Four Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

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Anytime a person loses their life due to the negligent or intentional actions of another individual or entity in California, a civil wrongful death claim could arise. Typically, family members or the estate of the deceased are responsible for filing wrongful death claims in civil court. However, plaintiffs are required to prove the negligence of the at-fault party in order for the case to be successful. Here, we look at the four elements of negligence in a wrongful death case

1. Duty of Care

The first element in proving negligence of another party for a wrongful death claim is establishing that there was a duty of care involved. A plaintiff and their wrongful death attorney must show that the alleged negligent party owed a duty of care during the incident in question. The duty of care will look different depending on the particular situation. For example, every driver on the roadway owes a duty of care to others around them, meaning they are required to operate their vehicles safely. When it comes to medical care, all medical professionals and medical facilities are required to treat patients at an acceptable standard of medical care.

Every situation involving a wrongful death will have to be examined independently in order to determine whether or not the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

2. Breach of Duty

After a duty of care has been established, it must be shown that the defendant breached their duty of care in some way. Again, similar to establishing a duty of care, determining whether or not there was a breach of duty will look different depending on the exact situation. For cases involving vehicle accident fatalities, it must be established that the defendant operated their vehicle in a way that caused the accident. For example, common causes of breach of duty on the roadway include operating while impaired by alcohol or drugs or while driving too fast for conditions.

For premises liability claims that lead to a fatality, it must be shown that the property owner or operator knew or should have known about a hazardous condition and failed to take steps to remedy the situation or warn guests of the known hazard.

3. Causation

After a duty of care and a breach of duty has been established, the plaintiff will have to show that the breach of duty directly caused the wrongful death. In other words, it must be shown that absent of the negligent circumstances, the death would not have occurred. It must be established that there were no other factors that could have caused the death.

4. Damages

Finally, the plaintiffs in a wrongful death case must show that there is some sort of monetary loss that occurs as a result of the fatality. Damages in a wrongful death claim can include a wide variety of expenses, including both economic and non-economic damages. Some of the most common compensation sought in a wrongful death case includes medical costs, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of potential earnings, legal expenses, and more. An attorney will work with trusted medical and economic experts to help properly calculate total expected losses for the family and the estate of the deceased.