WRONGFUL DEATH CASES
WRONGFUL DEATH CASES
Note: This article is intended to be for general interest purposes only, and is not a substitute for a prompt and in-depth consultation with a personal injury attorney if you have any concerns about your rights after losing a loved one due to a third party’s negligence.
There is probably no more tragic situation than losing a loved one due to the negligence of another person or entity.
Any legal claim ensuing from such an event is known as a “wrongful death” (aka WD) claim, and requires the assistance of an experienced attorney to bring about a just outcome.
Legal claims for WD are subject to specific rules that apply to the calculation of damages.
A claimant for WD must be related by blood, marriage, or operation of law in order to have standing to bring such a claim. Typical claimants can include surviving spouses, domestic partners, and children. Common law marriage is not recognized in California, and will not support a WD claim by a surviving partner, unless they are registered as domestic partners.
The closer the familial and economic connection between the decedent and the claimant, then the stronger the claim. Both economic damages and non-economic damages may be claimed.
Economic Damages: These are damages that are capable of arithmetical calculation.
These type of damages can include medical bills incurred by the decedent before their demise, and burial and funeral expenses.
If the claimant can show a reasonable history or expectation of financial support from a decedent, then this may constitute the more significant form of damages there may be claimed, based on the loss of financial support from the decedent through a normal life span.
For example, if the claimant is a spouse or children who were depending on the decedent for financial support, then that claim is arguably more viable than a WD claim where the decedent is an elderly parent or young child that was not financially supporting the claimant
While that may seem harsh, it is intended to place a realistic and ascertainable amount of economic damages that can be calculated to make the claimant as whole as they may possibly be made, given the loss of a decedent who contributed to their support.
Loss of financial support into the future must be reduced to a present value, i.e., a sum which if invested at a reasonable rate of return would eventually yield the full amount of the future loss of income and/or support. This usually requires a calculation from an economist.
Non-Economic Damages: A claimant can also claim non-economic damages for the loss of society and companionship that they otherwise could have reasonably expected from the deceased love one.
This is not compensation for grief, as one cannot put a financial price on that specific emotion.
A loss of society claim requires an analysis of the quality of the relationship between the claimant and the decedent, and how long that relationship could have been enjoyed into the future given the decedent’s life expectancy based on mortality tables. If the claimant and decedent weren’t particularly close and were not enjoying a quality relationship, then that will affect the amount of non-economic damages that could be conceivably claimed and/or proven.
CONCLUSION: The outcome of a negligently caused death in a family unit is going to be best faciliated by the claimant retaining a capable attorney who knows how to best circumnavigate the liability, insurance, and damage issues in a WD context.