According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 38,000 people died in traffic accidents in 2020. That’s the largest number of traffic fatalities in more than ten years. If you have lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, a wrongful death attorney can help you obtain compensation.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of legal claim against a person whose negligent, reckless, or wrongful or even malicious behavior caused the death of another person. Wrongful death lawsuits are filed on behalf of the victim’s heirs/family. These are civil legal claims, not criminal ones. If a person is found responsible for the victim’s death, the jury or a judge will order them to pay damages to the victim’s family and loved ones.
Many fatal car accidents are the result of human error. The driver who caused the accident may have been distracted, speeding, driving aggressively, making careless mistakes, or been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In California, only the deceased’s heirs/survivors or legal representative can file a wrongful death claim. This includes the surviving spouse, domestic partner under some circumstances, and/or children and perhaps someone that is economically dependant. If the victim has grandchildren whose parents are deceased, they may also file. If there are no direct survivors, the victim’s parents, siblings, or legal guardian may also file a wrongful death lawsuit.
How to Prove a Wrongful Death Claim
To win a wrongful death case, you must show that your loved one died because of the other driver’s fault. To do that, there are four legal elements you must prove: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty: To succeed in a wrongful death case, you must first show that the driver had a legal duty of care to the victim. All drivers have a duty to act responsibly and rationally while operating a vehicle. They are to obey all safety laws and prevent injuries or death to others.
Breach of Duty: Once you show that the driver had a legal duty of care to the victim, the second step is proving that the driver breached that duty. A breach of duty is any act, or failure to act, that a reasonable driver would not have committed such as violation of traffic rules. This can include recklessness, carelessness, an intent to harm others, or disregard for the safety of others. For example, a defendant can breach their duty of care to other motorists by driving under the influence.
Causation: The third step is to show that because of the defendant’s breach of duty, they are partially or wholly responsible for the victim’s death. In other words, if the defendant had not breached their duty, the deadly accident would not have happened. You do not have to prove that the driver intended to cause the deadly accident; you just have to show that their actions contributed to the victim’s death.
Damages: The fourth and final element in a wrongful death case is damages. You must prove that the victim’s death resulted in quantifiable legal damages. The victim’s estate and surviving family members can recover economic and non-economic damages, including:
- Medical expenses incurred before the victim’s death
- Pain and suffering prior to the victim’s death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of income and future earning potential
- Loss of expected gifts or benefits (ex: child support payments)
- Loss of household services the victim would have provided if they had survived
- Loss of companionship, society, comfort and protection
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In California, eligible survivors have two years from the date of the victim’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim’s survivors or loved ones do not initiate the lawsuit within that time frame, they may lose their legal right to file the lawsuit. It is best to immediately contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer to ensure that your case is received by the courts and legal action is initiated. An attorney can help you decipher the legal aspects of your claim and ensure your case meets all statutes and requirements to move forward successfully in court. By waiting to find an attorney evidence may be lost and you may jeopardize any opportunity to seek compensation for damages.
Should I Work With an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney?
Wrongful death lawsuits have strict legal deadlines that must be met to win your case. The victim’s survivors need strong evidence to prove their case, and they will not be compensated unless they show all four elements of a wrongful death claim. That’s why it is essential to work with a California wrongful death firm that understands the state laws and legal requirements of your case.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another driver, it is important to contact an experienced wrongful death attorney immediately to help you seek justice and explore all options available for compensation. Contact the offices of Bostwick & Peterson, award-winning personal injury attorneys today to discuss the details of your case.