Injury Law

How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works

Gavel Verdict

When an accident happens such as a car accident, it just an accident unless a person is injured. If the injured person didn’t cause the accident, it would become a potential personal injury claim. A personal injury claim is a lawsuit an accident victim files to receive payment from a person or business that was negligent in the accident.

However, if the injured victim dies because of the accident and the other party’s negligent actions, they can’t file a personal injury claim. Instead, their family can file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. The general definition of wrongful death is a killing of a person that is caused by the negligent act of another individual or a business. This means that your loved one died because of the negligent act of another person or a business.

How a wrongful death claim works?

A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit filed on behalf of a loved one killed because of someone’s negligence. Intentional harm can also be the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit. In California, you have two years from the day your loved one died to file the claim. The case is tried in civil, not criminal court. This is called the statute of limitations. If your lawsuit isn’t filed within that time, you may not be allowed to pursue your case in court. It’s important to discuss any exceptions to the statute of limitations rule with your wrongful death lawyer.

In the wrongful death lawsuit, you request damages incurred because of the untimely death of your loved one. Damages that available in a California wrongful death claim include, but are not limited to:

  1. Loss of financial support
  2. Expenses related to medical bills for your loved one prior to their death.
  3. The amount of money your loved one would have made during their lifetime (if they would have lived)
  4. Loss of companionship
  5. Expenses of the funeral and burial of your loved one

Once the lawsuit is filed, both the plaintiff (you) and the defendant (person or business who caused the accident) will seek to negotiate a resolution. A resolution is an out-of-court settlement. In exchange for dropping the lawsuit, you receive a negotiated payment. This payment pay be a one-time lump sum or it can be a series of payments for a specific time period.

During negotiation talks, it’s vital to have legal representation. A wrongful death lawyer will make sure you receive the right amount of money. Often, a defendant will offer less than the fair amount to settle the case. Also, offers and counter offers are repeated made during settlement talks. You need an attorney to understand what is the best offer settlement offer for you.

Going to court to prove wrongful death occurred

A wrongful death can arise from a variety of personal injuries such as a car accident, medical malpractice or defective product. It doesn’t matter what type of accident claimed the life of your loved one, you must prove four elements to a jury to win your lawsuit. These elements are found in the California wrongful death statute and are:

  1. A human being died. The human being is your loved one.
  2. Your loved one’s death was caused by one of two things: intent to cause or negligence. The intent to cause harm does not mean that the defendant meant to cause your loved one’s death.
  3. You and your surviving family members suffered financial injury because of your loved one’s death. This means that you incurred one or more of the damages such as funeral expenses.
  4. You are the personal representative, or a personal representative for your loved one’s estate was appointed to handle financial matters.

It’s important to note that in the second element, your lawyer must prove the defendant’s negligence or intent to cause harm. This means that your lawyer shows how the defendant was negligent such as committing medical malpractice, causing an accident or intentionally killing your loved one. The negligence can be the actual or in direct cause. Direct cause means but, for the defendant’s actions, you loved one would alive today. Indirect cause means that the defendant’s action weren’t the direct cause, but it lead to your loved one’s death.

Proving the defendant’s liable for your loved one’s death

Proving the defendant caused your loved one’s death is different than the standard needed in criminal court. In criminal court, prosecutors must prove a defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Thus, no doubt is left in a jury’s mind to the defendant’s guilt.

Civil court requires a lower standard of proof. Instead of the guilty beyond reasonable doubt, your attorney must prove liability by the preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence caused your loved one’s death. This means that your attorney isn’t required to prove guilt. Instead, they present evidence to show that there is a possibility the defendant’s caused your loved one’s death.

What to do when needing an attorney for a wrongful death lawsuit?

If your loved one died because of someone’s negligence, you may have the right to sue. Before filing your lawsuit, it’s important to discuss your case with a wrongful death attorney. By contacting an attorney you’ll understand your rights and responsibilities in a wrongful death case such as naming a personal representative over your loved one’s estate.

A wrongful death case is a very complex personal injury claim. It requires a lot of work to determine the exact cause of your loved one’s death and how to present evidence in court to show each element. Contact a lawyer today about your wrongful death lawsuit.

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Aaron Gordon is a writer for various blogs.

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