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Who Can Sue for the Loss of Their Loved One? What Damages Are they Entitled to?

Losing a loved one is something no one is ever prepared for. Having to go through a loss can cause detrimental impact on your life physically, mentally, and financially. If your loved one’s death was caused by unlawful actions committed by another party, you may pursue legal actions to acquire compensation for your losses.

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, our California wrongful death attorneys are readily available to offer legal assistance to families who have lossed a loved one due to wrongful death. We will review your case to determine what necessary actions are needed to ensure you are given the compensation and justice you deserve.

To schedule a free consultation, please contact our 24/7 legal team by calling (213) 652-5649 or filling out our quick contact form.

Who Is Entitled to Sue for Wrongful Death?

According to California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, there is a list of family members who may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim against the party at-fault for the loss of their loved one. This includes the following:

  • The surviving spouse: The decedent’s spouse is the first person given the eligibility to sue.
  • Children or issue of the decedent: If there is no spouse or if the spouse is unwilling or unable, any child of the decedent may sue. 
  • Dependent minors: If the decedent was married and both they and their spouse died, then their minor children, who have lived in the decedent’s home for at least 6 months, can sue.
  • The putative spouse: A putative spouse is the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage that is found to have believed in good faith that the marriage was valid. Such a spouse may sue.
  • Children of the putative spouse: If it is proven that the children of the putative spouse are financially dependent on the decedent, they may sue.
  • Stepchildren of the decedent: If the stepchildren were financially dependent on the decedent, they may sue.
  • Parents of the decedent: If the parents of the decedent can demonstrate financial dependence, such as household support, that was provided by the decedent, they will be entitled to sue. 
  • If there is no surviving spouse or issue: Anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession can sue. This may include siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, or any other person that may qualify to inherit the decedent.

If your capacity to sue is clear, from the individuals listed under this code, then you will have no difficulty. However, issues may emerge and create complications when determining whether you may qualify to file a wrongful death claim, such as being newly divorced from the decedent or if you were in a state of separation.

Available Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

Available damages in a wrongful death claim are intended to compensate the victim’s heir(s) for any economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages will compensate the surviving family for losses that have a determined dollar value. This includes funeral and burial costs, financial support the decedent would have contributed to the family, loss of benefits had the decedent not lost their life, and medical bills related to the decedent’s death. 

Non-economic damages will compensate the surviving family for losses which don’t necessarily have an easily determined dollar value.This may include loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of sexual relations, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.

What About Punitive Damages?

In a wrongful death case, the surviving family will not be able to acquire punitive damages. However, in California, there is one exception. If it is proven that the defendant had maliciously or intentionally killed the deceased victim, the surviving family will have the opportunity to be awarded punitive damages. 

Let’s consider an example of punitive damages and wrongful death claims: 

Martha has been a patient of Dr. Andrew for over two years. She visits Dr. Andrew every three months for regular check ups on her autoimmune disorder. As Martha has been consistent with her medication and has followed her doctor’s orders, she has shown massive improvement with her health condition. It is expected for Martha to undergo remission as her levels have remained in the normal range for the past six months. 

Although this was the expected objective that Dr. Andrew had hoped for Martha to achieve, he began growing fondly of Martha and wanted to continue monitoring her health to build a closer relationship with her. Dr. Andrew thought of a malicious plan that would dramatically impact Martha’s health to ensure that she continued to visit him every three months. He prescribed the wrong medication to Martha. This new prescription would directly harm the organ that had caused Martha to have an autoimmune disorder. 

Martha progressively became worse and passed away one month after taking the prescribed medication Dr. Andrew had given her. Dr. Andrew denies all accountability of Martha’s death, however, after the autopsy report revealed the cause of death, Dr. Andrew had been charged for his unlawful actions and malicious intent to purposely harm Martha. Under this type of circumstance, Martha’s family will be given the legal right to pursue compensatory damages, along with punitive damages, against Dr. Andrew for his deliberately harmful actions. 

To determine the exact amount of compensation to award the surviving family member, these factors will be taken into consideration:

  • The decedent’s life expectancy when the wrongful act took place
  • The life expectancy of the plaintiff when the wrongful act occurred

Estimating one’s life expectancy will require certain elements to be assessed. This includes their lifestyle, health condition, and job occupation.

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help

If you have sustained injuries as a result of someone’s negligence or deliberate acts of malice, you have the right to hold the guilty party responsible for your losses. Our California wrongful death attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers can recover compensation for the losses you have suffered.

Contact us today by calling (213) 652-5649 or filling out our contact form to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring, and compassionate legal team.

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