When families come to us after they have tragically lost a loved one, they go through a range of emotions. They are understandably devastated by their loss. They are also angry because their loved one was taken from them by someone else’s carelessness or intentional actions. Finally, they are worried about their future because their loved one provided for the family, both for guidance and support.
If your family is going through this situation, there is something that we can do to help. Unfortunately, nothing can bring back your loved one. However, your family may recover financial compensation for your loss. You can file your own claim based on how you have suffered. This is called a wrongful death claim.
At Nadrich & Cohen Accident Injury Lawyers, our Bakersfield wrongful death attorneys have collected millions of dollars for the families of victims who died due to negligence, whether fault laid with a large corporation in a product liability claim, or individuals who made unnecessarily dangerous decisions behind the wheel or refused to clean up hazards on their properties. For example, we recovered $900,000 for the family of a tourist who died while horseback riding and $750,000 for the family of a woman whom a motorist killed when she tried to cross the street.
If your loved one died in a preventable accident in Bakersfield, call us today to see if we can help you seek justice and recover the compensation you and your family need.
Different Types of Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims can cover any sort of wrongful act that leads to the death of another person.
You can bring these claims for:
- Intentional acts
Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim
The most common type of wrongful death claim involves a negligent act. In these cases, you will need to prove both negligence and that the family suffered damages.
To prove negligence, you must meet each element of a four-part test:
- Someone else owed your loved one a duty of care
- They breached that duty by acting unreasonably under the circumstances
- Your loved one died
- They would not have died had it not been for the acts of the defendant
Here are some common examples of cases in which wrongful death claims arise:
- Premises liability
- Product liability
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Medical malpractice
Wrongful Death Claims from Intentional or Reckless Actions
You can also bring a wrongful death claim when something other than negligence is at work. For example, you can sue the drunk driver that killed your loved one. While they also face criminal charges, they also must compensate you for your loss. Insurance policies must pay out drunk driving claims, even though the driver acted recklessly instead of negligently.
In addition, you can file a lawsuit against the responsible party if they intentionally caused your loved one’s death. Even if the police charge the defendant with manslaughter or homicide, you can still sue them. It does not matter whether or not a court convicted them of the crime. There are two different standards of proof, and these are separate court actions. You must prove that it is more likely than not that someone else’s negligence caused your loved one’s death.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California
California law governs over wrongful death cases. This law says who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The first thing to remember is your time limit for filing a lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations. In California, you have two years to file a lawsuit, and the time begins to run on the date that your loved one died. If you miss the deadline, you forfeit the right to obtain financial compensation.
California law dictates who may file a wrongful death lawsuit. To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you need to have legal standing. This comes from your legal relationship with the deceased person.
The order of precedence about who can bring a lawsuit follows:
- The surviving spouse
- Domestic partners (this person must be a registered domestic partner per California family law)
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person’s children predeceased their children)
- Other minor children who were financially dependent on the deceased
- Anyone else who can be in line for intestate succession under California (this can be the next of kin, such as siblings)
Sometimes the Court Hears Each Person’s Claims As One Case
With so many people who can file wrongful death lawsuits, you may be wondering how these cases work. You aren’t alone. There will not be different wrongful death trials for each lawsuit. California has a “one action” rule, meaning that a person can bring only one wrongful death case per death. However, each person who relied on the decedent emotionally or financially can join that lawsuit.
If you were on the list of people who can file a wrongful death claim and have suffered damages, no one can keep you out of the lawsuit. One trial determines someone else’s liability for the wrongful death and the damages they must pay.
How Survivors Divides Wrongful Death Proceeds
With one wrongful death lawsuit, it is always better if the family can work together to divide the proceeds of the case. Families may not always agree on how to split the money. In the end, most families can reach an agreement. However, if they are not, California courts have the authority to specify the division of a wrongful death case. If you have filed a survival action (described below), you will not have these worries about the proceeds because the terms of the will decide who gets what.
If you have suffered any financial loss when your loved one died, you need a lawyer to look after your economic interests. The hope is that one lawyer can represent the entire family. However, if you do not believe that you can obtain fair compensation for your losses, you should hire your own attorney.
How to Recover Damages in Your Wrongful Death Case
Your lawyer can handle your wrongful death claim in several ways. Your attorney will sit down with you and review the facts of your case and your legal options. One way to begin the process of recovering financial compensation is to file a claim with the responsible party’s insurance company. You can also file a wrongful death lawsuit in court. If you go down the latter route, you can continue to negotiate directly with the insurance company until you get a jury decision.
When you file an insurance claim, you must deal with many factors. Besides your family’s need for money, you must also negotiate with an insurance company with its own agenda. Specifically, the insurance company wants to save itself some money by paying you less than you deserve. This is a business practice that goes as far back as the invention of the insurance company itself.
However, the insurance company also knows that things can be difficult for them in front of a jury, especially if the facts of your case look bad. They have their own fears, and the biggest one is an angry jury that reacts strongly to what happened. Therefore, a tough and experienced lawyer can put pressure on the insurance company to be more reasonable in settlement negotiations.
Your Family Covers Its Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Here, the wrongful death claim is the family’s claim. The law intends for the claim to pay back the family for damages that stem from losing their loved one in an untimely manner. No two cases are precisely the same. Everything depends on their relationship with the person and what they have provided for the family.
These damages can include:
- The earnings that the deceased person would have made throughout their career
- Compensation for the loss of the guidance that the deceased person provided and the love that they gave
- Payment for the grief and emotional trauma that the family went through in losing their loved one
- Loss of consortium for the spouse
As you can imagine, these damages can be considerable. If the victim was a young parent or professional, the value of the case can go even higher. You only have one chance to maximize your financial recovery in a wrongful death claim.
Survival Claims Are Separate Legal Actions
A wrongful death claim belongs to the family itself. It does not pay for what happened to the deceased person before they died. This does not mean that the responsible party can get away with that just because the victim died. They will be held accountable for a different type of claim called a survival claim.
This claim works differently than a wrongful death case. The survival case belongs to the estate itself, and the proceeds will be divided according to the terms of the will if the case is successful.
In a survival action, the estate recovers:
- Medical expenses for costs to treat the deceased person before they died
- Pain and suffering that the deceased endured between their injury and death
- Lost wages that they would have earned after they died
- Emotional distress before they died (these damages can be significant if they were aware of their pending death)
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Punitive damages – these are very rare, and courts use them to send a message to the defendant. It is not possible to recover punitive damages as part of the wrongful death case.
Even though survival actions are different from wrongful death claims, they arise out of the same set of facts. Therefore, it is common for these two types of cases to be settled or tried in court together.
The Wrongful Death Process Is a Difficult but Necessary Process
It is never easy to come to a lawyer and ask them to place a dollar value on your family member’s life. You may not want to think about money at a time like this. Alternatively, money may be a significant worry. Either way, we know how difficult it is for you to come forward to begin the legal process. You may have to relive traumatic memories, but that is an unfortunate necessity. Our lawyers commit to handling your case compassionately and sensitively while fighting hard on your behalf.
While you may never get closure from your loved one’s death, a wrongful death case is a way of getting justice for what happened. In many ways, knowing that someone is being held accountable can help your family through their recovery. In the end, the choice about what to do is yours, but you should move for full compensation if that is available. Do not let someone escape responsibility for what they did.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if the insurance company denies my claim?
The insurance company is not the same thing as a jury. They are the intermediaries on behalf of the responsible party. The court has the final say over your legal rights, so you can file a lawsuit if they deny your claim.
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Do I need to pay tax on my wrongful death proceeds?
No. An exception in income tax rules makes wrongful death claims exempt from income tax rules, meaning that your family can keep all of the proceeds from your claim.
Why do I need a wrongful death attorney?
Not only is your family dealing with grief, but a complex wrongful death claims process. Your lawyer can both investigate your case and fight for the maximum possible recovery.
How is a wrongful death attorney paid?
We do not ask you for any retainer upfront, nor do we send you bills for our legal services. If you receive a settlement or jury award, we will receive a percentage of your financial recovery. If you don’t win, you don’t pay us any fees. This arrangement means that every family can afford to meet with and hire a wrongful death attorney.
Contact a Bakersfield Wrongful Death Lawyer
The attorneys at Nadrich & Cohen Accident Injury Lawyers will work to maximize your financial recovery in a wrongful death case. This is a call that you should make soon after your loved one has died, as difficult as it may be. The legal process can take years to resolve, and you have only a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit. Contact us online or call us today at (661) 371-3588 for your free initial consultation. This comes at no risk to you, and you can learn your legal options.