsuit allows the decedent’s estate to seek damages that the decedent could have claimed, had he or she survived the accident. Survival damages are similar to those sought in a personal injury claim. Damages may include pain and suffering experienced by the decedent, medical bills before death, and lost earnings of the decedent.
A survival lawsuit may entitle the decedent’s estate to compensation for:
- Claims unrelated to the death, which the deceased had the right to sue for as of the date of death, and/or
- Claims for the injury that caused the death provided the person survived those injuries for at least some period of time, no matter how brief.
Survival actions are complicated, but it is important to understand that a survival action may enable a decedent’s estate to seek an award of punitive damages. Punitive damages may only be sought when the action resulted in a particularly egregious or intentional death.
WHO CAN BRING A WRONGFUL DEATH SUIT IN CALIFORNIA?
In California, only specific individuals are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased.
California law allows the following family members (or their personal representatives) to bring a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Domestic partners, who, at the time of the decedent’s death, were registered as a domestic partner in accordance with California law;
- Grandchildren, if the victim’s children have predeceased them;
- Other minor children, for example, stepchildren, who depended on the deceased for at least 50 percent of their financial support; and
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased’s property under California’s laws on intestate succession.
WHAT TYPES OF ACCIDENTS ENTITLE FAMILIES TO BRING A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
If an individual dies as a result of the negligent or intentional act of another, the surviving family may pursue a wrongful death claim. However, a “wrongful” death must be caused by the action or inaction of a third party —an individual, a company, or even a government entity. Many wrongful death claims stem from accidents that would allow a victim to file a personal injury claim.
Other common cases involve product defects, premises liability, and workplace injuries. Workplace injuries may be compensated under the workers’ compensation benefits system.
Ultimately, a wrongful death case can arise from any type of personal injury case, including:
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Truck accidents
- Premises liability accidents
- Slip and fall injuries
- Defective products
- Construction or workplace accidents
- Nursing home neglect
- Products liability accidents
- Firearm accidents
- Intentional acts of violence
PROVING A TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
To prove that a death was wrongful, claimants must present facts and evidence to demonstrate specific legal elements. In California, you must prove that the death resulted from another party’s negligence or wrongful act. Under California law, negligence is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Negligent behavior may consist of an action or a failure to act, when there is a duty to act.
A wrongful death case based on another’s negligence must prove the elements of negligence:
- The liable party had a certain duty of care owed to the victim;
- The party breached that duty of care in some manner;
- The breach led to the accident and injuries that caused the death; and
- The death resulted in losses to the individuals who filed the claim.
Not all wrongful death cases are based on another’s negligent behavior. Some claims arise from acts of intentional violence. To prove an intentional act caused a loved one’s death, family members must show the following elements:
- The person intended to commit the act;
- The person made non-consensual contact with the victim (this can include hitting someone with a car or using a weapon); and
- The contact caused harm that led to the victim’s death.
Most families have difficulty understanding the burden of proof required in a successful wrongful death claim. The burden of proof refers to the amount of evidence that must be presented to support a wrongful death claim. In a criminal proceeding, the state must prove that the accused committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence must show there is no doubt that the accused committed the crime.
However, in a civil wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must only prove that the death was wrongful by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence requires claimants to demonstrate that there is at least a 50 percent chance that the defendant caused the injury that resulted in death.
EVIDENCE COMMONLY USED TO PROVE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
Wrongful death claims can be extremely complex and difficult to prove, partly because the victim cannot testify or explain what happened. Therefore, when appropriate, a Temecula attorney can help families research, gather convincing evidence, or obtain experts to testify to build a strong wrongful death claim. Each wrongful death case is unique, so each requires different evidence to be successful.
Evidence commonly needed to support a wrongful death may include:
- A certified death certificate, which lists the victim’s cause of death, and it is verified by the coroner.
- Medical records, such as notes, test results, consultation records, evaluations, prescription information, or other healthcare documentation.
- Police and autopsy reports. The police are usually involved when there is a death. If they investigate the scene, they will complete a police report containing a great deal of valuable evidence. Also, an autopsy may be necessary to determine the cause of the victim’s death. Both reports can help support a wrongful death claim.
- Physical evidence, which is actual tangible evidence that can be or that is relevant to the case, such as bloodstains, tire marks, paint, fiber, or bullets.
- Tax returns, pay stubs, and other financial information necessary to calculate the value of the wrongful death claim.
- Photographs or videos. In today’s world, where most cell phones have digital cameras, and there are video cameras in many public places, photos and videos can constitute powerful forms of evidence. These are especially convincing if the photos or videos include a date and time stamp.
- Witness statements or testimony. Statements from individuals who witnessed the fatal incident or expert witness testimony, such as an accident reconstruction expert, can help support a wrongful death claim. Qualified medical experts often testify in medical malpractice cases.
TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH FAQ
At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we’ve helped our Temecula neighbors achieve justice in various civil claims matters. While pursuing justice for suffering an injury at the hands of another is not an easy process, few legal claims are as emotionally taxing as a wrongful death action.
Wrongful death claims are used by survivors to pursue compensation for the loss of a loved one. A wrongful death claim can help you get the funds you need to pay for your loved one’s final expenses, and manage the financial weight left behind by their loss. If you have specific questions about your right to a claim following the loss of a loved one, contact a compassionate associate at Gomez Trial Attorneys who can answer your specific questions. In the meantime, below you can find answers to some of the most common questions we receive from Temecula clients who have lost loved ones due to another party’s negligence.
WHEN DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM AFTER THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE IN TEMECULA?
A surviving family member(s) might have the right to file a wrongful death claim if the deceased would have had the right to file a personal injury claim had he or she survived. These claims can include construction accidents, auto accidents, and premises liability accidents.
The liable party may have to pay a wrongful death claim if:
- The party bore a duty of care to your loved one at the time of the accident.
- The party violated that duty of care.
- That violation led to your loved one’s eventual death.
Drivers, for example, bear a high duty of care to every other driver on Temecula’s roads. Whether they drove distracted, drove while intoxicated, or ignored the rules of the road, a driver whose negligence caused a serious accident has violated their duty of care. Likewise, if your loved one suffered serious injuries in a premises liability accident, the owner of that facility might have violated their duty of care by failing to properly maintain the area or by not putting up proper warnings about potential dangers.
Typically, you must have a close relationship to the deceased to file a wrongful death claim. The deceased’s spouse has the first right to file a wrongful death claim after an accident. If the deceased does not have a spouse, the deceased’s children have the next right to a wrongful death claim. If no spouse or children exist, the deceased’s parents have the right to file a wrongful death claim for the loss of their child. Should no such close relationships exist, other parties, including the deceased’s estate, may have the right to file for compensation. Consult an attorney if you believe you have the right to a wrongful death claim in Temecula.
HOW MANY TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS CAN THE FAMILY OF THE DECEASED FILE FOR THE LOSS OF A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL?
You can file a wrongful death claim against each party that contributed to the death of your loved one. However, you can only file one wrongful death claim per liable party. If multiple parties deserve compensation for the loss of a loved one, you all will file one claim, then divide the damages amongst each other.
OUR FATHER DIED IN A TEMECULA AUTO ACCIDENT, AND MY SISTER ACCEPTED A WRONGFUL DEATH SETTLEMENT FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY. I AM NOT CONTENT WITH THE AMOUNT SHE SETTLED FOR. CAN I SUE THE COMPANY?
Typically, if one member of the family accepts a wrongful death settlement, you cannot go back and negotiate for future funds. Contact an experienced Temecula wrongful death attorney to learn more about your legal rights and how you should handle a matter when one family member accepts a wrongful death settlement that does not meet the needs of the other family members.
HOW MUCH COMPENSATION SHOULD I EXPECT FOR A TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM FOLLOWING THE LOSS OF A LOVED ONE?
Following the loss of a loved one, your wrongful death compensation will depend on several factors. First, the party that caused the accident may carry an insurance policy determinative of the limits of your compensation. Drivers, for example, usually carry bodily injury protection insurance that provides compensation for individuals injured in an accident they caused.
These insurance policies can also provide compensation for the families of individuals who die in those accidents. However, a Temecula driver with the minimum allowed auto insurance policy could have as low as $15,000 in protection for the injury or death of one party in an accident, and just $30,000 in protection if multiple individuals die or suffer injuries in the same accident.
Other involved parties might also carry insurance that can offer protection for these accidents. Construction companies, for example, may have specific limits to their liability insurance, as may premises owners.
Wrongful claims may also differ based on your financial losses from the accident and the loss of your loved one.
Most wrongful death claims, however, include:
- Any medical expenses your loved one suffered before death
- Pain and suffering your loved one experienced before death
- The loss of your loved one’s income
- The loss of services your loved one performed for the family, including child care, elder care, cooking, cleaning, and home and vehicle maintenance
- The loss of your loved one’s companionship
Consult our experienced Temecula wrongful death attorneys for a better understanding of the compensation you deserve following the loss of a loved one.
THE ACCIDENT CAUSED SERIOUS INJURIES TO MY LOVED ONE THAT EVENTUALLY (BUT NOT IMMEDIATELY) LED TO DEATH. CAN I STILL FILE A TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
If your loved one suffered injuries in an accident that causes death, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim even if your loved one did not immediately die. In some cases, your loved one may persevere for some time after the initial accident. For example, in a slip and fall case with traumatic brain injury your loved one might remain unconscious for some time before ultimately succumbing to those injuries. Since those injuries ultimately caused your loved one’s death, you may still have grounds for a wrongful death claim.
You may also have grounds for a wrongful death claim if your loved one suffered complications during recovery that ultimately led to death. For example, if your loved one suffered severe burns in a fire as a result of a premises liability accident, and the premises owner bears liability for that accident, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim should your loved one ultimately die from infections caused by those burns. If you have more questions about whether you have the right to file a wrongful death claim after the loss of a loved one, consult a lawyer from Gomez Trial Attorneys.
WHO HAS TO PAY MY LOVED ONE’S MEDICAL BILLS AFTER AN ACCIDENT THAT RESULTS IN A TEMECULA WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
Ultimately, if the deceased receives medical care, he or she still has to pay for the medical bills associated with the accident, even if an action for compensation is pending. If your loved one dies, the deceased’s estate is responsible for paying those bills. In California, creditors can hold the spouse of a debtor liable for any bills that did not get paid before the deceased’s death, including final medical expenses. If you have communal property, you may need to make arrangements to pay those medical bills.
Until your attorney can secure compensation from the liable party you have the following options that will make it easier to handle your loved one’s final medical expenses:
- Medical insurance. If your loved one carried medical insurance, that insurance will typically pay for many of the medical expenses associated with the accident. Ideally, you should contact your insurance company as soon after the accident as possible to get a better idea of how much they will cover, including what copays and deductibles you may face as a result of the accident. Better yet, allow your attorney to handle the insurance company, while you focus on what really matters: caring for yourself and your family.
- A wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim can provide the compensation you need to pay your loved one’s final medical bills. In some cases, families may need to wait to pay those bills until they have received the damages from a wrongful death claim. If you need help managing medical expenses and cannot pay them until you receive those damages, a lawyer can write a letter of protection that establishes your intent to pay those bills upon receiving the funds from your wrongful death claim.
- Life insurance. To get a better idea of what compensation you can expect following the loss of your loved one, check their life insurance policies. Your loved one may have carried private life insurance, life insurance through an employer, or both. Each policy may have highly specific terms regarding what it will pay out for the death of the policyholder. Those policies often provide vital protection for individuals left behind after the death of a loved one. You can use the funds from a life insurance policy to pay final expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, final medical bills or even the cost of providing for your family while you work to manage the loss of a loved one.
WHAT SHOULD I DO AFTER I LOSE A LOVED ONE IN A TEMECULA ACCIDENT?
Losing a loved one in an accident can leave you devastated. Not only does the unexpected death of a loved one deliver an emotional blow, but it also leaves you with a long list of things to take care of, like managing a funeral, planning for your loved one’s burial, and taking care of many final responsibilities for your loved one. The steps you take with regards to your loved one’s accident, however, can help protect your family’s finances following that loss. Make sure that you:
- Keep track of your loved one’s final medical expenses. Depending on the severity of the accident, the type of medical attention your loved one received, and the duration of your loved one’s medical care following a serious accident, you may have substantial medical expenses to contend with. Keep track of all of those bills as they come in, ideally placing them in a single file or location. These bills can help establish the financial losses you faced as a result of your loved one’s accident.
- Document the circumstances of the accident. If you have information about the accident, make sure that you keep track of it. You may, for example, want to keep the report from the accident: an incident report from work, a police report from an auto accident, or a report from a premises accident. These reports can help establish when the accident took place and who contributed to it.
- Contact our experienced Temecula wrongful death attorneys as soon as possible. You should not to use the same attorney for a wrongful death claim that you would use to settle your loved one’s will. Rather, contact a personal injury attorney who has experience handling wrongful death claims to help you decide what to do next.
Our Temecula wrongful death attorneys can:
- Advise you about how much compensation you should expect following the loss of a loved one. Often, this assessment will give you a better idea of what to expect and when you should accept a settlement offer versus when you should continue negotiating.
- Take care of negotiations for you. You have enough on your plate following the death of a loved one. An attorney can help relieve stress and take care of many of those final concerns on your behalf.
- Collect evidence regarding your loved one’s death. This evidence can help establish all parties that caused or contributed to your loved one’s death, helping you to hold each one liable and maximizing the compensation you can receive.
The compassionate wrongful death lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys are here to take care of our Temecula neighbors currently struggling with the loss of a loved one. For a free case evaluation, contact us now.
WHAT DAMAGES ARE AVAILABLE IN A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
How does the court place a financial value on a person’s life? A wrongful death lawsuit’s primary goal is to provide compensation to surviving family members for losses associated with the wrongful and untimely death of their loved one. The loss of a loved one and the financial support they could have provided has a profound personal and economic effect on the survivors. Therefore, it is important to try to assess the financial and personal impact of the death on the survivors as accurately as possible.
Even an unemployed decedent may have contributed to the family in other ways. If the decedent was a stay-at-home husband or wife who contributed services, guidance, and nurturing of the family, these contributions are “pecuniary losses” in a wrongful death action. Several factors, such as age, life expectancy, education, and earnings, may affect the amount of the wrongful death award. A financial professional, such as an actuary, economist, or other financial expert, can calculate damages associated with loss of earnings, health insurance benefits, or retirement earnings.
Damages available for compensating the estate and family for losses associated with the death generally fall into two categories.
Losses typically attributed to the estate include:
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Medical and hospital bills for the deceased person’s final illness or injury; and
- Lost income, including future lost income and benefits.
Losses typically attributed to the surviving family members include:
- The cost of household services;
- Loss of economic support; and
- Loss of love, affection, intimacy, companionship, guidance, and moral support.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Under California law, the statute of limitations allows a wrongful death claim or survival action to be filed within two years. A wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent’s death. For survival actions, the estate has two years to sue from the date of an injury or six months after the death, whichever is later.
A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYER CAN HELP
Unfortunately, no amount of compensation can bring a loved one back. However, a wrongful death claim may ease the financial burden of the loss, hold the person who caused the injury responsible, and bring family and friends a sense of closure. Gomez Trial Attorneys is dedicated to seeking justice and closure for families in the Temecula community whose loved ones wrongfully died due to another’s actions or inactions.
Because wrongful death actions are complicated, Temecula families should consider consulting with an experienced, compassionate wrongful death attorney. For further information, or to arrange a free case evaluation with one of our Temecula wrongful death lawyers, contact Gomez Trial Attorneys or call us at (619) 237-3490 today.
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