What Is A Wrongful Death Claim In California?
A wrongful death claim is a claim against a wrongdoer and others associated with the wrongdoer that cause a person’s death. The wrongdoer can be a person, corporation, partnership, company, association, public entity or other group.
A wrongful death claim is usually brought by a family member. However, there are exceptions. For example, people financially dependent on the person who died can bring a claim for wrongful death.
Typically, the initial claim is made with an insurance company which provides insurance coverage for the wrongdoer or others associated with the wrongdoer in causing the death. Insurance may cover the wrongdoer directly or it may be through the wrongdoer’s employer; or for whomever the wrongdoer is acting as an agent, or for whomever the wrongdoer is doing a favor, among other relationships.
The claim itself is based on any wrongful act. This can be an act of negligence, neglect, recklessness, gross recklessness, a mistake, an accident or intentional conduct resulting in the death of a family member or upon whom the claimant is dependent financially.
The claim is one for monetary compensation in a civil action. Punitive damages are only available during the commission of a felony and are not usually covered by insurance. Further punishment against the wrongdoer may be assessed in a criminal action brought by the government.
During the course of the wrongful death claim and upon its conclusion, the claimants may obtain not only monetary compensation for the loss of their loved one, but may also get some relief, closure and satisfaction in obtaining knowledge about the facts that resulted in the wrongful death of their loved one. This can be obtained by getting the wrongdoers, witnesses and others to provide explanations for the wrongful act and chain of events leading to the ultimate act through the “discovery process.” The “discovery process “allows attorneys for their clients to take the depositions of the wrongdoers and those persons or other entities involved in the wrongful act or involved in the chain of events leading to the ultimate wrongful act. There are also other interrogative measures that are utilized by the attorney to obtain a great deal of information, such as written questions that the defendants/wrongdoers must answer under oath, demand for production of documents which the defendants must produce, verified under oath by the defendants and requests for admissions, subpoenas to witnesses and other nonparties among other methods of obtaining vital information for the case and elucidation of the clients.
How Has Your Experience Been In Dealing With Wrongful Death Cases?
Wrongful death claimants and their attorney are dealing with the worst imaginable situation, the loss of a loved one. The process working up a wrongful death claim is meticulously methodical. Facts need to be obtained and often investigators are required to investigate varying scenarios or stories from different defendants and witnesses. Potential witnesses need to be identified. On many occasions, witnesses need to be found, tracked down and witness statements must be obtained to determine prospective defendants, other witnesses, support liability, causation and damages. This is also accomplished through litigation and what is referred to as the “discovery process.” The discovery process can include the taking of depositions – oral statements under oath in the presence of a court reporter; interrogatories – written questions requiring answers sworn under penalty of perjury; demands for production of documents to defendants to which sworn answers in the production of documents is required under penalty of perjury; requests for admissions – to which the defendants must admit or deny inquiries as to facts, liability, causation and damages. In many cases, expert witnesses need to be retained to testify about causation, danger of premises, a product or other dangers, the type of conduct or inaction on the part of the defendant leading to the wrongful death, medical causation, future earnings impairment, wage loss, the needs of the survivors of the decedent and the value of those needs, with testimony about other damages as well.
Who Can Actually Bring A Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is usually brought by a family member of the “decedent,” meaning the person who died. However, there are exceptions. For example, people financially dependent on the person who died can bring a claim for wrongful death.
It is vital to determine the decedent’s heirs. In many situations, but not all, this may be the decedent’s spouse and/or children. In this situation the attorney must ensure that all children are brought into the claim by law through that attorney’s representation or more than one attorney, depending on whether there is a conflict of interest in representing more than one claimant. In some cases, the decedent will have had children through various marriages or relationships and some children may be adopted or considered the child of the decedent for other reasons according to law. It is also important to determine whether the decedent had financial dependents, which may or may not be children of the decedent or have any familial relationship with the decedent.
It is also important to determine whether one of the decedent’s children have predeceased the decedent and, if so, whether that deceased child had children, which would be the grandchildren of the decedent and would by law be claimants.
If there are no children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, other “issue of the decedent,” and if there is no spouse, then other potential claimants could include the parents of the decedent, the siblings of the decedent, the children of the siblings of the decedent or any heirs under the intestate laws, which are laws governing distribution of a decedent’s assets when there the decedent has no will/last testament or one is found not to be legal.
What Are The Biggest Challenges In Wrongful Death Cases?
One of the biggest challenges in a wrongful death claim is having the surviving family members or other claimants of the decedent’s wrongful death, realize that they, under the law, have the burden of proof to show that a wrongful death occurred. Insurance companies absolutely do not want to pay money on claims. Wrongful death claimants have to prove that the defendant committed a wrongful act under the law in order to get compensation. They have to prove what compensation they are entitled to. Many claimants just by virtue of the fact that the wrongful death occurred, believe that they are entitled to get damages in the form of a great deal of money. While that may be true, they still have to meet these burdens of proof and it is the lawyer’s job to ensure they are met enter battle against the insurance company to ensure maximum compensation is paid to the claimants. The lawyer accomplishes this, in part, by doing the meticulously methodical acts discussed in other sections of this article.
I have seen many clients that are absolutely astonished that the law does not fully support them, and they, with their attorneys hard work, have these hurdles and burdens to overcome, in order to get their deserving monetary compensation. The insurance companies for the wrongdoers or the companies or other entities or people in the chain of events leading to the wrongful death, simply do not hand money over. The claimant, through his or her attorney, still must prove the whole case. It is absolutely mind boggling to many of the decedent’s family or other victims of the wrongful death that this is so. It is tragic that the law is as it is, but there have been many special groups, especially insurance companies, that have lobbied legislators over the decades to put these laws in force.
What Economic Damages Are Survivors Entitled To In Wrongful Death Cases?
Wrongful death claimants are entitled to a variety of damages, including, but not limited to: The loss of the decedent’s love, society, affection, companionship, solace, and moral support, everything connected to losing a parent, spouse, child, or other family member with its attendant terrible consequences. Damages for lost financial support and future support are compensable. Also, damages for loss of services, advice, and training are compensable. Each case is different and each relationship with the decedent is different and it is important that the attorney work with the claimant or claimants to determine the full extent of the loss to each claimant to demonstrate and prove the full deserving compensation under the law. Other expenses, such as funeral and burial expenses are awardable, too. Damages for future economic losses are recoverable, but must be reduced to their present economic value.
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