Unfortunately, Murphy’s law is real, and you have to shield yourself from calamity. Even with the best of intentions and your desire for universal safety, someone under your employ or care may suffer a negligent injury and perish. It happens much less nowadays, but even one event is too much. Many employees, customers, patients, and their families, in addition to the negligent party, face significant loss when a tragedy strikes.
California Statutes on Negligence and Wrongful Death
In California, both wrongful death or neglect claims are a type of personal injury lawsuit, which can result in monetary damages for the plaintiffs. These claims are covered by the Code of Civil Procedure. That statute contains the language which defines the key elements of the claim. It allows suit to be brought by the plaintiff(s), who can be the decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession. In certain situations, minors may assert a cause of action for a decedent, if living in their household and dependent on him for one-half of their support. There are other classes of individuals who can bring suit, please speak with one of our attorneys if you are not in one of the above-mentioned categories and would like to know your rights.
The defendants in a wrongful death claim can be the person or persons directly or legally responsible for the death of the decedent. The defendant must be shown to have fully or partially caused the death of the victim through its negligence, recklessness, or intentional action. To win on negligence, one must prove a duty of care to the injured party, a breach of that duty, and that the action caused the injury or death. That is generally easier than proving an intentional act.
A duty of care only exists in certain situations. For example, if you invite someone into your house or business, you owe that person a duty of care. If they act carelessly, the amount of damages may be reduced by the amount that their carelessness contributed to the accident. The old common law contributory negligence tort rule, which states that any carelessness or contribution to the accident prevents a recovery, is no longer recognized by most jurisdictions.
The law requires people to take reasonable care to avoid injuring others. Reasonable care is a tricky standard and often depends on unpredictable factors. It varies with the situation so it is hard to predict how the finder of fact will come down on a fact pattern. An experienced wrongful death attorney can make the proper arguments to impact this type of determination.
Claims that Stand as Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death case is a civil case and has some consequences flowing from that status that make it significantly different from a criminal case for homicide. For example, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence in a civil case, compared to the substantially more difficult burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, the rules regarding the introduction of evidence, including the testimony of witnesses, are different in a civil case, generally in a way that favors the plaintiffs.
The prevailing plaintiff in wrongful death cases can receive multiple types of compensation. They include two categories of damages, economic and non-economic. The first category, economic damages, includes objectively verifiable monetary losses including medical expenses, loss of earnings, burial costs, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement, costs of obtaining substitute domestic services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities.
The second category, non-economic damages, covers subjective, non-monetary losses including, but not limited to, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental suffering, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation.
A recent change in the law gives plaintiffs in California the opportunity to file suit for Survival Actions, including pain, suffering and disfigurement suffered by the decedent after the act occurred and before the death ensued. This suit compensates the estate for losses of the decedent before death and can include punitive damages, which makes it a very substantial threat to the defendants. These damages cannot bring back a family member or lessen the emotional toll on loved ones, but they are what legislation allows for in California and many states.
Workplace and Industrial Accidents- Where an Attorney Can Assist
If a person was acting as an employee when their actions caused the negligent injury or death, the employer can be held liable as well. Similarly, if there is a dangerous condition, the property owner is likely to be found liable. Attorneys with special training and experience can investigate the facts and impact the outcome of a case where the facts are in dispute or hard to ascertain. They can spot defenses and determine where elements of the causes of action are missing, including a statute of limitation defense. (The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action in California is two years from the date of death.) In some instances, plaintiffs file claims against business organizations that have not caused the injury only because they know they have deep pockets, whereas the one who caused the death may be insolvent.
Avoiding Accidents and Wrongful Death Claims
It is unfortunate when hard-earned money is lost to misfortune. Our lawyers and staff are on top of the laws that impact your finances and estate planning instruments. We have counseled uncountable clients on these and other fundamental matters. We are happy to assist by answering your questions, providing legal advice, examining your current estate plan and getting involved to help advance you towards your goals. Call the trusted attorneys at Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman at (805) 981-8555 or fill out our online contact form. We operate primarily in the Tri-Counties area – Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo.