Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. passes away from a preventable injury. While the majority of these deaths occur at home, a significant portion happen in cars, out in public, and at work. Even with improvements in car safety, traffic accidents still cause upwards of 45,000 deaths each year across the country, with similar numbers for unintentional fall deaths. California courts are no strangers to cases involving this type of wrongful death.
Losing a loved one from an unexpected or unintentional injury can be an incredibly harrowing experience, made even more devastating if their passing is caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions. While no legal action can truly compensate for such a profound loss, California law provides a path for families to seek justice and a form of closure.
Because the stakes in a wrongful death lawsuit are so high, the damages tend to be high as well – sometimes reaching millions of dollars in compensation for surviving families. The intricate nature of these cases reflects the multifaceted nature of loss and acknowledges both the financial impact and the deep emotional suffering experienced by the bereaved.
If you’ve lost a loved one to wrongful death, an experienced attorney can help you claim the damages that you deserve, possibly including punitive damages.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in Wrongful Death Cases?
Wrongful death lawsuits are a critical component of the legal system, offering a way for families to address the financial and emotional void left by their loved one’s untimely death. A wrongful death claim covers a range of damages – from tangible economic losses such as lost income to intangible non-economic losses such as emotional pain.
- Economic damages can be calculated in monetary terms, for example: lost wages and benefits that your loved one would’ve earned if they had lived. You may also recover medical and funeral expenses related to the death. For families who depended on their loved one for financial support, this compensation can be significant.
- Non-economic damages are more subjective and not as easily quantifiable, for example: the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, and emotional support. While no amount of money can replace these losses, the legal system provides this avenue to recognize and compensate you for these intangible damages.
- Loss of consortium damages are a specific type of non-economic damages awarded to the spouse or domestic partner of the deceased, representing the loss of the benefits of married life such as affection and partnership. This aspect of wrongful death claims covers the profound personal loss that comes with the passing of an intimate partner.
The amount of damages you can recover in a wrongful death claim will depend on the facts of your case. California courts have an established system of calculating the appropriate amount for a settlement – and a knowledgeable lawyer who has experience with these types of cases can help you calculate your maximum possible settlement.
Depending on your situation, you may even be eligible to file a survival claim under California law. This type of claim covers any expenses or pain and suffering your loved one may have experienced if they initially survived their injuries but passed away later.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Calculated?
Calculating a proper settlement in a wrongful death case involves multiple factors and can be quite complex. A good lawyer is critical in getting the full amount you deserve.
The following factors may influence the amount of your wrongful death settlement in California:
- The age and health of your loved one when they passed away unexpectedly
- Your loved one’s earning capacity and life expectancy
- The circumstances of your loved one’s death
- Whether your loved one was the primary breadwinner for the family
- Whether your loved one was the primary child caretaker in the family
Calculating economic damages involves a detailed analysis of your loved one’s earning history, their potential future career earnings, and any benefits they received from their work. Your lawyer may call on experts to estimate these figures.
Estimating non-economic damages is more subjective and varies from case to case, as each family’s situation is unique. If your case goes to court, the judge or jury will consider the severity of your losses and the impact of your loved one’s death on your family’s life.
Unfortunately, even if you prove someone was negligent, that doesn’t mean they will want to do the right thing and take accountability for their actions. The party responsible for your loved one’s death or the insurance company that represents them may try to fight you on your claims, with the goal of minimizing your damages in order to avoid paying a large settlement.
An experienced lawyer can help disarm these types of underhanded intentions. In cases with especially bad behavior, you may even be eligible to receive punitive damages.
What Are Punitive Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Punitive damages have a different goal compared to compensatory damages. Instead of making your family whole for your losses, punitive damages punish the wrongdoer.
Punitive damages in wrongful death cases are most often awarded in cases where the actions of the responsible party were especially harmful, malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent. The point of these damages is to discourage repeating the behavior.
You may be eligible to receive punitive damages if the defendant’s actions were egregiously negligent or intentional – for example, a fatal accident caused by a drunk driver or deaths resulting from a trucking company’s illegal practices of overworking their drivers.
Punitive damages are meant to be symbolic, but they can result in substantial financial recovery for families affected by a wrongful death – serving both as a stern message about the consequences of gross negligence and as a form of justice for the family.
Navigating the wrongful death of a loved one is incredibly challenging. Understanding your rights when it comes to damages can help provide clarity during this difficult time. An experienced California wrongful death attorney can provide personalized advice and support for your specific situation. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we take wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis so that you can get the legal representation you deserve without having to worry about how the finances. Contact us now to get started on the path to recovery.