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What Are the Steps to Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?

If you lost a loved one due to the actions of a person or business, you may have a claim for wrongful death. California’s laws allow claims for wrongful death that result from wrongful acts or the negligence of another party.

Families use wrongful death claims for many purposes, including:

  • Replacing their economic loss
  • Compensating for the loss of family relations
  • Obtaining closure for the death

Here are things that you should know when it comes to the steps for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is Wrongful Death?

The law has two theories for wrongful death claims. Some states allow wrongful death claims on the theory that an estate can pursue claims that the deceased individual could have pursued if they had not died.

Suppose that your loved one dies in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. They could have sued the drunk driver for negligence if they had survived. The drunk driver should not escape from liability because your loved one died. The estate can bring a wrongful death claim by essentially stepping into your loved one’s position in the lawsuit.

Other states allow wrongful death claims on the theory that the family has a claim against someone for taking their loved one away. In these states, the claim belongs to the survivors, rather than the deceased person’s estate. This difference is important because the family will have different damages than their loved one had.

California law allows both types of claims.

Steps to Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

Filing a wrongful death claim is similar to filing any other lawsuit. You must have the right parties, a cause of action, and proof of damages.

Include the Right Parties in the Lawsuit

California allows wrongful death lawsuits to be filed by the deceased person’s:

  • Personal representative for their estate
  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Children, stepchildren, or grandchildren
  • Parents or legal guardians

If none of these relatives are alive, an heir who is entitled to inherit from the deceased person can bring the claim.

Identify the Cause of Action for the Claim

To file a wrongful death claim, you must establish that a person or business caused the death by wrongful acts or negligence. This provides a basis for filing a lawsuit for:

  • Criminal acts
  • Negligence
  • Defective products
  • Toxic exposure
  • Medical malpractice

In some cases, the cause of action will be apparent. If your loved one died in a car accident, the basis of the wrongful death lawsuit will consist of a negligence claim against the driver who caused the accident.

In other situations, the cause of action may require some investigation. For example, if your loved one died from cancer, it may take some work to identify that a pesticide was the cause of their cancer. You could then use product liability as the basis for the wrongful death claim.

Determine Your Damages

Damages in a wrongful death claim fall into two categories:

Economic Damages

Economic damages include expenses and losses with a financial value. Almost any reasonable expense or loss caused by the death can be included in economic damages. Some examples of economic damages you can claim in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

Funeral Costs

The costs associated with the funeral and burial can be recovered through economic damages. If the deceased person was cremated, economic damages include the cremation costs.

Lost Income

Economic damages also include the income that your loved one would have earned over the remainder of their life. Some of the factors that go into lost income include the deceased person’s:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Wage or salary
  • Education and training
  • Prospects for promotion

Even for someone without a high-paying job, lifetime earnings can be substantial.

Household Contributions

Household contribution includes the tasks performed around the home by the deceased person. As a result of the death, you need to pay someone or forego your earning opportunities to complete them. Some common examples include:

  • Childcare
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning

For example, suppose that you relied on your loved one to watch the kids so you could work on weekends. If you need to hire a babysitter or forego your overtime pay so you can stay with the kids, you can include those losses in your economic damages.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are those losses you suffered that have no financial cost. Non-economic damages encompass the ways that your life has diminished as a result of the death. Some examples of non-economic damages include:

  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of mentorship of a parent
  • Loss of consortium with a partner or spouse

Even though they have no fixed value, a jury must quantify non-economic losses. You will typically need an expert witness to testify about the ways in which a jury can calculate non-economic damages.

Excluded Damages

Under California law, you cannot seek some forms of damages in a wrongful death claim. Instead, the estate needs to bring a survival claim.

Economic damages excluded from a wrongful death claim include medical expenses for treatment after the wrongful act or negligence. Non-economic damages excluded from a wrongful death claim include the pain and suffering of the victim due to the injuries and the mental anguish of the family over the death.

Fighting for Closure with a Wrongful Death Claim

Although nothing can bring your loved one back, many families find that a wrongful death claim can be helpful for getting closure. A wrongful death claim can place liability on the person or business responsible for the death. It also imposes a monetary punishment on them.

Contact the Lalezary Law Firm to schedule a free consultation. Our friendly and experienced personal injury attorneys can guide you through the steps of filing a wrongful death claim. We Fight. You Win. They Pay.

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