Losing a family member is one of the hardest events that can happen in a person's lifetime. The emotional pain of losing a loved one can be debilitating to family members. When the loved one was lost due to the negligence of another person, the grief and emotional fallout is magnified further.
When a loved one has lost their life due to the actions of another person or entity, a wrongful death case can be filed to recover financial losses, medical expenses, burial costs, and lost wages.
What is a wrongful death case?
When lawyers or courts refer to a wrongful death case, they are specifically referring to a civil case where a person or entity is sued due to their negligence or willful actions in causing the death of another person. In California, as in most states, there is a wrongful death statute that allows the personal representative of the decedent to file a civil lawsuit that seeks damages on behalf of certain family members.
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60 allows the decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, or other representative to file an action against the negligent party. It is also possible that parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, or grandparents could even have a claim if there are no other surviving household members that can file a case.
What damages can be awarded in a wrongful death case in California?
Damages that can be recovered in a San Diego Wrongful Death Case include:
- Funeral Costs
- Burial Costs
- Loss of anticipated gifts or benefits that would have been received or expected
- Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, and moral support
- Loss of the reasonable value of household services
- Loss of training and guidance
- Loss of financial support (including future anticipated earnings)
- Loss of intimate relations for a surviving spouse
- Property damage
When a jury is instructed by a court in a San Diego wrongful death case, they are typically advised that there is no fixed standard for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages. A Court also would instruct a jury that a person's life expectancy, including their health, habits, activities, lifestyle and occupation have to be taken into consideration. Due to the complexity of the wrongful death statute and the difficulty of placing a number on the value of a person's life, in many San Diego wrongful death cases, a vocational expert is hired to provide an opinion as to the amount of damages that should be recovered in a case.
How long does a wrongful death case take to resolve?
This is a question that we are almost always asked by family members dealing with a San Diego wrongful death claim. The time it takes to resolve a wrongful death case can be as short as a few months to as long as several years if a lawsuit has to be filed and the defendants fight liability or decide to take the case to trial. Because so much is at stake financially for a defendant in a wrongful death case, it is common that a lawsuit has to be filed before settlement happens.
Typically a wrongful death case works through the legal system in a similar manner to any other civil case. That would include the following timeline:
Investigation Phase: After being hired, an attorney or law firm will investigate all aspects of the wrongful death case. This can include investigators going to the scene of the accident or interviewing witnesses involved. A law firm will also work to gather key evidence in a case, including medical records and bills, funeral bills, employment files, and/or any other documents that could be needed in the case itself. Photographs of the accident scene or vehicle involved (if a car accident caused the death) can be useful. An experienced law firm will also sit down with the family and explore the entire story of what the deceased family member meant to everyone in the family.
Pre-suit Negotiations: Shortly after being retained, our office will send out a notice of claim letter to potential defendants notifying them of a possible wrongful death claim. This letter will also carry a spoliation of evidence warning where we advise the defendants to maintain any evidence pending possible litigation. The point of these letters is also to get any potential insurance companies involved in the case so that we can examine policy coverage, limits, and whether the case could be settled before filing suit. If there is adequate insurance a case can sometimes be resolved prior to litigation.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and Litigation: If pre-suit negotiations are not successful, we will move forward with filing a lawsuit against all potential defendants. We will work to get a trial date set and will begin the discovery phase of the case. Discovery can include written discovery, depositions, and expert witness examinations.
Mediation of a Wrongful Death Case: Most cases are referred to mediation during the litigation phase. A mediator will be selected by both parties who serves as a neutral person who attempts to bring the parties together to resolve the case. Many mediators in San Diego are retired judges or extremely experienced attorneys who have handled cases for decades. About 95-99% of cases will settle prior to trial. Many of these are settled at mediation.
Trial, Verdict, Defense of Appeals: If the wrongful death case is not successfully mediated, it will proceed to trial. Once a verdict is rendered, parties have a certain amount of time to file an appeal to challenge anything they believe was incorrectly handled at trial. Once all appeals are exhausted, defendants will have to pay the judgment that was rendered.
Get Help with your San Diego Wrongful Death Lawsuit
We have attempted to outline a lot of what happens in a wrongful death case because they are extremely complicated. In almost all wrongful death claims, the help of an attorney is critical to identifying potential defendants, insurance coverage, and whether any offers to settle made to the family are reasonable under the circumstances. Rist Law Office has handled serious wrongful death cases across the country. We have decades of experience handling injury cases and have recovered millions of dollars in verdicts, settlements and awards.
We handle all San Diego Wrongful Death cases on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no fee unless we win. To set up a free consultation to discuss a potential case, call us at (619) 840-2506.