After the sudden death of a loved one, families face serious hardship. An already emotionally difficult time can be made even worse as medical bills and funerary expenses render making ends meet nearly impossible, particularly when the deceased was the family's primary breadwinner. No matter what the cause of death - be it a motor vehicle accident, bicycle accident, motorcycle accident, or construction site accident - debt concerns impact families of lost loved ones when they are least able to afford it.
At one time, the common law did not allow the families of those who died from the negligence of another person to pursue a legal remedy. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today, California law allows the families of a deceased person to bring what is known as a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties. Thus families may bring suit for medical bills up to the time of death (survival action), funerary expenses, loss of financial support and more, providing them with the help they need to cover quickly mounting bills.
Wrongful death damages that are allowed are split into two main categories; economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages or financial losses are split into further categories as well, the main categories as follows:
1. The financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the decedent had before [his/her] death or the life expectancy of the surviving plaintiffs, whichever is shorter;
2. The loss of gifts or benefits that the surviving plaintiffs would have expected to receive from the decedent;
3. Funeral and burial expenses; and
4. The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided.
Any amount a judge or jury allows for future economic damages must be reduced to present cash value.
The Human Loss
Non-Economic damages are also called the human loss.
Also, often the greatest loss is the human loss of the care comfort and society of the deceased person. What does this long phrase mean? Essentially these are words meant to describe the relationship that the surviving heir would have likely had with the deceased person. This means the loss of the love affection support In California, wrongful death plaintiffs are not allowed compensation for grief however they are allowed compensation for the loss of the relationship they were likely to have with the person who was killed. This distinction makes the hiring of a personal injury attorney who is experienced with wrongful death cases all the more important. California wrongful death law allows recovery for several categories of non economic damages, and specifically excludes others:
1. The loss of the decedent's love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; [and]
2. The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations(if the plaintiff is the surviving legal spouse of the decedent);
3. The loss of the decedent's training and guidance.
The court will say that no fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages. It is up to the judge or jury to set the reasonable amount of non economic damages in each case. An award for noneconomic damages should not be reduced to present cash value.
In determining a surviving plaintiff's loss, we are not supposed to consider the following:
1. Plaintiff's grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;
2. The decedent's pain and suffering; or
3. The poverty or wealth of the plaintiffs.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
Not just anyone may bring a wrongful death claim when a loved one dies. The California wrongful death statute limits the people who may bring a claim to certain classes of possible plaintiffs. Generally, only the following may bring wrongful death claims:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased party
- The surviving children of the deceased
- If the deceased left no surviving children, those who would be entitled to the deceased's property if he died without a will such as parents, brothers and sisters, grandchildren, or nieces nephews, as well as any family member who was receiving financial support from the decedent.
Determining whether someone may bring a wrongful death claim can sometimes be difficult and the advice of an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney is recommended.
What Must a Successful Plaintiff Prove?
Although each case is unique, a plaintiff must prove the following to be successful in a California wrongful death claim:
- The defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased
- The defendant unreasonably breached that duty
- The defendant's breach caused or contributed to causing the death of the deceased
Of course, exactly what the plaintiff must prove - the exact duty owed to the deceased by the defendant, whether the defendant breached this duty, etc. - depends on the specific facts of each case and it is up to an experienced personal injury attorney to ethically and skillfully present the claim or lawsuit.
Contact a San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney
If someone's negligence caused the death of your loved one, contact an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can evaluate your potential case and explain to you your options. A good personal injury attorney should be able to help make the negligent party accountable for all of your losses both economic and noneconomic. For more information, contact an attorney today. Most personal injury attorneys will provide a free consultation.