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Do you have a loved one who was a victim of a wrongful death? Contact a California wrongful death lawyer at The Reeves Law Group for a free consultation. The Reeves Law Group has successfully represented thousands of accident victims and obtained exceptional results in a wide variety of serious and catastrophic injury cases.

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California Wrongful Death Lawyers

A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the negligent, careless, intentional, or reckless act of another person or entity. If someone close to you has died due to the wrongful act or neglect of another, it is important to find a reputable and well-established law firm with an exceptional reputation for handling wrongful death cases.

Time is of the essence in many wrongful death actions. Preserving evidence and identifying defendants are key factors in many of the underlying accidents involving death cases. This requires retaining investigators and experts to commence investigations and evaluations as promptly as possible. Hiring an experienced wrongful death lawyer therefore should not be delayed.

Wrongful Death Statutes

Under traditional “common law,” wrongful death actions did not exist. It was thought that the claim of the victim died with that person. State legislatures realized that this rule failed to compensate family members and others who suffered certain economic and non-economic losses due to a person’s death and enacted laws to correct this problem.

Wrongful Death Claimants

California’s wrongful death laws permit only individuals with a certain relationship to the victim to file a claim. Below are the heirs who may file these actions, in descending order of priority:

  • The victim’s surviving spouse, children, dependent stepchildren, dependent minors living in the victim’s household for at least six months, and dependent parents.

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  • If there are no heirs as described above, then claimants include those who would be entitled to inherit the victim’s estate under the law of intestate succession: Parents, whether or not they were dependent; if there are none, then siblings or children of deceased siblings; if there are none, then grandparents; if there are none, then children of a deceased spouse.
  • If none of these relatives exist, the next of kin may file a wrongful death suit.
  • A wrongful death victim’s personal representative can also file a lawsuit on behalf of the individuals listed above. The personal representative is a person appointed by the probate court to handle the deceased person’s assets or estate. When proceeds are received from the lawsuit, they may be distributed by the personal representative, in accordance with the wrongful death statute.

    Finding a Reputable Wrongful Death Lawyer

    If someone close to you has died due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior of another party, it is essential that you contact a well-established personal injury law firm. You should ensure that the law firm has extensive experience and expertise in prosecuting wrongful death cases as a whole as well as cases focused on the type of accident that caused the fatality.

    Exceptional preparation of a wrongful death case is a requirement to maximize the chances of success. Proving the potentially high worth of a case requires a great deal of skill and experience. Among the many responsibilities and tasks required of lawyers prosecuting a wrongful death suit include:

    • Determining whether an estate should be created. When numerous claimants are entitled to recovery under the wrongful death statute, a thorough analysis may be required to determine whether a probate estate should be created and the claim brought in the name of the estate instead of the individual heirs.
    • Establishing life expectancy. This requires a sophisticated analysis of the victim’s age, health, activities, lifestyle and occupation.
    • Determining the amount of lost financial support suffered by the heir. If the decedent was supporting the heirs financially at the time of death, an economic analysis of the victim’s employment history, past wages, and expected future wages is required to ascertain the amount of economic damages to which the heirs are entitled.
    • Establishing life expectancy. This requires a sophisticated analysis of the victim’s age, health, activities, lifestyle and occupation.
    • Determining the amount of lost financial support suffered by the heir. If the decedent was supporting the heirs financially at the time of death, an economic analysis of the victim’s employment history, past wages, and expected future wages is required to ascertain the amount of economic damages to which the heirs are entitled.
    • Establishing a monetary value for loss of companionship, society and comfort. By their very nature these are non-economic damages and therefore not quantifiable through formulas or expert testimony. The extent of compensation heirs can recover in these types of damages relies in significant part on the preparation and artfulness of the lawyers they hire. Convincing juries of the amount to which the heirs are entitled for these damages must be done skillfully through the lawyer’s capacity for persuasion and advocacy.
    • Proving and explaining liability and damages in a wrongful death case to a jury. This requires not only the skills and talent of an experienced wrongful death lawyer, but oftentimes the employment of numerous experts. As a result, these cases are often expensive to prosecute properly.

    Statistics Surrounding Accidental Deaths

    Accidental deaths are among the leading causes of fatalities in the United States. According to the National Safety Council, a fatal injury occurs every five minutes. There were approximately 101,500 accidental deaths in the U.S. in 2003. The most frequent causes of accidental deaths are motor vehicle accidents, falls, poisonings, choking, fires and smoke.

    What Kind of Damages Can be Recovered?

    A wrongful death action is intended to compensate the plaintiffs for their own losses rather than the losses incurred by the deceased. In these cases, plaintiffs are not entitled to certain types of damages normally recoverable in a personal injury claim, such as the deceased’s medical expenses, lost income, and property damage. These claims belong to the victim’s estate and may be recoverable by the personal representative of the victim in a “survival action.”

    In some cases, punitive damages are recoverable in a survival action if the victim survived the accident, however briefly, or if the property of the victim was damaged or lost before death. The only time brief survival or property damage are not necessary to obtain punitive damages is when the death resulted from a homicide for which the defendant has been convicted of a felony. In many cases, the survival action may be joined with the wrongful death claim and litigated at the same time.

    Wrongful death laws recognize that certain people suffer their own economic and non-economic losses due to the wrongful death of someone close to them. In California, juries are allowed to award compensation to the heirs asserting the action based upon the following types of economic damages:

    • The financial support that the deceased person would have contributed to the heir during either the life expectancy of the victim or the heir, whichever is shorter;
    • The loss of gifts or benefits that the heir would have expected to receive from the victim;
    • Funeral and burial expenses; and
    • The reasonable value of the household services that the wrongful death victim would have provided to the heir.

    A California jury is also permitted to award the monetary value of certain types of non-economic losses. These include:

    • The loss of the victim’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, and society;
    • The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations, if applicable; and
    • The loss of the training and guidance of the victim, if applicable.

    A jury is not permitted to consider the grief, sorrow, or mental anguish of the heirs; the poverty or wealth of the heirs; or the victim’s pain and suffering. An exception exists in cases where a parent or sibling witnesses the injury or death of the victim. In such instances, these heirs may claim damages for infliction of emotional distress.

    Because of the legal complexity of wrongful death cases and the emotional strain that comes with them, hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney should not be delayed.

    The Reeves Law Group employs a team of highly skilled attorneys understand the nature of wrongful death claims and have helped numerous clients through the difficult circumstances brought about by these tragic losses. We have obtained exceptional results in death cases. We also have substantial financial resources to successfully prosecute these expensive and complex cases.

    For an immediate consultation with a lawyer to discuss your wrongful death claim, please email us or call us at (800) 644-8000.