If your loved one dies because of another person or entity’s reckless, negligent, or intentional action, you may be entitled to receive wrongful death damages in California.
Though you may be grieving, understand that you must take action within two years of the death of the deceased in order to bring a legal case for California wrongful death.
Difference Between Punishment for Wrongful Death vs Criminal Homicide
The wrongful death cause of action falls under the umbrella of personal injury lawsuits that you would file in civil court.
Homicide is a cause of action brought by a prosecutor in criminal court.
The difference in punishment between wrongful death and criminal homicide is that a wrongful death claim involves liability in terms of financial compensation.
Criminal homicide involves jail, prison time, probation, or other sanctions.
Wrongful Death Damages in California
Determining California wrongful death damages can be difficult because some of the components do not involve expense numbers.
There are two types of wrongful death damages available.
Damages are defined in the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions 3921 (CACI 3921), which are forms used to explain specific laws to jurors who must apply them.
The two categories of California wrongful death damages are economic and non-economic damages.
Financial compensation for expenses that can be reasonably quantified is economic damages. These are related to actual monetary costs that occur because of the death of the deceased.
According to CACI 3921, these include:
- Financial support that the deceased would have contributed to the family;
- Loss of gifts or benefits that the family would have expected to receive from the deceased;
- The reasonable dollar value of household services that the decedent would have provided; and
- Burial and funeral expenses.
Unreimbursed medical costs that were incurred due to the nature of the action that caused death are filed under a different claim called a “survival action,” which is brought by the estate of the deceased.
Survival actions also address lawsuits that the deceased had the right to file prior to death.
Non-economic damages typically pertain to the mental and emotional aspects of loss, but under CACI 3921, wrongful death damages do not include grief, sorrow, or pain and suffering.
The jury may award wrongful death damages that they deem reasonable given the evidence provided.
Things to take into consideration when determining non-economic damages include:
- Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support;
- Spouse or partner’s loss of consortium (enjoyment of intimacy); and
- Loss of training and guidance.
Proving non-economic wrongful death damages can be difficult without the assistance of an experienced California wrongful death attorney.
You will generally need witnesses and other evidence to show that love, companionship, and other elements of a healthy relationship existed.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 allows the following family members (or their personal representatives) to bring a lawsuit for wrongful death in state civil court:
- A surviving spouse;
- A domestic partner;
- Biological and adopted children;
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person’s children are also deceased),
- Other minor children (such as stepchildren) who were at least 50% dependent on the deceased for their financial support; and
- Anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.
This last group may include the deceased person’s parents, or siblings, depending on who is living at the time of death.
In some cases, there may be additional dependents who may have the right to receive wrongful death damages.
These may include:
- A “putative spouse” (someone who had a good faith but mistaken belief that they were in a lawful marriage with the deceased);
- Children of the decedent’s putative spouse;
- Parents of the deceased; and
- Legal guardians of the decedent.
These individuals must be able to prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased.
Should You Hire a California Wrongful Death Attorney?
In order to succeed on a wrongful death claim, you must have sufficient evidence to prove that the death was caused by the negligent actions of another person.
It is important to have an experienced legal team to conduct investigations, gather evidence, and navigate the complex California legal system.
The Law Office of Chuck Geerhart can also help you determine what your wrongful death case is worth so that you do not settle for less than what you deserve.
With over 30 years of experience, Chuck Geerhart understands how to effectively and compassionately help you through this tough time by providing the legal support you need.