Wrongful death claims can be confusing. This is particularly true of the damages recoverable in a wrongful death case.
What Exactly Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death claims are brought by family members, heirs, dependents, and other claimants who are affected by a person’s death (that resulted from third-party negligence, recklessness, or willful conduct). In a wrongful death action, a surviving claimant may sue for damages suffered as a consequence of the death. The claim uniquely belongs to the claimant himself or herself, not to the deceased.
For example, suppose that a claimant’s mother has died in a car accident. The mother was killed by a drunk driver. The claimant can file a wrongful death claim for damages suffered by the claimant as a result. Perhaps the claimant is a dependent of the mother and used to receive regular financial support from the mother. Perhaps the claimant was quite close to the mother and they enjoyed a strong emotional relationship. These are damages uniquely suffered by the claimant.
Survivorship claims are closely related to wrongful death claims. In a survivorship action, the claimant is the deceased victim themselves. Another person (either the personal representative of the deceased, a relative, or someone else) simply steps in for the deceased to make the claim. The survivorship claim encompasses damages that would have otherwise been asserted by the deceased – for example, in a survivorship action, one could make a claim for pain and suffering experienced by the deceased victim before the death.
Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Action
California Civil Jury Instruction 3921 summarizes the damages categories recoverable in a wrongful death claim.
In a wrongful death action, there are primarily two categories of damages available to claimants: economic and noneconomic.
Economic damages include, but are not limited, to damages suffered as a result of: a) lost financial support and future gifts; b) funeral expenses; and c) the value of provided domestic services, among other measurable monetary losses.
Noneconomic damages include, but are not limited, to damages suffered as a result of: a) loss of love and affection; b) loss of companionship; c) loss of comfort, care, assistance, and protection; d) loss of sexual relations; e) loss of guidance, among other noneconomic losses.
Noneconomic losses tend to be much more difficult to accurately measure and predict. For example, it can be quite a challenge to demonstrate the precise damages resulting from the loss of a spouse’s companionship. Noneconomic damages must be argued persuasively to win a favorable assessment.
In California, punitive damages are not generally available for wrongful death claims. As such, even if the defendant acted maliciously or with particular recklessness, a punitive damages multiplier will not attach. You must rely on economic and noneconomic damages alone.
If a loved one has died as the result of another person’s conduct, you may be entitled to damages for your own unique losses. To speak with an experienced Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer today, call West Coast Trial Lawyers at (888) 539-9582 for a free consultation.