How to Get Started With a Wrongful Death Claim

wrongful death claim

Accidental injuries are the third-leading cause of death in the US. From medical malpractice to defective products to personal injuries, nearly 175,000 people die from accidents each year. 

If you lost a loved one to an accidental injury, you may be wondering how you will support your family, pay their medical bills, and have a funeral all while trying to grieve the loss of your family member. 

Wrongful deaths can be devastating to families, especially when the deceased was the primary financial supporter. If your loved one died due to the fault of another person, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Read on to learn more about how to begin this process. 

How to File a Claim for a Wrongful

If you believe that you are eligible to file a claim for the wrongful death of your loved one, you should first speak to an experienced attorney. They will be able to determine if you are still within the statute of limitations and if you are eligible to file based on your relationship with the deceased person. 

Don’t just choose any lawyer, though. You need one who is not only experienced in personal injury cases but wrongful death suits as well. It’s also beneficial to hire an attorney who has experience taking cases to trial in the event that you are not able to negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company. 

To start the process, contact an attorney to discuss your eligibility and the damages that you may be eligible for.

Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Claim? 

Not just anyone can bring a wrongful death claim. Each state has its own laws specifying who is eligible. In California, the following people are able to bring a wrongful death claim against those responsible for their loved one’s death: 

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Children
  • Grandchildren if their parents are deceased
  • Parents or legal guardians if they would be entitled to the property by intestate succession
  • Putative spouse and children of the putative spouse
  • Step-children
  • A minor who resided with the deceased for the previous 180 days and received more than 50% of their financial support from the deceased

A putative spouse is one who believes their marriage is valid, but it is actually invalid due to the other partner being in a marriage already. 

Multiple people may also have the standing to file a wrongful death suit, which they may do. Or, the eligible family members can file one suit and choose someone who will represent the family and distribute the settlement funds. 

Damages That Can Be Recovered 

The goal of a wrongful death suit is to compensate the heirs of the deceased person for the support that they would have received from the person if they had lived. To calculate this, you will need to consider the life expectancy of the deceased persona at their time of death (for example, a younger person will have lost out on many more years of wages than a person close to retirement).

This support could be economic or non-economic. Economic damages include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Financial support that the deceased would have contributed to the family
  • Gifts or other benefits heirs would have received from the deceased person
  • Loss of household services, such as childcare, chores, and other responsibilities 

Your attorney will help you determine a fair amount of damages. If the insurance company doesn’t want to provide an adequate settlement, you may take the case to trial, where a jury will determine the number of damages. 

Non-economic damages include things such as: 

  • Loss of companionship from the deceased
  • Loss of affection and moral support
  • Loss of training and guidance

These damages are a bit more difficult to determine as there is no set monetary value for something intangible. 

Punitive Damages 

California does not allow those who file wrongful death suits to ask for punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages beyond what is needed to compensate survivors for the loss of their loved one and are meant to punish the defendant.

If you want to seek punitive damages, you must file a survival action on behalf of the deceased person. A survival action is a lawsuit filed on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. Survival actions, if successful, are paid to the estate of the person who died. 

The losses can be for claims that are unrelated to the death but that the deceased had the right to sue for at the time of death or claims related to the injury that caused the death. If the survival action centers around the latter reason, the person must have lived for a period of time after sustaining the injuries. 

Wrongful death suits and survival actions are typically filed at the same time and are often tried together if they are the result of the same wrongful action. Unlike wrongful death suits, though, survival actions can include punitive damages.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

As you likely have determined, wrongful death claims are complicated. Filing a survival action adds an additional layer of complexity to the case. Your best course of action is to speak to an attorney as soon as you think you may have a case for wrongful death. 

Your attorney will work with you to build your case and handle the negotiation process for you and if you cannot reach a settlement agreement, they will represent you at trial. Don’t try to do this alone; seek wrongful death claim advice to save yourself time and energy. 

If you think you have a case, contact us today. We have a team of experts waiting to provide a free case consultation. 

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