A personal injury suffered because of the carelessness, recklessness, or intentionally wrongful act of another can upend one’s life for an extended period of time. The wrongful death of a loved one under such circumstances changes one’s life forever. While nothing can ever bring back your loved one, California’s wrongful death statute provides a means of seeking compensation from the individual, corporation, or institution responsible.
Understanding How California Defines a “Wrongful Death”
In the state of California, a “wrongful death” is a death that is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another person. In understanding a legal definition, every word matters. By wrongful act, the law means an intentional act – meaning that the action was commenced with at least a basal level of purpose, as opposed to by accident. Neglect is a slightly more broad category; it typically encompasses both negligence and recklessness. Negligence is the breach of duty of care owed that results in damages, and recklessness usually amounts to failing to act like a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. If any one of these categories – intentionally wrongful conduct, negligent conduct, reckless conduct – causes the death of another person, a wrongful death claim exists.
Common Circumstances in Which a Wrongful Death May Occur
The circumstances in which a wrongful death may occur are similar to those in which personal injury actions arise. Examples include car accidents, bike accidents, construction site injuries, and slip and fall accidents. What makes the action wrongful death instead of personal injury is the occurrence of a death. Importantly, the death need not occur at the moment of wrongful conduct, negligence, or recklessness; an injury suffered that later results in death (while in the hospital, for example) may still create a wrongful death action.
Who is Eligible to Bring a Wrongful Death Action
Just as California law governs what constitutes a wrongful death, it controls what persons may bring a wrongful death lawsuit for damages. Obviously, the individual who has suffered the wrongful death cannot bring suit (because he or she is no longer living). Instead, the wrongful death cause of action is said to “survive” the deceased. Under state law, individuals who may bring the surviving action include the decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children. “Deceased” and “decedent” are simply legal terms for the individual who is no longer living.
Damages Available in a California Wrongful Death Claim
In a wrongful death claim, damages are measured in terms of financial compensation. In this context, they are meant to compensate surviving family members for the losses they have suffered as a result of the wrongful death. Again, nothing can make up for the loss of companionship of a loved one, but wrongful death damages can account for such things as funeral and burial expenses, medical bills, lost income and financial support, and the value of domestic services. Critically, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two (2) years of the date of death, so it is imperative that individuals surviving the death of a loved one contact an experienced California wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.