Perhaps nothing is more painful than losing a loved one because another person was negligent. If a wrongful death tragedy happens to a member of your family, arrange at once to speak with an Orange County wrongful death attorney about your family’s legal options and rights.

What are those options and rights? What can the surviving family members of a wrongful death victim do to recover compensation – and to win justice? When should a decedent’s survivors contact a Southern California wrongful death attorney?

Keep reading, and you will learn the answers to these questions, but if your own family is grieving for a loved one whose life was lost due to someone else’s wrongful act, your family should have the advice and services that an Orange County wrongful death lawyer offers.

How Does California Define Wrongful Death?

Under California law, a decedent’s surviving family members or the decedent’s estate may sue to recover damages when someone dies as the result of another person’s “wrongful act.” That wrongful act may have been reckless, negligent, or intentional.

Wrongful deaths happen every day and in almost every possible manner. If one person’s wrongful act causes another person’s death, the party at fault may be held liable with a wrongful death claim. Wrongful deaths include:

  1. traffic deaths caused by reckless, impaired, or negligent drivers
  2. slip-and-fall deaths from balconies or staircases because of old or defective safety railings
  3. fatalities linked to prescription drugs which lacked sufficient warnings or instructions
  4. any fatality caused by another person’s wrongful act (or wrongful failure to act)

Who Qualifies to Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Every state provides for wrongful death claims. What varies is the party or parties who qualify to bring a wrongful death claim. In California, these parties may qualify to pursue wrongful death actions:

  1. surviving spouses and surviving domestic partners
  2. surviving children (or grandchildren if the decedent’s children also are deceased)
  3. stepchildren if they depended on the decedent for at least half of their financial support
  4. anyone who would be entitled to inherit under California’s intestate succession laws

When there’s no surviving spouse, children, or domestic partner, only then may a claim for wrongful death be filed by someone else entitled to inherit under California’s intestate succession laws, including a decedent’s parent or sibling.

If they can prove financial dependence on the decedent, a decedent’s “putative” spouse or that person’s children may also file a wrongful death claim. A California court may deem someone a putative spouse if a marriage was invalid but one party reasonably believed it was valid.

What Are Survival Actions?

With a wrongful death claim, family members may be compensated for a decedent’s cremation or burial and funeral costs, loss of financial support, services, companionship, and in some cases, loss of consortium.

Compensatory damages may be recovered, but punitive damages (meant to deter wrongful acts in the future) are not available with wrongful death claims in California, although after some deaths, a “survival action” may be pursued which allows for the recovery of punitive damages.

A survival action may be pursued by the personal representative of a decedent’s estate. When no representative has been named, the action may be brought by a deceased person’s “successor in interest,” a beneficiary of the estate or of some portion or item of a decedent’s property.

A survival action is allowed only if a decedent lived for a brief period between the incident that caused the wrongful death and the wrongful death itself. It allows for the recovery of the decedent’s final medical costs, lost income, and in some cases, punitive damages.

What Does It Take to Prevail With Your Wrongful Death Claim?

Claims for wrongful death in California are typically resolved privately when the lawyers for each side agree to a settlement both sides are willing to accept.

If private negotiations prove futile and the case goes to court, surviving family members must demonstrate that the allegedly negligent party (the defendant) owed the decedent a “duty of care” which was breached, directly causing the decedent’s wrongful death.

With a wrongful death claim based on a traffic crash, surviving family members (“plaintiffs”) must prove a defendant had a duty to obey traffic rules and drive with care. Next, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the duty of care was breached by the defendant’s reckless or negligent driving.

Plaintiffs finally must show that the breach of the duty of care was the wrongful death’s direct cause and that the decedent “more likely than not” suffered wrongful death because of the defendant’s recklessness, carelessness, or intentional wrongful act.

When Should Your Family Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney?

After the loss of someone you love, thinking about legal matters may be difficult. Your family needs time to grieve. Nevertheless, it’s important to speak as soon as you can with an Orange County wrongful death attorney.

Your attorney can determine if you have sufficient grounds for a wrongful death claim and sufficient evidence for that claim to prevail. California requires wrongful death claims to be filed within two years of the date of the wrongful death.

Survival actions must be brought within two years of the date of the injury that caused the wrongful death or within two years and six months of the date of the wrongful death. However, you should not wait that long to speak with an attorney.

It’s best if your Orange County wrongful death lawyer examines the evidence for your claim while it’s fresh and speaks to any witnesses before their memories begin to fade. It may be difficult after losing a loved one, but you should contact an attorney as quickly as possible.

How Will Your Attorney Be Paid?

Wrongful death lawyers in California represent families on a contingent fee basis. That means you pay no attorney’s fee upfront and no fee until and unless your wrongful death claim prevails.

If you are a surviving family member of a wrongful death victim, your first legal consultation with a southern California wrongful death attorney is offered without cost or obligation. You’ll receive personalized legal advice and learn how the law applies to your specific circumstances.

A wrongful death claim can help a family move constructively and positively into the future after a devastating tragedy. If you lose a loved one because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, have a wrongful death attorney put the law to work for you and your family.