What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a painful process, but for loved ones of a deceased person, they are often necessary to receive compensation for the expenses associated with the person’s passing. If a loved one of yours has passed away in an untimely manner, it may seem difficult to understand if they experienced a wrongful death. To help you determine if the term “wrongful death” applies to your situation, we have put together some commonly asked questions so you can better decide if you are eligible to file a lawsuit on your loved one’s behalf. And of course, if you have any questions, please give us a call, we are happy to talk through the specifics of your situation.

What Must Be Present for a Wrongful Death?

There are four main elements that set apart a wrongful death lawsuit:

The first is negligence—it has to be proven that the victim’s death occurred due to the carelessness or recklessness of another party.

Secondly, there must be an established breach of duties—the person who was negligent must have a duty to keep others safe. This can apply to many situations, such as a property owner not putting in proper safety measures or a doctor participating in medical malpractice. 

Third, there should be established causation—a clear determination that the negligence and breach of duty directly resulted in the loved one’s death.

Finally, there must be damages—these can include expenses such as medical bills and funeral costs, but also monetary value assigned to pain, suffering, or loss of support that the loved ones have had to incur.

Additionally, in the state of California, wrongful death suits are considered civil lawsuits, meaning that any damages awarded will be purely financial. This allows wrongful death suits to overlap with criminal cases for the same incident, which is helpful for family members faced with scenarios such as assault or drunk driving resulting in a wrongful death where criminal charges would still apply.

Where Can Wrongful Deaths Occur?

If you are unsure if your loved one’s death was due to someone else’s negligence, understanding where wrongful deaths are likely to occur may be helpful. Though this list is not exhaustive, these are some of the common places a wrongful death may take place:

On the road or interstate - Car accidents are one of the leading causes of wrongful death cases. Drivers are frequently negligent when operating their vehicles, whether distracted, intoxicated, or using their cell phones while driving. This can lead to a car accident that can be fatal, resulting in a wrongful death.

In the hospital or nursing home - Medical malpractice is something that no family should have to go through, but unfortunately, even doctors and nurses make mistakes. Whether the situation involves an incorrect diagnosis or inaction, receiving inadequate care can often lead to wrongful deaths. This can be especially prevalent in nursing homes and retirement facilities in cases of neglect or mistreatment.

In crosswalks or bike lanes - Pedestrians and cyclists are extremely vulnerable to being struck by cars or buses, causing injuries and even death. Distracted or inconsiderate driving can quickly lead to a preventable death due to pedestrians and cyclists not having the same protection from a collision that other motorists do.

On commercial or private property - Property owners have a duty to keep their establishment safe, whether it be a store, apartment complex, or someone’s home. If a fall or other accident due to unsafe conditions results in a fatality, it could be due to the property owner’s negligence.

At a childcare facility - Just as with medical malpractice, mistreatment or neglect in childcare facilities can be fatal for vulnerable children. Workers in these scenarios have a duty to care for the children present, and if that care is inadequate, it could be considered a wrongful death case.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Every state has different laws regarding who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, the general categories are:

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner

  • Children (or grandchildren, if the children have passed)

  • Those who are financially dependent on the deceased (stepchildren, putative spouses, etc.)

  • Siblings or parents, if they are eligible to inherit the deceased’s property upon death

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit encompass everything that a loved one may be able to receive compensation for as a result of the wrongful death case. These can include monetary compensation for things such as:

  • Funeral expenses and burial costs

  • The loved one’s pain and suffering before they passed

  • Medical bills accrued during treatment before death

  • Loss of anticipated income from the loved one

  • Loss of love, companionship, and guidance

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Cases?

For those bringing forth a wrongful death case in California, you have two years from the date of death to do so. It is generally recommended that loved ones start the process as soon as possible due to the extensive amount of research required in the case, but two years is the maximum deadline for filing.

Do I Need to Find a Wrongful Death Attorney?

Because the elements of negligence and breach of duty can be difficult to prove, it is extremely helpful to enlist the services of a wrongful death attorney to help fight for your case. In the event of an untimely death, the at-fault party’s insurance company will do everything in their power to avoid having it determined that their client’s negligence played a factor—and for those who do not have attorneys, their powerful tactics can often silence the loved ones of a victim. Having an attorney on your side will force them to take your claim seriously and be sure that you can demand the full amount of compensation that you are owed.

If you have any additional questions regarding wrongful death cases please contact us at (714) 970-4770.