Non-Economic and Punitive Damages in California Wrongful Death Cases

The Power of Non-Economic and Punitive Damages in California Wrongful Death Cases

Economic damages cover the direct financial losses you and your family suffer when your loved one passes away tragically and unexpectedly. But the effects of wrongful death are more than just financial – for most, their personal and family lives will never be the same. These non-tangible losses are called non-economic damages in the legal world.

When you file a wrongful death lawsuit in California, you can recover financial compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. In addition, some cases may qualify for punitive damages, which are meant to punish whoever is responsible for the death. Because life is so precious, damages in wrongful death cases can total millions of dollars.

Even though the emotional pain and loss of companionship, love, and support don’t have a price tag, they are profoundly impactful and alter the lives of those left behind in ways that are deep and far-reaching. That’s where non-economic damages come in.

On the other hand, punitive damages function as a form of legal retribution or justice – the goal is to punish appalling conduct and deter similar instances of negligence or malice. Together, these damages form a crucial aspect of the legal recourse available to families, providing a pathway to both financial relief and a sense of justice being served.

What Are Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Cases?

In California, non-economic damages play a vital role in acknowledging losses that aren’t easily quantified by receipts or pay stubs. Instead, these damages are intended to compensate for the intangible aspects of loss, such as emotional distress and loss of comfort and affection.

Examples of non-economic damages in wrongful death cases include:

  • Loss of companionship, love, comfort, and “society” provided by the deceased
  • Emotional distress, grief, sorrow, and mental suffering experienced by the survivors
  • Loss of “consortium” and affection for spouses or domestic partners
  • Losing the care, guidance, and nurturing for the children of the deceased
  • Pain and suffering of the deceased, if they survived for a time before they passed

The challenge with non-economic damages lies in how they get calculated. Since these losses aren’t financial, there’s no straightforward formula. Instead, California courts consider several factors such as the relationship between the survivors and the deceased, how long the deceased suffered before their passing, and the overall impact on the survivors’ lives.

Despite the complexity of these types of claims, these damages recognize the pain, void, and irreplaceable loss left behind in the aftermath of a wrongful death.

Who Qualifies for Non-Economic Damages for Wrongful Death?

California law specifies who can file a wrongful death claim and seek damages for losing their loved one, emphasizing survivors who had a close or dependent relationship with the deceased.

Generally, immediate family members such as spouses, domestic partners, and children are at the forefront of those who qualify. If these direct survivors aren’t present, other financial dependents, like parents or stepchildren, may also have a right to claim these damages.

The eligibility to claim non-economic damages extends to those who deeply feel the loss of companionship, guidance, partnership, or emotional support the deceased provided. For parents losing a child, or a spouse losing their partner, the law recognizes that financial compensation cannot fully address the profound emotional and relational void. However, a wrongful death settlement aims to acknowledge and mitigate the effect of these losses.

What Are Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases?

Punitive damages stand apart from compensatory damages like non-economic and economic damages. The latter seeks to compensate the family for their losses. Punitive damages, on the other hand, serve a different purpose – to punish the wrongdoer for their negligent or malicious actions and to deter similar conduct in the future.

Punitive damages are not awarded in all wrongful death cases. They are reserved for situations where the defendant’s actions were especially reprehensible or demonstrating a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of others.

Situations where punitive damages might apply include:

  • A car crash or accident involving drunk driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • A company knowingly sells a defective and dangerous product, such as a car with faulty brakes or a safety device that fails to deploy properly
  • Severe workplace safety violations that put workers and others at risk
  • Deliberate fraud or misrepresentation, such as selling a product known to be lethal, harmful, or ineffective without disclosing the risks to consumers
  • Elder abuse or neglect by a caregiver or facility
  • Intentional and malicious actions such as vehicle tampering

The above examples illustrate cases where wrongful conduct goes beyond simple negligence and enters the realm of intentional wrongdoing or gross negligence.

Whether punitive damages apply in a wrongful death case is subject to strict legal standards, and the decision to grant punitive damages lies in the hands of a judge or jury.

Who Can Get Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases?

The ability to get punitive damages depends on whether you can prove that the defendant acted abusively or with malice, oppression, or fraud. When these conditions are present, it’s critical for families considering a wrongful death claim to consult with an experienced California wrongful death attorney who can pursue these damages on your behalf.

Pursuing punitive damages requires a strategic approach because it requires demonstrating not only the loss suffered but also the defendant’s state of mind. The guidance of a skilled lawyer becomes indispensable in these cases, allowing you to maximize your recovery.

While no amount of money can replace a loved one, wrongful death laws can help survivors find a path forward in the wake of their loss. In California, survivors may even be able to file a survivor’s claim in addition to a wrongful death claim. The law remains committed to holding individuals and companies accountable for their actions or the actions of their employees.

For many families, a successful legal claim is about more than just the compensation received – it’s an affirmation of their loved one’s worth and an acknowledgment of the pain and suffering that their loss has caused. Wrongful death claims help survivors seek justice, honor the memory of their loved one, and ensure that such tragedies are met with the full backing of the legal system. Contact the experienced team at Sepulveda Sanchez Law now for guidance.