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Wrongful Death Lawyer
Orange County

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death is when fatalities are precipitated by the “willful negligence” of another party. If one person’s actions or inaction lead directly to another’s demise, they can be held responsible for wrongful death.

Every year, with the guidance of wrongful death and personal injury lawyers, thousands of Americans file wrongful death lawsuits in civil court. Since they’re not criminal proceedings, the goal of these actions is to secure monetary awards for the deceased’s heirs. 

Wrongful Death Lawyer Orange County

Wrongful Death: Do I Have a Case?

Wrongful death statutes are state laws. As such, details vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, the broad strokes are similar in that:

  1. Wrongful death claimants must be family members who depended on the departed’s livelihood — i.e., spouses, children, and other familial dependents. Sixth cousins who’ve met the victim once at a BBQ need not file. 
  2. The wrongful death statute of limitations — aka the amount of time you have to file an action from the date of incident — is between two and six years. In California, it’s two years.
  3. Claimants can sue a person, organization, business, hospital, or even government that proximately caused the death of their relative.

Many wrongful death cases come down to intentionality. Did the defendant purposefully commit the action at issue? Were they grossly negligent? Or was the tragedy a fluke that couldn’t have been reasonably predicted?

Like all personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death ones are complicated. A procedural misstep lurks around every motion. As such, enlisting the help of an experienced wrongful death lawyer will go a long way toward ensuring you secure the best possible settlement. People frequently get off on technicalities; don’t let that happen in your situation.

What Types of Actions Can Result in a Wrongful Death Settlement?

All manners of injuries can lead to fatalities, so it’s impossible to create a definitive list of what does and does not qualify as wrongful death. That being said, many people have won claims when a party:

  1. Didn’t adequately protect their swimming pool;
  2. Caused a fatal and preventable automobile accident;
  3. Battered an individual;
  4. Committed medical malpractice;
  5. Put a defective product on the market.

The wrongful death question is frequently asked regarding abortions. To answer the question, “Can I file a wrongful death lawsuit against my girlfriend or wife for terminating her pregnancy,” the answer is “no.” Wrongful death statutes do not apply to unborn fetuses.

Can Emotional Torment Be Grounds for a Wrongful Death Suit in California?

Due to a 1960s court ruling, California is one of the few states where plaintiffs can file wrongful death claims against defendants that inflicted emotional stress resulting in suicide.

These types of cases are difficult to win. If your loved one died by suicide under the influence of another individual, contact a wrongful death attorney to explore accountability options. 

Why Should I Sue for Wrongful Death?

There are several good reasons to sue for wrongful death.

Accountability: Not every killer is convicted in criminal court, and wrongful death civil actions serve as an alternative route to justice. O.J. Simpson is a perfect example. A jury acquitted the athlete-turned-actor at the criminal trial, but he lost a wrongful death suit brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Lower Burden of Proof: The evidentiary standard for criminal convictions is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which means prosecutors must prove that there is no other reasonable explanation for the event. In civil suits, however, “preponderance of evidence” is the bar that must be met. To satisfy the preponderance standard, the plaintiffs must only show a 50 percent or higher chance that the claim is true. 

Secure Your Family’s Future: Wrongful death lawsuits are, in large part, about securing financial futures for victims’ descendants. As such, many cases are filed by the departed’s children. However, any relative with an economic dependency on the victim can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, a niece or nephew who was dependent on the deceased for school tuition may be able to secure a settlement, even though they’re not the victim’s children. 

When Should I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In California, civil cases of this nature have a two-year statute of limitations, meaning you must file a claim within 24 months of the incident. Most people take a few months to grieve and then move forward with an action. Remember, however, that evidence is central to the proceedings and could make all the difference. So don’t wait too long.

How long do wrongful death lawsuits take? Case details determine the length of the proceedings. Some take years; others are settled within weeks.

Against Whom Can I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Any party whose actions directly led to an individual’s death can be sued for wrongful death, including people, businesses, organizations, hospitals, and even governments. However, applicable statutes — known as “sovereign immunity laws” — in the majority of jurisdictions include copious exemptions regarding government culpability. As such, it is rare to win a wrongful death case against a bureaucratic body. Another tempering limitation is workers’ compensation laws. If the incident occurred at the workplace, you might want to consult with a wrongful death lawyer who can examine your circumstances and explain the available options.

Liability and Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

How do you prove wrongful death? To secure the ideal outcome, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the defendant’s — be it a person, hospital, or business — actions or lack thereof created a direct and natural series of events that resulted in a fatal injury. 

For How Much Can I Sue in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Though limitations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, wrongful death claimants typically seek compensatory and punitive damages. The former is redress for actual monies lost as a direct result of the death under consideration. For example, if a young mother of two, who is her family’s primary earner, dies at the hand of someone else’s actions or omissions, compensatory damages might include her projected earnings for the next 40 years. Conversely, punitive damages are punishments. A jural body decides the amount, and the figures usually reflect a) the heinousness of the underlying action and b) the defendant’s ability to pay.

 Compensatory damage awards may include:

  1. Funeral costs;
  2. Medical costs;
  3. Projected lost income;
  4. Loss of companionship costs.

In terms of hard calculations, there’s no such thing as an “average settlement” for wrongful death lawsuits. Since awards are determined by the case specifics, and the victim’s income, outcomes are all over the place. Note, however, that if the victim’s actions contributed to the deadly accident, that percentage could be deducted from the compensatory damages calculation.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

Again, the details or a given case are shaped by the suit specifics. However, successful plaintiffs usually accept their damage awards in one of three ways:

  1. Lump-sum;
  2. Payment plan;
  3. Delayed trust.

Must I Pay Taxes on Wrongful Death Settlements?

No, the money gained through wrongful death settlements is non-taxable since a third-party is responsible for the underlying fatal event.

Consult with a Wrongful Death Attorney

Dealing with tragedy is never easy, but a compassionate and experienced wrongful death lawyer will guide you through the process, step by step, and vigorously fight on your behalf. Nobody wants to go through this, but if it’s the card you’re dealt, make the most of it by holding the responsible parties responsible.

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