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No one is ever prepared for the loss of a loved one. Even when you have time to prepare, you can never really be ready for what is to come. But when your loved one’s death was caused by the reckless or negligent conduct of another, you may be able to take action and bring the at-fault party to justice. 

Your family may be entitled to financial compensation when someone else is responsible for causing your family member’s death. And you can make them pay when you get help holding them accountable. Contact a skillful Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer at West Coast Trial Lawyers by calling (888) 418-7123 or completing our quick contact form to get started on your case as soon as today. 

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

According to California’s wrongful death law — which is primarily covered in California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 — a wrongful death is characterized by, “a cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another…” 

California Code Of Civil Procedure 377.60 further stipulates which family members are entitled to recover damages if a loved one was killed because of someone’s wrongful act. 

What Is the Difference Between Criminal Charges and Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

There are many differences between the criminal charges the liable party may face for causing the death of your loved one, and the consequences of being found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit. 

First, let’s take a look at the burden of proof. In criminal cases, the state’s prosecutor will file charges against the person they suspect to be guilty of a crime, in this case, it would be the death of your family member. In order for the prosecutor to obtain a guilty verdict, they will need to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

But the burden of proof is much different in civil claims such as wrongful death lawsuits. Here, you will file a wrongful death lawsuit with the help of your attorney. In order for your attorney to win the case, they will need to be able to prove to the court, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that the accused party is, in fact, liable for the death of your loved one. This means that in order for you to win your case, your lawyer will need to show that the evidence demonstrates that the accused party is responsible for the death of your family member. But you do not need to prove their liability beyond a reasonable doubt. As long as the evidence supports your case, you should be able to win. 

With that being said, there are other differences between criminal cases and civil ones. In a criminal case, the state is seeking criminal penalties for the crime in question. Here, if the defendant is found guilty, they may be sentenced to fines, restitution, community service, jail or prison time, and other criminal penalties. 

But if they are found liable in your Los Angeles wrongful death lawsuit, then they will face other consequences. Instead, they will be ordered to compensate your family for all of the ways that your life and your loved ones’ lives were affected by their negligence or misconduct. If you have additional questions about whether the liable party will face criminal charges or what legal options may be available to you and your family, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles for help.

Los Angeles Wrongful Death Laws 

If you and your family are thinking about filing a Los Angeles wrongful death lawsuit, you will need to be aware of the wrongful death laws that could have an impact on your case. Here are some of the most important wrongful death laws that you will need to be aware of as you begin to seek justice for your cherished family member.

Who Is Entitled to Sue for Wrongful Death?

As outlined under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, below is a list of family members who are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim in court:

  • The decedent’s spouse
  • The decedent’s children
  • The decedent’s registered domestic partner
  • The decedent’s grandchildren, if the decedent’s children are deceased
  • Any minors who were at least 50 percent dependent on the deceased for financial support any individual entitled to the decedent’s property according to California’s intestate succession laws 

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Los Angeles

The statute of limitations for both a wrongful death claim and a survival action is two years. The clock begins ticking in a wrongful death case on the date of death. When it comes to survival actions, the decedent’s estate has exactly two years to file from the later of the date of the injury, or six months after the death.

However, there are exceptions to the statute of limitations. This is classified as a “discovery rule.” If the cause of a deceased victim’s death was not obvious when they died and was later found out, this could extend the time period for the victim’s family to file a wrongful death lawsuit from the day the negligent act was discovered.

Also, in any case where the government or one of its employees was at-fault for a wrongful death, you are given 6 months to sue them. The case will be dismissed if the family exceeds the given time period.

Available Damages in a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Claim

Damages in a wrongful death claim are meant to compensate surviving family members for the loss of tangible and intangible forms of support they reasonably should have expected to receive had the victim not lost his or her life.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018 life expectancy for the U.S. population was 78.7 years. However, at any moment, a life can be cut short due to a wrongful death incident. The loss of the life of a loved one is an invaluable emotional loss and hurt, but also carries the loss of potential or forthcoming financial value of that individual. 

How does the court determine how much surviving family members must be compensated for? The period of time during which these damages are recoverable is typically the shorter of:

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

When it comes to determining life expectancy, factors such as lifestyle, overall health, and job occupation will all be taken into consideration by the court. 

Economic Damages vs Non-Economic Damages

As you begin to move through the claims process, you may hear the term is economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to the various ways that your life has been affected financially by the loss of your loved one. Some of the more common types of economic damages that you might seek in your Los Angeles wrongful death claim include:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Financial support that the decedent would have reasonably contributed to their family throughout their lifetimes
  • Loss of benefits or gifts the surviving family members would have reasonably expected to receive had the deceased not lost their life
  • The decedent’s medical expenses related to their fatal injury 

But non-economic damages are much different. They do not have a financial value, and are therefore more difficult to quantify. But because of the fact that they are so valuable, it will be important that your attorney ensure that no non-economic loss goes on accounted for. With that in mind, some of the non-economic damages that your family could seek recovery of include:

  • Affection
  • Protection
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Disfigurement 
  • Scarring
  • Moral support
  • Companionship
  • Emotional distress 
  • Loss of sexual relations
  • Loss of guidance
  • Loss of household services

Non-economic damages will be awarded at the court’s discretion and are based on common sense and available evidence. There is no set amount or tried and tested standard for determining a dollar amount. If you hope to get the most out of your claim, make sure you have an experienced Los Angeles wrongful death attorney advocating for full and fair restitution.

What About Punitive Damages?

A surviving family member cannot recover punitive damages in a wrongful death claim. There is only one exception, which is if the deceased was killed because of a felony homicide for which the defendant was already convicted. A surviving family member would have to file a “survival” cause of action on behalf of the decedent’s estate in order to recover punitive damages. 

It is also worth mentioning that heirs who are filing a claim for wrongful death will generally not be allowed to recover punitive damages. The only exception to this law is when the decedent lost their life due to felony homicide that the defendant was convicted for.

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

Imagine that Maria was a patient of Dr. Ramos. Dr. Ramos has been treating Maria for an immune disorder for several months with a combination of medication and regular check-ups. Maria has been showing steady improvement and will only need a few more weeks of treatment to fully recover. 

However, Dr. Ramos begins to display romantic interest in Maria, who promptly rebuffs him. Dr. Ramos is not happy about this and makes an unfortunate decision. Dr. Ramos deliberately administers the wrong medication which causes Maria to become gradually ill until she eventually passes away. Dr. Ramos denies all responsibility, but an autopsy report reveals not only negligence but deliberate malice. In this example, Dr. Ramos would certainly be subject to punitive damages for his deliberately harmful acts, and Maria’s family would be entitled to this compensation. 

What Is a Survival Cause of Action?

A “survival” action is not intended to compensate the decedent’s surviving family members for their losses. Instead, California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30 sets forth the requirements for a survival action. A survival action allows the estate a right to sue for losses sustained by the deceased because of the wrongful act that occurred before he or she died.

Los Angeles Wrongful Death FAQ

The thought of pursuing justice through the legal system may be intimidating. While you are waiting for your case to progress, you may still have many questions about what to expect going forward. 

With that in mind, here are answers to some of the top questions our former clients have had regarding wrongful death laws and the impact on your case. Any additional questions you may have that were not addressed on this page can be answered during your free consultation.

Will I Have to Go to Court?

It is very possible that your case will need to be brought to court in order to be awarded maximum compensation. However, in some cases, you may be able to secure the compensation that your family deserves through an insurance settlement or out of court. Your attorney will advise you accordingly based on the details of your case and what is in your family’s best interests. 

Can I Collect Workers’ Compensation and File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Yes, you may be able to collect death benefits through your family member’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider. But you may also have the right to hold the liable party accountable through a wrongful death claim. Make sure that you are awarded the benefits and compensation that your family needs and deserves to get through these tough times.

What if the Decedent Was Partially At-Fault for Causing Their Fatal Injuries?

California follows a pure comparative fault system. This means that even when a person is partially at-fault for causing their injuries, they can still be awarded compensation. If the decedent shares fault for causing the injuries that they later succumbed to, that does not mean that the primarily liable party is not going to be held accountable. 

However, any compensation that you might be awarded may be reduced to reflect the decedent’s portion of shared fault. Find out how California’s pure comparative negligence laws could impact your Los Angeles wrongful death case when you contact our office.

Get Help From a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Attorney Today

You should be able to grieve the loss of your treasured family member without having to deal with the trauma that comes when someone else is at-fault. But you can make sure the culpable party is held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. When you are ready to seek justice, reach out to an experienced Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer at West Coast Trial Lawyers. 

Our firm offers no-cost, risk-free case reviews to families across Los Angeles and surrounding cities. Claim yours when you fill out our online contact form or call our office at (888) 418-7123. 

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