California Wrongful Death Law: What Is It and How to File A Claim

Nobody should have to go through the heart-wrenching experience of losing a loved one due to wrongful death. Not only does it leave one grappling with confusion on the next steps, but the grief is also unimaginable. It’s a situation no one wants to imagine or go through, but sometimes it happens unexpectedly.

Whether you’re a grieving family member or a concerned friend standing by, this blog sheds light on the intricacies of the California Wrongful Death Law. Explore the legal landscape of the principle and use this comprehensive guide to learn valuable insights and practical counsel for a roadmap to justice.

What is the Wrongful Death Law? 

The Wrongful Death Law empowers specific individuals, including surviving spouses and dependents, to seek legal action for a person’s death caused by another’s negligence. This law is governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 and has been effective since January 1, 1993.

Here are some facts pointing to the seriousness of wrongful deaths in the state of California.

  • In 2022, 27.9% of all fatalities in California were caused by driving under the influence (DUI). This is 6.9% lower than the previous year but still significant.
  • Fatal and serious injuries (FSI) as a result of DUI contributed to 46.3% of all FSI in Amador, California. Amador is followed by Plumas, where 54.8% of DUIs resulted in FSI. 
  • Between 2021 and 2022, the highest number of crashes reported was from 2 PM to 2:59 AM. on a Sunday.

4 Types of Wrongful Death 

Wrongful death cases extend beyond a singular category, encompassing diverse situations where negligence, intentional actions, or product liability lead to fatal consequences. This section delves into the nuanced classifications of wrongful death.

1. Auto accidents 

Auto accidents resulting from negligent actions like speeding or drunk driving are a common cause of wrongful death in California. When a driver’s negligence leads to the death of another person, they can be held liable for wrongful death.

In an infamous case, Caitlyn Jenner paid $800,000 to the family of Kim Howe, who died in a 2015 crash involving Jenner’s SUV on Pacific Coast Highway. The wrongful death lawsuit was dismissed in 2016, with Jenner not charged, attributing the incident to paparazzi.

2. Negligent acts

Negligent acts encompass various scenarios, from workplace accidents due to employer negligence to slip and fall incidents caused by unsafe conditions. If a person or an employee is killed due to such carelessness, the family may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit against the company or anyone proven negligent.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire on March 25, 1911, resulted in 146 deaths. This accident is a stark example of negligent acts in American industrial history as it was preventable.

It brought attention to the negligence of some companies in maintaining safe working conditions, leading to subsequent legal developments to better protect workers and prevent similar tragedies that could result in a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

3. Medical malpractice

When medical professionals fail to provide the standard of care, resulting in patient death, wrongful death claims may be pursued.

The Huffman v. Lindquist case of 1951, filed by Hilda Huffman against Dr. C. A. Lindquist and a hospital, is an example of a medical malpractice claim. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants were negligent in their treatment and care of her son after he suffered a head injury in an automobile collision.

4. Assault and battery 

Assault and battery incidents can lead to wrongful death, and those responsible may face legal consequences for their actions. When seeking justice for the victim, a wrongful death claim holds the perpetrator accountable for their violent acts that resulted in a tragic loss of life.

The 1995 O.J. Simpson case was a highly publicized criminal case that involved the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. While acquitted in the criminal case, Simpson was later found responsible in a wrongful death civil trial and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims’ families.

How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit 

Without proper knowledge, it would be taxing to have to deal with filing a wrongful death lawsuit. But there’s no need to worry—we’ve listed the steps when filing for one.

  1. Seek legal guidance from an attorney 

The first thing you have to do is to reach out to professionals who can give you sound legal advice. Consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can provide legal guidance, assess the case’s viability, and explain the legal process.

  1. Gather documents

Next, you must gather all the relevant documents that can serve as crucial evidence during legal proceedings and help you in this claim. Collect essential paperwork, such as the death certificate, medical records, and proof of negligence.

  1. Negotiate a settlement

Depending on the degree of personal injury, explore the possibility of a settlement through negotiation or mediation. Depending on the agreement, this step can be a more practical and less adversarial way to resolve the case, potentially avoiding a lengthy trial.

  1. Collect damages

Award for damages presupposes that damage has been done. This is decided by the court, especially after considering the evidence presented by the parties. If the court awards compensation in your favor, work with your attorney to collect them from the responsible party or their insurance.

  1. Closure and healing

The whole process can get tedious and emotional. After the legal proceedings, take the necessary time for healing and closure. The resolution of the lawsuit marks the conclusion of the legal process, allowing you to focus on moving forward.

Navigate the Path to Resolution in Wrongful Death Cases

Pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit demands careful navigation. Seek legal counsel early to understand your options and negotiate a fair settlement.

Our team at RMD Law Personal Injury Attorneys stands ready to offer the relentless representation you need. If you’re contemplating filing a wrongful death claim, connect with us for a free case evaluation. Let us be your advocates on the path to justice and closure.

Aria Miran
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