If you have experienced the death of a loved one caused by someone else’s negligence, you know it’s not easy to get the compensation you need. It’s even harder when you’re dealing with the grief and pain that comes with the loss. Sometimes, though, that’s one more bridge that needs to be crossed to bring closure and peace of mind.
Don’t do it alone. Let our attorneys at Ernst Law Group help you get the compensation you deserve. Our award-winning team of lawyers brings almost 40 years of experience with them and will fight to make sure your claim is properly handled. With deep roots in the San Luis Obispo area, we know what to do to help you win your case. Give us a call at (805) 678-0272 or visit our online contact form to schedule a free consultation today.
Here are the key aspects your wrongful death case needs to have a high chance of success.
ELEMENTS IN A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BUILD A STRONG CASE
First off, what is wrongful death? In short, it’s the death of a close family member – or life partner under a civil union – caused by the negligence of outside forces.
When a loved one passes, the pain you suffer is great enough. But a wrongful death adds feelings of injustice and additional financial hardship. In some cases, the unexpected, wrongful loss of a sole provider can cause serious economic challenges, even bankruptcy.
Regardless, the family has rights. Eligible survivors can file a claim against the negligent party. The successful outcome of a wrongful death suit provides the necessary financial recovery of lost income and helps a grieving family find closure and peace.
DOES MY CLAIM MEET THE LEGAL ELEMENTS OF AN INJURY CLAIM FOR CALIFORNIA?
A wrongful death suit should meet several basic elements. In a nutshell, a death of a person caused by the negligence or wilful intent of another that results in loss of love, affection, or emotional support, as well as financial and physical support (such as housework, grocery shopping, etc.). The loss applies to the past, present, and future.
ELEMENT ONE: NEGLIGENCE, INTENTIONAL, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
A wrongful death must have been caused by someone’s negligence. In short, what was the cause of death? Did the defendant fail to provide safety or give rise to a deadly hazard, or was the death natural?
For example, if a loved one dies naturally of cancer from an unknown source, a wrongful death lawsuit won’t succeed. However, if the cancer was caused by radiation or poisoned atmosphere in the plaintiff’s workspace, there could be a viable claim. The death must be directly traced to a wrongful act or negligence.
Your San Luis Obispo wrongful death lawyer must be prepared to show the defendant caused the death. Returning to the example of cancer, if it was caused by asbestos in the workplace, then the surviving family members may be able to pursue a claim against the manufacturer of the asbestos-containing product(s).
ELEMENT TWO: WAS THE DAMAGE NEGLIGENT OR INTENTIONAL?
Was the death due to negligence or due to a willful act? An example of a willful act would be shooting someone. On the other hand, negligence is something like rear-ending someone while texting. Depending on the given facts, this also could be considered a reckless act.
Any of these three can fit the criteria for wrongful death.
Negligence is the most common form of alleged wrongdoing, likely because it is the easiest to prove. The plaintiff doesn’t need evidence that the defendant knew their actions would lead to death or that the defendant intended to cause death; they merely need to prove that the defendant breached their duty of care in a way that a “reasonable person” would know would be likely to result in serious harm.
What qualifies as a breach in a duty of care? It can encompass many things, such as:
- Failure to follow safety laws, regulations, or professional standards
- Engaging in acts known to be likely to cause harm, such as DUI or exposing communities to chemical agents
- The manufacturing of a dangerously defective product
ELEMENT THREE: IS THERE LOSS?
Is there a loss of love or sexual companionship? Is there a loss of financial support, if the victim was the breadwinner? Is there a loss of physical support, such as household chores or yard work that now requires paying someone else?
Survivors might be entitled to money from loss of any of the above, past, present, and future. One would think losses like these would be easy to prove, but it’s a sad fact that many families are forced to demonstrate specific losses after the death of a loved one.
Other times, the defendant may argue that no losses occurred because the claimant did not actually depend on the decedent for money, domestic services, or intimacy. In those cases, the claimant may need to be someone who was a dependent of the decedent, even if they are not the immediate next person on the list of intestate succession rights.
ELEMENT FOUR: TIME LIMIT AND RELATIONSHIPS
Under California law, injury claims must be filed within two years of the initial incident. Exceptions apply and local statutes or Government Codes may come into consideration. Proof of monetary damages must be demonstrated in court.
Generally, the “who can sue” is limited to close family members, but there are some exceptions California Legal Code §377.60 includes:
- The defendant’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children. If there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.
- Dependents of the decedent, the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. “Putative spouse” in this case means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in the good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.
- A minor who isn’t an issue of the decedent or a stepchild, but has resided in the for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household before death and was dependent on the decedent for at least one-half of the minor’s support.
- A “domestic partner” means a person who, at the time of the decedent’s death, was the domestic partner of the decedent in a registered domestic partnership as established by subdivision (b) of Section §297 of the California Family Code.
PURSUING YOUR WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM IN A SAN LUIS OBISPO COURT
These elements must be proven in a court of law to pursue a wrongful death suit. Survivors must prove, among other things, they suffered both a financial loss as well as an emotional loss. The latter could also be billed for psychology treatments or needed medications. Funeral and burial expenses are also typically covered from a wrongful death claim in California.
The claim is generally made by the executor of the victim’s estate, representing the decedent’s wishes on behalf of any other involved parties. This includes the spouse/life partner, the children, other immediate or dependent loved ones. Parents, siblings, or beneficiaries also might have viable claims.
Other points of a lawsuit include the loss of a caretaker to a child or adult that can’t take care of themselves. Furthermore, loss of inheritance due to wrongful death is possible to claim in some instances.
RESOURCES FOR WRONGFUL DEATH LAWS IN CALIFORNIA FROM ERNST LAW GROUP
A SAN LUIS OBISPO WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYER CAN HELP
Proving the elements of wrongful death can be complicated, but they are required in order for you to have a high chance of receiving the compensation you need to recover.
If you aren’t sure where to begin with filing your claim, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. One of our award-winning San Luis Obispo wrongful death lawyers at Ernst Law Group will work to help you seek the compensation you deserve for the loss of your loved one. If you’re in the San Luis Obispo area, you don’t have to fight alone. Give us a call at (805) 678-0272 or visit our online contact form to schedule a free consultation today.