Wrongful Death Damages

August 25, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Wrongful Death Damages

California residents can file a civil suit to get compensation from a liable party if they sustain an injury. Unfortunately, sometimes negligent actions can result in death. 

If your loved one was killed and it was somebody else’s fault, you may still be entitled to benefits. Contact a lawyer today to see if you are eligible for wrongful death damages. 

When Can a Wrongful Death Claim Be Filed?

Wrongful death claims are used to recover compensation when the victim of an accident dies as the result of someone else’s negligence or mistakes. In California, wrongful death cases can happen for a variety of reasons. Below are some of the more common wrongful death examples. 

Negligent Car Accidents

Wrongful death claims can be brought after somebody dies in a car accident. Whether they die on impact at the moment of the collision, or they die after a period of time due to the injuries sustained in the car accident, compensation can still be recovered. In a car accident wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove that the liable party was responsible for the accident and therefore caused the crash. 

If your loved one was killed in a car accident by a drunk or aggressive driver, you may have better grounds for a wrongful death claim. Those actions indicate the person knowingly engaged in dangerous behavior which led to the crash. An experienced legal professional will be able to inform you of your options and help you develop a strong claim.

A Victim Dies From Malpractice

If a doctor misdiagnoses a condition or provides the wrong care and it results in the death of your loved one, you may have a case for compensation. Doctors have a duty to care for patients and keep them safe. Even if it is not a purposeful mistake, if a doctor does not provide the same level of care that another reasonable doctor would have, it can be considered medical malpractice. You can pursue damages from a doctor, hospital, or other medical provider depending on the situation. 

There is a lot of nuance surrounding medical malpractice, so you will want to hire a legal professional to help you through the process of filing a wrongful death claim for medical negligence. 

A Victim Is Killed Intentionally

Families of victims can recover damages for wrongful death after intentional criminal acts. Similar to recovering damages for assault charges, surviving family members can pursue compensation from a defendant if they are convicted of a felony murder. 

Civil and criminal charges do not overlap and/or cancel one another out. Especially because criminal charges do nothing to compensate the victim. If somebody is charged as a criminal, they are still eligible to be sued in a civil case. 

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim 

To receive wrongful death benefits, the surviving family members filing the claim must provide the same level of proof the deceased would have had to provide if they were alive. This could mean proving negligence, misconduct, abuse, or fault through an abundance of evidence that links the defendant’s actions to the resulting death. 

An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you navigate applicable laws and consolidate a strong claim. Wrongful death claims against large and powerful companies can be difficult to prove because certain entities may have skillful legal teams behind them. In fact, hospitals often have legal teams in charge of trying to decrease benefits or escape fault. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In California, the court will look at the relationships of the deceased individual and determine what damages can be awarded to surviving family members. Below, you will find the common groups that can be awarded wrongful death damages.

  • Children: Adult children are not very likely to receive compensation, but minor children can be awarded damages for their lost parent. Damages, much like comfort and support, can help a child recover after losing a parent.
  • Parents: Parents of adults are not very likely to receive compensation, but parents of children and minors can recover wrongful death damages for the emotional trauma of a lost relationship.
  • Spouses: Spouses can file wrongful death damages for emotional trauma as well as companionship if their spouse was the victim of a wrongful death case.

If the victim died as a result of grossly negligent actions, the surviving family members may also be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for knowingly putting other people at risk. This deters similar behavior in the future and provides additional compensation for the grieving family.

Possible Wrongful Death Damages

The main goal of wrongful death damages is to compensate surviving family members for the support they could have expected from the deceased if they were alive. 

If a parent dies, a child loses a degree of care and stability. If a spouse dies, the surviving spouse loses companionship and financial support. If a child dies, parents suffer great emotional loss and potentially the loss of future support. 

Damages in a California wrongful death case are recoverable for the shorter of these two periods:

  • The life expectancy of the deceased individual when the negligent action occurred
  • The life expectancy of the surviving plaintiff when the negligent action occurred

The jury will determine what “life expectancy” means in these cases. Essentially, benefits are recoverable until the time when the victim or the plaintiff would have died if not for the accident. Wrongful death damages can be paid out in a structured settlement over time or as a one-time lump sum.

There are two types of compensatory damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death case––economic and non-economic.

Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Economic damages are financial payments that typically have a specific number value associated with them. These costs come with a specific price tag and are relatively easy to quantify. 

Surviving family members may be eligible for the following economic damages:

  • Financial support that would have been provided by the deceased throughout their lifetime
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The loss of gifts surviving family members could have expected from the deceased
  • Reasonable coverage for household services the deceased may have provided

It’s important to keep track of any other costs associated with the wrongful death of your loved one, as they may be compensated later on.

Non-Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Non-economic damages are less objective values that can be hard to quantify. They often include more abstract costs that there is no way for the defendant to compensate; therefore they are assigned a monetary value.

Surviving family members may be eligible for the following non-economic damages:

  • Emotional pain and suffering
  • Moral support
  • Sexual relations
  • Loss of companionship/consortium
  • Protection
  • Training and guidance

Anything that the deceased provided to the family can potentially be assigned an arbitrary value if it is viewed as reasonable and significant. 

In California, there is no limit to the number of compensatory benefits you can receive in a wrongful death case. 

Punitive Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Punitive damages are prohibited in California wrongful death cases unless the defendant is convicted of a felony homicide. A surviving family member may also be able to receive punitive damages through survival action, meaning they file for benefits the deceased individual would’ve been entitled to had they survived.

Recover Wrongful Death Damages With Chain | Cohn | Clark 

Losing a loved one can be one of life’s most difficult experiences. Dealing with financial stress on top of the emotional grief is almost unbearable. Reach out to our team for assistance with the legal portion of your case so you can focus on recovery. 

Chain | Cohn | Clark has decades of experience representing individuals like you in the fight for compensation.