California Wrongful Death Attorneys
When one person causes the death of another person, whether by accident or intentionally, the surviving family members of the deceased need to speak to an attorney about how to pursue a wrongful death claim. This claim is a remedy that attempts to measure the financial loss that the family will suffer because they lost their loved one. If you or someone close to you has recently been a victim of a wrongful death, contact The Reeves Law Group. Our attorneys have been helping clients with wrongful death cases in Los Angeles, Orange County and throughout southern California for over 25 years.
Are You Looking for an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Wrongful death claims in California can be high value cases and can be extremely complicated because they involve complex areas of law. Retaining a skilled attorney is the best way for the survivors to succeed in their claim and receive the greatest amount of compensation they are owed under the law.
If you need to hire a California wrongful death lawyer, the attorney should have the following competencies:
- Exceptional preparation and experience are requirements to maximize the chances of success in a wrongful death claim. The best choice of law firm will be one with years of practice in wrongful death cases and will have handled cases similar to the accident that resulted in the death.
- Sometimes there can be many people who are entitled to a recovery through a wrongful death claim. A thorough analysis by an experienced lawyer will determine if a probate estate should be set up. If the attorney determines that this is the best course of action, then the victim’s estate, instead of the deceased’s individual survivors, will file the claim.
- A key part of determining how much compensation should be awarded is establishing what the victim’s life would have been like if the accident had never happened. Experts will measure the person’s health, life expectancy, their occupation, and other factors like hobbies and activities as part of the damages award.
- Sometimes the loss of a family member can leave a family without financial support. Experts can calculate the amount of money the family is owed to compensate them for the loss by analyzing key information like employment, work history, salary, and future lost income.
- Part of building a successful case is making an argument for non-economic damages like loss of companionship. Maximizing this type of compensation is dependent on a lawyer’s preparation and advocacy skills. The best lawyers have handled similar cases before and will know how to artfully present the claim to a jury.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Accidents happen in great numbers every day. Unfortunately, sometimes a bad decision or poorly manufactured product can cost someone his or her life. Our legal system has developed an area of law called “Wrongful Death Law” that is designed to help families who lose a loved one in an accident.
Because the stakes of a wrongful death claim are so high, it is important that a law firm that specializes in these types cases represent the family.
In the United States, accidents are responsible for many deaths each year. According to the National Safety Council, there are 12 accidental deaths every hour. There were 126,438 accidental deaths in the U.S. in 2014. The most frequent accidents that result in someone dying are car crashes, slip and falls, accidental ingestion of poison, choking on food, and house fires that cause smoke inhalation.
About Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim is handled by the civil court system, rather than the criminal court system. However, a defendant can be brought before both a civil and criminal court for causing the death of the decedent. In order to succeed with their wrongful death claim, the surviving family members of the deceased must prove to a jury how the defendant is responsible for the death of their loved one. A skilled lawyer will demonstrate whether the defendant acted carelessly, recklessly, or intentionally, how that behavior resulted in the victim’s death, and what losses the family has suffered as a result of the death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
When someone passes away, only certain loved ones have the right to file a wrongful death claim. Who is allowed to bring this claim is similar to who would be allowed to inherit the property of the deceased person if the person died without writing a will. The right to this claim lies with the closest relatives of the person who passed away.
- The first person who is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim is the deceased’s wife or husband, then the deceased’s offspring, any dependent stepchildren, any minors who have been under the deceased’s roof for half a year or more, and then the deceased’s dependent parents.
- If no one fits into one of these categories, then the right to file a claim moves to the surviving parents of the deceased, regardless of if they were dependents of the deceased or not, then brothers and sisters of the deceased and their children, then grandparents, and then to the children of a spouse who passed away.
- Finally, if no one meets these requirements, the deceased’s next of kin may file the claim.
Any of the parties listed above can have the personal representative of the estate of the decedent bring the action. The proceeds from the lawsuit will be distributed to the surviving family members as indicated by the wrongful death statute.
About Wrongful Death Cases
A wrongful death case compensates the surviving family members of the deceased for their losses caused by the death. This claim does not compensate them for the losses suffered by the person who died. For example, in a wrongful death claim, the survivors are not allowed to recover damages for the deceased’s medical costs, property damage or lost income. However, the victim’s estate may bring a separate “survival action” to recover these damages.
Sometimes, punitive damages are awarded in a survival action because the deceased survived the accident, even if only for a short period, or because the deceased’s property was damaged in the accident while the person was still alive. Punitive damages can be awarded, regardless of the victim’s momentary survival or the damage to their property, when the death is an intentional killing and the person who committed the act has been convicted of a felony. Frequently, a wrongful death claim will be combined with a survival action and brought to court at the same time.
California law is constructed with the understanding that people who lose a loved one will suffer. This suffering can take both an economic form and a non-economic form. When a jury is examining the evidence presented at a trial, they may award damages for the economic hurt that a family will endure because of the loss of their loved one.
The following are some of the economic damages that can be awarded:
- Often when someone dies in an accident, the surviving family members lose the financial help that the deceased contributed. This amount can be awarded for the duration of the expected life span of the deceased or the person bringing the claim, whichever one is shortest.
- Damages can be awarded for the loss of any benefits or gifts that the deceased would have contributed.
- Any funeral home costs and other burial expenses.
- The monetary worth of any services that the deceased would have provided.
Non-economic losses are another category of damages. Where economic damages can be directly connected to a dollar amount, non-economic damages are much harder to quantify. A skilled wrongful death lawyer will be able to demonstrate to a jury the monetary value of these losses.
Non-economic damages include:
- The loss of care that the heir suffers because of the death. This can include the training, advice, assistance, protection, and love that the deceased would have given if still alive.
- For the victim’s spouse, the loss of sexual relations.
When a jury is calculating the value of these non-economic damages, it may not take into account the emotional pain of the heirs, their economic status, or whether the deceased was in pain or suffered before passing away. One exception to this rule is that those bringing the claim may receive damages for their emotional distress if they witnessed the accident or the death of their loved one.
Because of the legal complexity of wrongful death cases and the emotional strain that comes with these, it is imperative that the survivors discuss their case with a skilled attorney as soon as possible.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
After someone dies in an accident, it is important for the deceased’s survivors to act quickly. Many wrongful death cases revolve around the facts of how the accident happened and identifying those responsible for the death. As time goes by, key pieces of evidence can be lost and eyewitnesses can forget important details. An experienced wrongful death attorney will bring in investigators and other experts to immediately examine the accident and document the facts before any information is lost.
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. Today, California wrongful death statutes provide help to grieving families in the state.
Wrongful Death Settlements
Oftentimes, a wrongful death lawsuit doesn’t go to trial. This is because the different parties agree to a settlement beforehand. Being able to manage settlement negotiations requires several skills that only the best attorneys possess. An experienced attorney will use an expert knowledge of the law and preparation in these discussions with the aim of serving the client’s best interests.
- Commitment: Your legal counsel should be personally committed to your case. Your lawyer should meet soon after the accident to discuss the matter and should be responsive to questions that you have about the process.
- Preparation: Your attorney should understand your needs, the facts of the case, and the benefits and downsides of a settlement.
- Tactics: The top lawyers employ different tactics depending on the circumstances of the case, the defendant, and the defendant’s counsel. Your lawyer should know the best approaches for your specific case.
Sometimes, pursuing a settlement is in the best interests of the decedent’s family members. A skilled lawyer can help a grieving family by quickly ending any legal disputes, winning them compensation for the death, and allowing them to focus on healing.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
Our team of highly skilled attorneys understands the nature of wrongful death claims and has 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.
Contact The Reeves Law Group today for an immediate consultation with a lawyer to discuss your claim. Our attorneys have been helping victims of wrongful death in Orange County, Los Angels and throughout southern California.