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December 19, 2023

7 Mistakes Californians Make About Wrongful Death Elements

Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA

In California, the law allows for the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit to seek justice and compensation for the sudden loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. At LawLinq, we have seen firsthand the challenges that families face when dealing with the legal landscape.

Here, we have compiled a list of the most common mistakes Californians make when filing a wrongful death lawsuit, in hopes of helping you avoid these pitfalls and successfully navigate your claim.

In this post we will dive into these common mistakes, providing insights and advice on how to avoid them. From misunderstanding the duty of care to underestimating non-economic damages, we’ll guide you through each mistake, offering expert advice to help you navigate your wrongful death claim with confidence and clarity.

Remember, every case is unique and this post should not replace legal advice. Always consult with a professional for advice tailored to your specific circumstances. Below is a quick description of California wrongful death elements:

California Wrongful Death Elements Explained

Element Description
Duty of Care The responsible party owed a duty of care to the deceased, which is often based on the relationship or circumstances leading to the death.
Breach of Duty The responsible party breached their duty of care through negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct, resulting in the death of the individual.
Causation There must be a direct link between the breach of duty and the death, demonstrating that the responsible party’s actions were a substantial factor in causing the fatality.
Damages The death must result in damages, which can include financial losses, emotional suffering, or other harm suffered by the surviving family members.

Common Mistakes Californians Make When it Comes to Wrongful Death Elements

Here are some mistakes that Californians often make when it comes to wrongful death elements:

1. Filing a Late Claim

One of the most common mistakes is not adhering to the statute of limitations. In California, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the incident. Delaying the filing process can result in the claim being dismissed.

2. Speaking with the Media

Public statements given to the media can be used against you when you file the wrongful death claim. Insurance companies may use these statements to avoid paying damages. It is best to avoid giving any public statements regarding your loss.

3. Talking to the Insurance Company

Insurance companies often attempt to deny the claim or dispute it to minimize the amount of damages they must pay. Any answers you give, on the phone, in person, or in writing, can be used against you in a court of law. We highly recommend against speaking to an insurance agent at all.

4. Not Understanding Who Can File a Claim

There’s a misconception that a wrongful death claim can only be filed by immediate family members. California law outlines a broader range of individuals who can file a wrongful death claim.

5. Not Seeking Legal Guidance

Wrongful death cases often involve unique legal challenges. Refusing to seek the legal advice and guidance of a wrongful death attorney can lead to mistakes in the claims process.

6. Underestimating Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages such as the loss of companionship or emotional distress can be significant in a wrongful death case. Failing to understand these damages can result in a lower settlement.

7. Not Gathering Enough Evidence

Proving a wrongful death claim requires substantial evidence. Failing to gather enough evidence can weaken your case and make it more difficult to prove negligence.

proving wrongful death

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California?

Here are key aspects to consider when proving wrongful death in California:

  1. Establishing Negligence: The first step in proving wrongful death is to establish that there was a lack of care or wrongful action due to negligence, recklessness, or an intentional act.
  2. Breach of Duty: You must demonstrate that there was a duty owed to the deceased, and that it was breached. This could be, for example, a doctor’s duty to provide standard care to a patient, a driver’s duty to follow traffic laws, or a manufacturer’s duty to ensure their products are safe.
  3. Causation: You must prove that the breach of duty directly caused the death. This may involve gathering evidence such as witness statements, police reports, medical records, and expert testimony.
  4. Damages: You must also be able to show that the decedent’s death resulted in damages. These can be economic (such as loss of income or funeral expenses) or non-economic (like loss of companionship or emotional distress).

Please consult with a legal professional for advice tailored to your specific circumstances. This information is intended to be a general summary and does not constitute legal advice.

Why Can it Be Difficult to Prove Wrongful Death of a Loved One?

Here are some reasons why it can be difficult to prove wrongful death of a loved one:

Establishing Negligence: Proving that the defendant acted negligently or wrongfully can be challenging. This requires demonstrating that the defendant’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances.

– Proving Duty of Care and Breach: It can be difficult to show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased and that this duty was breached. This often involves complex legal arguments and may require expert testimony.

– Demonstrating Causation Linking the defendant’s breach of duty to the death of the loved one is often the most challenging part of a wrongful death case. This requires showing that the death would not have occurred but for the defendant’s actions.

– Quantifying Damages: Calculating the financial and non-financial damages resulting from the death can be complex and contentious. This often involves detailed financial analysis and may also require expert testimony.

– Meeting the Burden of Proof: In a wrongful death case, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. This means that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that their claims are truthful and accurate.

-Legal and Procedural Complexities: Wrongful death cases involve many complex legal and procedural rules. Navigating these rules can be difficult, particularly for individuals without legal training.

Frequently Asked Questions

What qualifies for wrongful death in California?

In California, a wrongful death claim can be brought under certain conditions as per the Code of Civil Procedure §377.601. The following elements must be established:

  • The death of an individual occurred.
  • The death was caused by another party’s negligence or intentional harm. This can include cases of medical malpractice, vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, defective products, or intentional acts.

The lawsuit can be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children.

In the event that the deceased does not have any living descendants, those individuals, encompassing the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be the rightful heirs to the decedent’s estate through intestate succession, are considered.

What is the one action rule in California for wrongful death?

The One Action Rule, also known as the One Recovery Rule, in California for wrongful death means that plaintiffs can only file one wrongful death lawsuit toward a guilty party. Here’s how it affects wrongful death cases:

  • Consolidation of Claims: All claims for damages arising from a wrongful death must be consolidated into a single lawsuit. This means that all active parties seeking compensation for the wrongful death must participate in the same legal action.
  • Binding Effect: Once a final decision or settlement is reached in a wrongful death, it generally has a binding effect on all parties involved. This means that the judgment or settlement in the case resolves all claims and precludes further lawsuits or legal actions related to the same incident.
  • Allocation of Damages: The court or the parties involved must determine the allocation of damages among the wrongful death claimants. This can involve assessing the relationship of the claimants to the deceased person and considering factors such as financial dependency, loss of companionship, or emotional suffering.
  • Impact on Settlement Negotiations: Since all claims must be consolidated into one legal action, this can create a more complex negotiation process involving multiple parties and their respective interests.

What are the wrongful death damages in California 2023?

In California, wrongful death damages are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic Damages can include:

  • The financial support that the decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the decedent had before their death or the life expectancy of the plaintiff, whichever is shorter
  • The loss of gifts or benefits that the plaintiff would have received from the decedent
  • Funeral/burial expenses
  • The reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided

Non-Economic Damages can include:

  • The loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, and/or moral support.
  • The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance.

Note that starting from January 1, 2023, the damages cap for wrongful death caused by medical malpractice will increase from $250,000 to $500,000, eventually reaching $1 million over the next ten years. For non-death cases, the non-economic damages cap will be $350,000, and it will increase incrementally through 2033 to $750,000

Connect with a California Wrongful Death Lawyer

A wrongful death settlement can help you endure the financial losses that come with the unexpected passing of a loved one. At LawLinq, we can connect you with experienced wrongful death lawyers in California, at zero cost. Our network of attorneys is well-versed in the state’s wrongful death laws and has a proven track record of helping families seek justice for their loved ones.

You do not have to face this difficult journey alone. Connect with a California wrongful death lawyer through LawLinq today. Let us help you find the right legal representation to guide you through this challenging time, ensuring that your loved one’s rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.

About the Author

Jessica Anvar

California Consumer Litigation Attorney Jessica Anvar, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Partner of Lemon Law Experts California’s leading lemon law firm. She has multiple years’ worth of experience working with both state and federal lemon laws. Her practice focuses exclusively on consumer protection cases. Ms. Anvar received her J.D. from Loyola Law School. She also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola Marymount University. Jessica is very active in her local legal community and has helped thousands of clients across the state of California. She has an outstanding record as a true advocate for consumers.

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