Wrongful Death in California
The term “wrongful death” refers to a type of legal case that can be filed by the spouse, children, or other heirs of a person who was killed because of another party’s wrongful actions. The laws about wrongful death were set up to provide compensation to care for the family members left behind after a death, as well as to motivate individuals to use care in their interactions with others.
Wrongful death laws vary by state. The laws in each state govern which parties can sue for wrongful death, as well as apply any limits on wrongful death damage awards. California’s wrongful death statute lists in great detail those parties who are allowed to sue for wrongful death. A surviving spouse and children are of course allowed to sue for wrongful death in California, but some of the rules are complex regarding other parties allowed to sue. California’s wrongful death statute also contains three statutes of limitations, and it would be best to call an attorney to help you sort through the legal issues involved if you think you may have a cause of action for wrongful death.
Some typical examples of behaviors that lead to wrongful death cases include criminal attacks, intentional crimes such as manslaughter or murder, or drunk or reckless driving. In California, to prove that a person is responsible for wrongful death, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (in other words, you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is responsible for the death).
In a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Therefore, it is much easier to prove a wrongful death case than to prove a criminal case. In some cases, if a person is found not guilty for a death in a criminal trial, the family members of the deceased will bring a wrongful death case in order to obtain justice.
In order to sue for wrongful death, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the deceased’s death. Wrongful death cases can include compensatory damages, which could include money for medical expenses, funeral expenses, and economic support. In some wrongful death cases, the survivors can also obtain money for loss of companionship. Punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant, can also be awarded in some cases, and are usually decided by a jury. Punitive damages are typically only awarded when the defendant’s actions are extremely reckless or horrible. A jury typically decides the amount of punitive damages, and they are divided by statute.
Calculating the amount of wrongful death damages can be dependent on a lot of variables. Generally, a jury or judge will take into account the general health of the deceased, and his or her life expectancy. The deceased’s earning capacity, as well as his or her family situation, will all come into play when calculating wrongful death damages. For example, the survivors of a 92 year old who was retired who was killed by a reckless driver would probably be awarded less than the survivors of a 30 year old man with a wife and two young children.
At Liberty Law Office, Inc., Micha Star Liberty believes that the loved ones of a person who was wrongfully killed should exercise their legal rights to compensation against the wrongdoer. If your loved one has been killed because of another party’s wrongful actions, you should seek compensation. Call Micha Star Liberty of Liberty Law Office, Inc. at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients in the Oakland area, including San Francisco, Hayward, Fairfield, Tracy, and Berkeley. Call her today to learn more. Time limits apply, so don’t wait too long to pursue your case.