Los Angeles Personal Injury Wrongful Death Attorneys

According to California Law, heirs can bring a wrongful death cause of action against a negligent party under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60.

Has a Loved One Died in an Accident Due to Another's Negligence?

A cause of action for wrongful death would typically demand monetary damages to compensate the survivors or heirs including husband/wife or children for costs relating to potential income, funeral/burial expenses and loss of consortium which would be a claim that could be made by a spouse only.

The victim's death must be shown to have been caused by the negligence and wrongdoing of a third party. Certain circumstances do not give rise to such a cause of action. For example, the death of an unborn child or fetus, from a suicide or justifiable homicide is not legally actionable and does not give rise to a meritorious cause of action for wrongful death under California law.

When a person dies because of the negligence, misconduct or illegal action of another person, company or entity, that is known as a Wrongful Death and the victim’s family has the right to file a lawsuit.

No action can bring back the loved one. However, this type of lawsuit holds the negligent party accountable and provides a financial benefit intended to account for the financial support the loved one would have brought to the family if he or she had not been involved in the accident. Based in Los Angeles, with additional locations throughout California, the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Jacoby and Meyers are here to help.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death action belongs to the loved one’s immediate family: spouses, children and parents. This type of recovery is called “loss of consortium.” and domestic partners or same-sex spouses may also qualify.

In cases where there is no immediate family, more distant relatives can file the lawsuit. In some cases, the probate court appoints a personal representative to handle the victim’s estate. This person can also initiate a lawsuit and distribute the proceeds.

These claims may occur as a result of many situations, for example:

  • A vehicle accident
  • Medical malpractice
  • A criminal act
  • An airplane accident
  • Violence in a public place or the workplace
  • Occupational exposure to toxic substances or other dangerous conditions
  • Lack of care or negligence in a supervised activity
  • A dangerous condition on public or private property
  • Excessive force by police or a security force
  • Defective roads or construction
  • Defective products or a negligent repair.

This type of action may also apply to an unborn child if it died because a doctor was negligent or because of an assault on the mother. Finally, an action can arise if someone was injured and subsequently died of their injuries, even though they may have lived for days, weeks or months before death.

This action also considers future loss to the family. It does not reimburse for expenses associated with the person’s medical care, for damages in the accident or other expenses incurred before the death. Those costs must be recovered via a survival action lawsuit.

What is a Survival Action Lawsuit?

At a person’s death, their assets and debts become part of their estate. Therefore, for legal purposes, any medical or other expenses associated with the accident or event that caused the death are expenses of the estate. Any reimbursement owed to the estate for physical injuries or property damage also belongs to the estate. The executor responsible for settling the estate must initiate a survival action to recover the damages owed to the person who died. These debts may include medical care and lost wages if the person spent considerable time in the hospital before he or she died.

The combination of a survival action and a wrongful death lawsuit assures that the family is able to recover the full damages owed because of the loved one’s death. Consulting with an experienced California attorney like Jacoby & Meyers can provide you with legal advice about both actions.

Recovery in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In this type of case, the costs of the loved one’s medical expenses, property damage and other losses that occurred before death cannot be considered; the wrongful death lawsuit it strictly intended to compensate the family and heirs for the economic and personal losses caused by the person’s death.

For example, the following damages are allowed:

  • Funeral and burial expenses.
  • Financial support if the loved one would have supported or contributed to the support of a person. For example, a parent would probably support a child until he or she reached the age of 18 or 21.
  • If the child was 5 years old at the time the parent died, support might include an income until the child reached the age of 18 or lump sum to cover that period. It might also include money for education or medical care, if the child had a known health problem.
  • The loss of gifts or benefits that the victim would have given the heir. If the victim ran a family-owned business and members of the family received an income or profits from the business, that income might also become part of a settlement.
  • The value of household services that the victim would have provided. If the loved one was a stay-at-home spouse, this could include the value of the home-based services the spouse performed.

Certain non-economic costs may also be included. Here are examples of the non-economic costs that might be considered:

  • The loss of the victim's companionship and love.
  • The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations if applicable.
  • The loss of the training and guidance the victim might have provided.
  • Juries are not normally allowed to consider issues like grief, sorrow, mental anguish or the financial situation of the victim. However, there can be exceptions even to these conditions, depending on the circumstances of the person’s death.

There are complex factors at play in determining loss in any lawsuit, both in terms of the circumstances of the death and the factors that can be considered in the settlement. Only experienced California wrongful death lawyers like Jacoby & Meyers have the understanding to advise you about the best way to proceed in these cases.

Timing in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Time is the most valuable resource for two reasons.

  • You must act immediately so that valuable evidence and witness testimony are preserved, not lost or changed.
  • California has a statute of limitations of two years on all injury cases.

It is normal to delay hiring an attorney, especially if the injury occurred some days, weeks or months before the death. However, hiring a wrongful death attorney immediately helps to assure that critical evidence, testimonies, medical records, and other information essential to the case are recorded and remain available.

The Role of a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Attorney

The attorney you hire to represent you in a lawsuit has a complex role in planning and pursuing the lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits have the potential to recover a large amount and this economic factor affects a number of legal decisions.

For example, if the victim has a large number of heirs, it might be necessary to create a probate estate in the victim’s name. The proceeds of the lawsuit would then come into the estate and be distributed from there to individual heirs.

The law firm must also assign complex financial values to various elements of the case. This means determining the loved one’s life expectancy and using that as a way to calculate the potential support that person would have provided to his or her family.

Determining life expectancy requires a complicated analysis of such factors as the victim’s age, health, lifestyle, activity level and occupation. Calculating potential financial support to the heirs is another complex calculation that would consider the victim’s employment history, income and projected future wages.

Occasionally the action might also include a calculation to place a monetary value on the loss of companionship, society and consort. By definition, these losses cannot be calculated.

This element must be determined by your attorney, based on his or her knowledge, skill and experience. Beyond that, the lawyer must be able to present the argument for these losses persuasively to a judge and jury in court.

Liability and damages are other subjective calculation that can play an important role in the settlement of the case. Only an experienced attorney like Jacoby & Meyers and their experts can pull the necessary information together to make a persuasive argument for these losses.

Jacoby & Meyers: California Wrongful Death Lawyers

In their 40 years of legal practice, Jacoby & Meyers has taken on and won numerous cases. Jacoby & Meyers provides three essential benefits:

  • A proven track record of success in this specific type of case
  • An established and experienced network of experts in various technical, medical and economic area
  • The resources to pursue and win a case that extends for a long time.

Frequently Asked Questions about Potential Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims can result from accidents including slip and falls, car accidents, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, medical malpractice and more.

  • What is the Difference between a Wrongful Death Cause of Action and a "Survival" Cause of Action?

    A "survivor" cause of action has its legal authority in the Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.30. In essence, only the victim's estate can bring a "survival" cause of action against a negligent party. The family or heirs do not have a direct cause of action against the negligent party or individual under this legal claim. The damages are different for both causes of action.

    Punitive damages are not available for a wrongful death claim in California (with few exceptions- a felony homicide that resulted in a conviction). However, in a survival action, punitive damages are recoverable by the decedent's estate (the victim who died).

  • What Types of Actions Warrant a Wrongful Death Claim?

    Negligence, gross negligence, recklessness by one party that causes or leads to the wrongful death of an individual can give rise to such a claim.

  • What is the Statute of Limitations or Legal Deadline for Filing a Wrongful Death Action in Court?

    There are three timelines to be concerned with when it comes to a wrongful death cause of action which must be fully proven to be successful in court.

    • The general rule and deadline to file such a cause of action are within two years of the injury or death, according to California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
    • If a medical malpractice claim is being presented against a doctor or health care provider, the time is calculated three years from the date of injury or one year after the individual discovered or should have reasonably discovered the injury. This is evaluated legally according to the "reasonable person" standard.
    • If the claim is being filed against the government, the time is shortened and must be timely filed within six months of the injury or death.

    Failure to comply with the statute of limitations can waive your claim. This is why time is of the essence. When speaking with an attorney, make sure you discuss the timeline and sequence of events leading up to the wrongful death of a loved one.

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