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What Does Wrongful Death Mean?

What Does Wrongful Death Mean?

What Does Wrongful Death Mean?

Wrongful death means a death that was unlawful and unjustified. Wrongful death gives rise to a cause of action under California law. Determining whether a defendant’s conduct was sufficient to create liability is often based on an interpretation of the facts. But when the conduct is also a violation of law, there is a presumption of wrongful behavior, which can help to prove a plaintiff’s case.

Wrongful Death Law in California

Wrongful death describes the “death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another” under the California Code of Civil Procedure. A person who is found to have caused a wrongful death may be ordered to pay money to the family of the decedent. The payment of monetary damages is the only consequence the responsible party will face unless separate criminal charges are filed.

Events Most Likely to Result in Wrongful Death

Not all activities that people engage in have the same amount of risk. Wrongful death claims tend to be associated more frequently with activities where the risk of death is greater. Some activities that have a high risk of death are nevertheless everyday activities for a lot of people.

The following types of incidents commonly cause wrongful death:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Product malfunction

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim

The most common legal standard for imposing liability in wrongful death cases is negligence. A person is found negligent if the harm to another was a foreseeable consequence of the action taken or actions that should have been taken and were not. The foreseeability of the consequences is determined by what a reasonable person would have understood given the same circumstances.

The four elements necessary to prove negligence in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Establishing a duty of care – People have a duty to avoid activities where a foreseeable consequence is a harm to others.
  • Showing a breach of duty – The duty of care is breached by engaging in activities despite the potential for harm to others.
  • Connecting the breach to the harm – It’s not enough that a defendant was negligent. The defendant’s negligence must be a ‘substantial factor’ in causing harm to the plaintiff.
  • Proving the extent of the harm – Plaintiffs need to provide proof of their losses to justify an award of compensation.

A duty of care does not need to be established where a defendant has violated a law. The law creates the standard of care and violating it constitutes a breach of this standard. Negligence is presumed as a matter of law, but a plaintiff still must prove the violation was a substantial factor in causing the claimed harm.

Who is Liable for a Wrongful Death?

Any person who actually caused harm to another is liable for the consequences, but other individuals and/or entities are often also legally responsible, in fact, or by law, for contributing to the circumstances that caused the harm which resulted in the wrongful death and/or because they had some type of control over the responsible party.

Who Can Make a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims are intended to compensate the close family members of the decedent for their economic as well as non-economic losses. In California, a wrongful death action can be initiated by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate or any of the following people:

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Children
  • Grandchildren (of deceased children)
  • Parents (if the deceased had no children)
  • Legal guardian (if parents are deceased)
  • Persons economically dependent on the decedent

Is Wrongful Death the same as a Survival Action?

A wrongful death action is not the same as a survival action. Though both claims can arise from the injuries suffered by the loved one who was wrongly killed, a wrongful death action seeks financial compensation for the losses sustained by family members, whereas a survival action is based on the personal injury claim the decedent would have been able to make if he or she had lived and thus seeks to recover the losses they could have recovered, which are different than wrongful death damages.

A decedent’s cause of action accrues when the deceased lives for a period of time following the injuries that ultimately resulted in their death. The lawsuit is usually filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, and any proceeds from the lawsuit are paid to the estate to be distributed according to the provisions of any estate planning documents and/or state inheritance laws.

Making a Wrongful Death Claim

No family ever wants to go through the pain of losing a loved one and be placed in the position of having to sue the responsible party or parties. Being financially compensated may seem like a hollow victory; however, making a wrongful death claim can provide needed resources to help families get back on their feet and plan for their future. Taking legal action will also hold the wrongdoer accountable by financially penalizing them, which will hopefully prevent future similar incidents from taking place.

If you have lost a loved one and suspect the death was the result of another individual or entity’s negligence, a northern California wrongful death lawyer can provide valuable guidance and assistance in obtaining justice for you and your family.