Long Beach Wrongful Death Attorney
Personal injury lawsuits happen when someone suffers an injury or other damages due to someone else’s negligence. If the injured victim dies from the other party’s actions, the deceased’s surviving loved ones must file a wrongful death claim to secure compensation. Although similar to personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death claims function a bit differently and Southern California residents should understand the state laws surrounding wrongful death claims by speaking with a knowledgeable Long Beach wrongful death attorney. In some cases, a family may file a civil action against the person who caused their loved one’s death while the defendant also faces criminal charges from the state. Wrongful death claims are entirely separate from criminal cases.
You have two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim. California also places restrictions on who may file wrongful death claims. Typically, the person filing the claim must be the deceased person’s spouse, partner, or child. If no such kin exists, anyone who has any claim to the deceased’s property may file a wrongful death claim, such as a parent, sibling, or another relative. Finally, anyone who was demonstrably financially dependent on the deceased may file a wrongful death claim.
California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
Whenever you wish to take legal action for a civil matter, you must meet your state’s statute of limitations for that type of claim. A statute of limitations is essentially a time limit for taking legal action after an incident, and the time starts ticking on the date an incident occurs. However, it’s often difficult to determine when the statute of limitations begins in some cases.
Claimants with wrongful death claims have two years to take legal action in California, and this two-year statute of limitations begins on the date of the death in question. California law also clearly defines which parties may file wrongful death claims. An individual who has a wrongful death claim should secure legal representation from a Long Beach wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to limit the risk of missing the statute of limitations. If an individual misses this window, it is likely he or she will lose the ability to take legal action for the death in question.
The Discovery Rule
It’s important to note the statute of limitations does not always begin on the date of a death. In some cases, it may be difficult or impossible to accurately determine the cause of a death until sometime after the death occurred. For example, an individual begins experiencing abdominal pain, and a round of medical tests cannot determine the cause. After a few weeks, the individual dies, and further testing and investigation take several weeks to complete until the family receives a positive diagnosis for the cause of death.
In this situation, if the family discovered grounds for a wrongful death claim from this diagnosis, the statute of limitations would start on the “date of discovery,” or the date the claimants realized they had a claim. In some cases, it may take time to determine if another party bears liability for a death, so the discovery rule helps plaintiffs who may otherwise struggle to meet the statute of limitations.
The discovery rule allows a plaintiff to bring a civil action when he or she discovers the harm done by a defendant or should have discovered it through reasonable diligence. Speak with your Long Beach wrongful death lawyer if you have questions about how the statute of limitations applies in your case. There may be other factors that can offer you additional time to take legal action by “tolling” or delaying the statute of limitations.
Other Exemptions to the Statute of Limitations
Some types of cases, such as product liability claims, hold a statute of repose, after which a plaintiff may no longer take legal action. For example, California places a two-year statute of limitations on product liability claims for wrongful death and the discovery rule does not apply.
Exceptions for minor children who are eligible to file wrongful death claims do exist though. A minor does not use up the statute of limitations while he or she is too young to take legal action. For example, a 10-year-old boy loses his mother when she suffers fatal injuries from a drunk driver. In this situation, the boy technically has the right to pursue a wrongful death claim but cannot do so because of his age. If there is no one who can take legal action on the boy’s behalf before he reaches age 18, then the statute of limitations for him to file his own wrongful death claim would start on his 18th birthday.
Navigating the statute of limitations is difficult for some wrongful-death claimants. A reliable Long Beach wrongful death lawyer can help someone in this situation determine the best course of action that offers the highest chances of success, but it’s important to act quickly. Even if you believe extenuating circumstances apply in your case and extend the statute of limitations, filing too late or taking too long to secure legal representation could compromise your claim.
Damages in California Wrongful Death Claims
Just like in personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiffs in wrongful death claims can recoup all of the expenses they incurred from their loved one’s death. There are also several other forms of compensation that could apply. Typical damages in wrongful death claims include:
- Funeral and burial expenses. An average funeral can cost several thousands of dollars.
- Medical expenses from the final injury or illness. Some wrongful death claims evolve from personal injury suits when the injured victims succumb to their wounds. The surviving family can recover their medical expenses like hospital bills, treatment costs, prescription costs, and any other health care expenses resulting from the defendant’s actions.
- Pain and suffering. If the deceased’s final illness or injury entailed significant pain and distress, the plaintiffs may consult with medical expert witnesses who will testify to this in court, and the judge will award an appropriate amount.
- Lost income. The family can sue for the income their deceased loved one could have been reasonably expected to earn had he or she survived. This may sound difficult to measure, but a court will generally assess the deceased’s financial situation prior to his or her death and consult with financial experts to determine an appropriate figure.
- Loss of consortium. Surviving families may also receive compensation for the emotional toll the unexpected death takes on the survivors. “Loss of consortium” generally refers to the loss of the deceased’s positive influences on the family, such as moral support, attention, affection, guidance, and love.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in California?
Every state has unique laws and statutes concerning wrongful death claims. These statutes typically outline who may file a claim for wrongful death, the time in which they have to file, and the damages they may be able to collect from successful claims. In California, the parties who may bring a claim for wrongful death include the deceased person’s spouse or domestic partner. If the deceased had children, they may file the claim. If the deceased did not have a significant other or any children, then a parent or sibling may file a claim for wrongful death.
If the deceased individual has no other kin in his or her line of descent, then any other relative with a claim on the deceased’s estate through intestate succession may file a wrongful death claim. Financial dependents may also file claims for wrongful death. This may include a putative spouse and that putative spouse’s children who received child support or alimony from the deceased, or the deceased’s stepchildren who financially depended on the deceased. For additional information regarding who can file a wrongful death claim, talk to a skilled wrongful death lawyer in Long Beach.
The Decedent’s Will
In some cases, the decedent in a wrongful death claim had a will that clearly outlined who may take legal action on his or her behalf. If the deceased’s estate or will names an executor, then only the executor has the legal power to file a claim for wrongful death. If the state must name a representative or executor, that individual will also hold such power.
Whoever files a wrongful death claim in California must do so within two years of the death in question. In some cases, the discovery rule may apply until the surviving family can determine a cause of death. For example, if a person died in a car accident, the investigation may uncover one or more potential defendants for a wrongful death claim. The investigation will also lead to evidence that will help prove liability for the death.
It’s important to remember that the decedent’s will and a wrongful death claim for the decedent’s death are two separate legal issues, but they may influence one another. For example, if the deceased’s will outlined disbursements for a retirement fund or other investments compromised by the deceased’s early death, then the surviving family would likely sort out the financial implications on that account through the wrongful death claim. For example, the jury may decide that the defendant owes the claimants for the lost value on that retirement accounts or other depreciated financial assets.
Navigating a Wrongful Death Claim in California
The first step in any wrongful death claim in California is for the potential claimants to secure legal representation. A Long Beach wrongful death attorney will help the family meet the state’s two-year statute of limitations and build the lawsuit. A wrongful death claim can help a family recover damages related to the circumstances of a loved one’s death, such as the pain and suffering and medical expenses resulting from the deceased’s final illness or injury.
The claimant’s attorney will also help determine the damages for the claim. A wrongful death claim is functionally like a personal injury claim filed on behalf of a plaintiff who did not survive his or her injuries. The same standard of proof applies, so the plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim must not only prove the death in question resulted from the defendant’s actions and not some other cause, but also prove the extent of those damages.
Succeeding in Your Wrongful Death Claim
One of the best choices bereaved families can make after an unexpected death in the family is to retain the services of a qualified Long Beach personal injury lawyer experienced in wrongful death claims to help navigate the case. Wrongful death claims are fairly straightforward, but still require careful attention to detail and meeting various deadlines. An attorney can help shoulder the burden of the legal entanglements, offering you and your family time to mourn. Winning a wrongful death claim comes down to proving the defendant is liable for the death. Just like in personal injury cases, this means establishing to the court that the defendant had a duty to act with reasonable care, breached this duty, and this failure directly caused the death.
Harting Simkins & Ryan, LLP | Wrongful Death Lawyers in Long Beach, CA
Our team of attorneys at Harting Simkins & Ryan, LLP understands how traumatic unexpected deaths are for families, which is why we want to help our clients recover the compensation they deserve after wrongfully losing loved ones. If you have questions about wrongful death laws in California or wish to set up a consultation with our team, contact us and let us know how a Long Beach wrongful death attorney at our firm can help.