Have you recently lost a loved one due to an accident, medical malpractice, or intentional violence? Every year, nearly 170,000 people are killed by accidental injuries like medical malpractice, car accidents, slip and falls, or defective products.
If you believed that your loved one died as a result of wrongful death in Modesto, you may want to consider speaking to an attorney. They can advise you on how strong of a case you have and what type of compensation you might expect. Read on to learn more about wrongful deaths and what to do if you suspect one.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death is one that occurs due to a wrongful act or negligence by a person or entity (such as a company, organization, etc.). If someone is killed as the result of the actions or lack of actions by another, you can file a civil lawsuit. The goal of the civil suit is to seek compensation for financial damages that resulted from the death.
In certain cases, there may be a criminal court case happening at the same time as well. This is different than the civil suit, so both can go forward simultaneously. An experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to use the criminal court case to your advantage.
In order to have a successful wrongful death suit, you’ll need to prove the elements of wrongful death, including:
- A duty of care
- A breach of the duty of care
To be successful in your suit, all of these elements must be met. An attorney will be able to help you understand if your potential case meets these criteria.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Suit?
California law specifies who may file a wrongful death suit. According to the statute, those who can file include:
- The deceased person’s spouse, domestic partner, or child
- The putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents of the deceased
- A minor who resided with the deceased for at least 180 days prior to the death and received half or more of their support from the deceased
Any of these individuals may bring a wrongful death suit. Suits can also be filed by multiple individuals, especially if there is disagreement over who is entitled to damages.
What Damages Can I Collect?
The damages that can be collected vary by who files the wrongful death suit. Some of the potential damages include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Income and benefits that the deceased person would have earned throughout their lifetime
- Loss of household services, such as cleaning, cooking, caring for children, etc.
- Loss of financial support for the household
- Loss of intangible support, such as love and affection, moral support, guidance, attention, etc.
If the suit is filed by the deceased spouse and children who lived with the deceased person, they may file for damages for loss of household income and services. If the deceased parents file the suit, and did not live with them, they would likely not file for those types of damages.
How Are Damages Calculated?
An experienced wrongful death attorney is typically needed to help calculate damages. Some will be easier than others. Funeral and burial costs don’t require much calculation, as you can simply use any bills or invoices for these services.
Things become more complicated when trying to estimate future earnings. There are many different things that must be considered, including:
- How old the deceased person was and how much longer they would have worked (e.g., how close are they to retirement?)
- The education level, skills, and abilities of the deceased person
- Potential for promotions, raises, and other salary adjustments that could potentially occur throughout the course of their career
- Inflation over the years of work
- Amount of cash benefits or retirement accounts that the deceased would have received during their career
You’ll also need experts to place a value on household services lost and the intangible losses, such as the loss of love, affection, moral support, guidance, etc.
What Damages Are Not Available?
California limits what you can receive damages for in a wrongful death suit. For example, you cannot receive damages for medical expenses prior to the death, pain, and suffering that the deceased person experienced, or punitive damages if the actions of the person responsible for the death were particularly egregious, such as in a medical malpractice case.
How Long Do I Have to Decide to File a Suit?
The sooner the better, but the law in California stipulates that you must file a wrongful death suit within two years of the death of the person. If you do not file within the two-year statute of limitations, you may be ineligible to receive any damages from a wrongful death.
Do I Need an Attorney?
While you do not need an attorney to file a wrongful death suit, it’s not advisable to try to file yourself. An attorney will be able to determine if you are eligible to file the suit, assess what damages are available, and what the value of those damages are. An attorney will also know what court to file the suit in and make sure things happen in the appropriate time frame.
How to Handle a Wrongful Death in Modesto
If you suspect that a loved one has experienced a wrongful death in Modesto, a wrongful death suit might be an option. To determine if a wrongful death has occurred, whether you are eligible to file, and what kind of damages you should ask for in the suit.
Here at Sweet Law, our experienced attorneys can help you navigate this process. Get in touch with us today for a free case consultation.