A loved one’s unexpected or accidental death can leave a void in your heart and in your life. Some deaths are truly accidental – they can’t be predicted or prevented with any reasonable amount of precaution. No one is at fault and no one can be held responsible.
But some deaths could have been prevented if only someone had taken the proper precautions. These cases are called wrongful death – “wrongful” because someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions played a part in causing the death. Examples of wrongful death could look like:
- A distracted or intoxicated driver causes a crash that takes the life of another motorist
- A construction worker falls to their death because of dangerous worksite conditions
- A defective product such as an airbag malfunctions and fails to deploy
- A trucking company pushes their drivers to work overtime without proper rest breaks
- A faulty electrical system causes an apartment fire that takes the lives of tenants
- A nursing home patient passes away because of neglect by facility staff
Whoever is responsible for causing someone’s death could be held accountable under the law with a wrongful death lawsuit. Sometimes, this is an individual. It may also be a company or corporation. Families of wrongful death victims can recover compensation for the emotional and financial effect of their loved one’s loss on their lives.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death cases are civil cases, not criminal cases. This is because the person who caused the death did not intend for it to happen – and criminal charges require criminal intent.
But even if the person responsible never intended for anyone to die as a result of their actions, the reality is that they still caused a death. They must answer for the harm that they’ve done. The civil court system helps families hold the responsible person accountable for the consequences of their actions, usually through financial compensation.
At the end of a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the victim’s family members can recover:
- Economic damages from losing a household earner – these should cover the estimated income the victim would have earned over the rest of their life
- Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship
Emotional and mental pain and suffering can be hard to define – but they’re still real to surviving family members of wrongful death victims. The law recognizes these “invisible” effects on those grieving the loss of their loved ones. While courts cannot bring back victims who have passed away in wrongful death accidents, they make up for the loss in financial terms.
In some cases, families could recover punitive damages in a wrongful death settlement as a way to punish the person responsible. Punitive damages are rare and reserved for especially poor behavior that rises to the level of recklessness or even malicious negligence.
What Is the Difference Between Accidental and Wrongful Death?
The biggest difference between an accidental death and a wrongful death is negligence.
Negligence happens when someone has a legal duty or standard of care that they fail to live up to – and that failure causes another person to get injured or pass away.
For example, a surgeon fails to sterilize their implements according to modern medical standards of practice and their patient gets a deadly infection as a result. A rideshare driver does not have seatbelts that work properly so a car accident turns fatal for their unbelted passenger. Or a manufacturer fails to check the quality of their products before putting defective consumer goods on the market.
Your lawyer can help prove negligence in your wrongful death lawsuit by showing that:
- The person who caused the death had a legal duty to act a certain way,
- That person or company failed to live up to that standard, and
- That failure caused the death of the victim.
A successful wrongful death lawsuit can get you the support you need to move forward and provide for your family through this difficult time. The right attorney should be dedicated to getting your family the justice you deserve for the loss you’ve suffered.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In California, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit if you’re a surviving spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling, parent, beneficiary, or legal guardian of the victim who passed away.
If there are no other surviving family members that are closer in relation, you could have the legal right to file a lawsuit if you’re the victim’s grandparent, grandchild, or next of kin. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you determine if you can file a lawsuit.
What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement in California?
Wrongful death cases have high stakes because life is so precious. No amount of money can make up for a lost life, but settlements tend to be higher to reflect the severity of your loss.
Every case is unique, so only an attorney can give you an accurate picture of what to expect in your case. In California, wrongful death settlements can fall anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000 but the total can add up to $1 million depending on the circumstances.
When calculating your damages, you may be entitled to more if your family member was young or a high-income earner when they passed – or if the person who caused the death made life more difficult for you in the aftermath. In addition, your compensation should cover any medical bills or funeral expenses, inheritances, and benefits such as pensions or insurance.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
If your wrongful death claim is successful, you can generally choose one of two options to receive your damages – a single lump-sum payment or a structured settlement.
With a single lump sum payment, you get your settlement paid out all at once shortly after your case completes. A structured settlement involves paying out your settlement in smaller payments over time. Your lawyer can help you determine which is the best option for you.
Generally, wrongful death settlements are not taxable. However, your situation may have complications that affect your taxes. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, our experienced wrongful death attorneys can help you navigate the intricacies of your case with grace and compassion and get you the justice you deserve for your loved one’s death.
Click here for your free consultation. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay us until we win and we’re just as invested in your case as you are.