A "wrongful death" occurs when a person is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity.

An action for wrongful death belongs to the decedent's immediate family members. The most common would be surviving spouses and children, and sometimes parents.

Every state has a civil "wrongful death statute," or set of statutes, which establish the procedures for bringing wrongful death actions.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In order to bring a successful wrongful death cause of action, the following elements must be present:

  • The death of a person, caused by another's negligence, or with intent to cause harm
  • The survival of family members who are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death

A wrongful death claim may arise out of a number of circumstances:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Motorcycle, truck, auto or airplane accident
  • Work accident
  • Bicycle accident
  • Public place accident

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Financial, injury is the main measure of damages in a wrongful death action.

Courts have interpreted "pecuniary injuries" as including the loss of support, services, and medical and funeral expenses.

Most laws provide that the damages awarded for a wrongful death shall be fair and just compensation for the monetary injuries that resulted from the decedent's death.

If the plaintiffs paid or are responsible for the decedent's funeral or medical care, they may also recover those expenses.

A damage award may include interest from the date of the decedent's death.

Determining Financial Loss

When determining financial loss, it is relevant to consider the age, character and condition of the decedent, his/her earning capacity, life expectancy, health and intelligence, as well as the circumstances of the plaintiffs.

For example, when an adult wage earner with dependants dies, the major parts of the recovery are:

1) loss of income

2) loss of parental guidance

The jury may consider the decedent's earnings at the time of death, the last known earnings if unemployed, and potential future earnings.

Jury's Award

In a wrongful death action, the jury determines the size of the damages award after hearing the evidence.

Using Expert Testimony to Determine Pecuniary Loss

Plaintiffs are able to present expert testimony of economists to establish the value of the decedent to his family.

Until recently, this testimony was not admissible when a housewife died, but that rule has changed.

When the decedent is a housewife who was not employed outside the home, the financial impact on the survivors will not involve a loss of income, but increased expenditures to continue the services she was providing or would have provided if she had lived.

Because jurors may not be knowledgeable regarding the monetary value of a housewife's services, experts may aid the jury in this evaluation.

Getting Help

If a loved one has died after an accident or injury caused by the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity, you may be entitled to bring a legal action for wrongful death against those responsible.

Especially in light of time deadlines for filing a California wrongful death lawsuit, as well as the complexity of such a case, you should contact San Diego personal injury attorney Dean Goetz at 858-481-8844 as soon as possible, to discuss your legal rights and your potential case.

Dean Geotz is an experienced California wrongful death attorney with dedication, experience and demonstrated results.