How Do I Find the Best Lawyer for a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Claim?

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Should You File a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Should You File a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Feb 26, 2022

You’ve probably read about recent wrongful death lawsuits in the news, with some prominent recent examples including:

How Do I Find the Best Lawyer for a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Claim

  • The claim brought by Halyna Hutchins’ family against Alec Baldwin and the producers of the film “Rust”
  • The claim brought by the family of George Floyd against the City of Minneapolis
  • The claim brought against financial investment website Robinhood by the family of a trader who died by suicide
  • The claim brought by Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, against the helicopter company and pilot involved in the tragic crash

Wrongful death lawsuits are commonly filed by surviving family members when their loved one dies as a result of negligence, carelessness, or malice on the part of another person or entity.

Below we will review everything you need to know about filing a Los Angeles, California, wrongful death lawsuit. We’ll provide information on what types of financial damages may be recoverable in a wrongful death civil claim, how liability is proven in civil suits, and how to find the best personal injury lawyer to handle your family’s case.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim in Personal Injury Law?

Wrongful death is a subcategory of personal injury law that can include a variety of different types of claims that ultimately lead to civil lawsuits. Wrongful death can include everything from murder to medical malpractice to major car accidents and even product liability claims. If you’ve heard the term ‘wrongful death’ in the past, it is most likely in reference to a civil lawsuit brought by the family of an individual whose death resulted from either negligence or misconduct.

How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death Case?

According to wrongful death law under the California Civil Code of Procedure 377.30:

A cause of action that survives the death of the person entitled to commence an action or proceeding passes to the decedent’s successor in interest, subject to Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 7000) of Part 1 of Division 7 of the Probate Code, and an action may be commenced by the decedent’s personal representative or, if none, by the decedent’s successor in interest.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the objective is to recover damages that can fall under three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Wrongful death lawsuits can be pursued even if a criminal lawsuit has been attempted and failed. In order to recover financial damages in a wrongful death lawsuit – either via a settlement or verdict – four main elements of personal injury negligence must be proven to be “more likely true than untrue.” Accordingly, the burden of proof in a wrongful death civil lawsuit is not the same as in a criminal trial where evidence must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In California wrongful death civil lawsuits, your attorney must be able to prove that it was “more likely than not” or “at least 51% likely” that the death was indeed “wrongful” and therefore due to negligence, malice, or carelessness.

The aforementioned four elements of a successful wrongful death lawsuit include:

  1. A duty of care was owed: When you hear about a ‘duty of care’ in personal injury law, it’s typically in reference to a person or entity owing another person the responsibility to exercise reasonable care. For example, a business owner has a duty of care to provide a safe and secure environment for customers/patrons. The specific responsibilities owed to a victim in a wrongful death lawsuit will depend on his or her relationship to the defendant. Your mechanic, for example, has a different duty of care when fixing and returning your car than your friend does when borrowing and returning your vehicle.
  2. The duty of care was breached or violated: There must be proof that the defendant breached his or her duty of care. A breach can refer to any action that falls within the defendant’s duty of care. Moreover, if an average person would have acted in a different manner under “reasonably similar circumstances,” the defendant may be found liable of breaching his or her duty of care.
  3. The accident or injury was due to the duty of care being breached: The defendant’s negligent action or misconduct needs to have actually caused your loved one’s death. A Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer will work to prove that your loved one’s death “more likely than not” would not have occurred if the defendant had maintained his or her duty of care.
  4. Damages were incurred as a result of the duty of care being breached: In a wrongful death claim, you must be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence led to compensable losses. Below we will review some examples of the types of damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit, such as medical expenses, loss of companionship, funeral or burial expenses, and mental anguish.

What Damages are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

What Damages are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When pursuing a wrongful lawsuit, your attorney will attempt to secure various types of damages that typically fall under three categories:

  • Economic
  • Non-economic
  • Punitive

Some examples of economic damages that may be recoverable in wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills related to the accident that killed your loved one
  • The loss of benefits family members could have received from the decedent
  • The value of the decedent’s health insurance or pension
  • The loss of financial support the decedent would have provided during their lifetime
  • A reasonable value for the household services the decedent would have been able to provide

Some examples of common non-economic damages that may be recoverable in wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • Loss of affection
  • Loss of protection
  • Loss of guidance and training
  • The loss of support and companionship
  • Loss of sexual relations
  • Loss of moral support

Punitive damages may be awarded under abhorrent circumstances of violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of a defendant.

Although these types of damages are rare, Dordulian Law Group’s experienced team of wrongful death lawyers pursues punitive damages in all eligible cases. In California, wrongful death punitive damages are not capped, meaning the surviving family members may be eligible to recover substantial compensation in instances where wanton disregard for human life caused their loved one’s death.

Do I Need a Wrongful Death Lawyer?

Hiring a wrongful death lawyer can be necessary when a tragic fatality occurs and liability may be difficult to prove. Moreover, simply being able to successfully recover the maximum financial compensation for all applicable damages in a wrongful death lawsuit can require skill, experience, and dedication on the part of a qualified attorney. As a general rule, wrongful death claims are quite complex, and successfully pursuing a damages award for you or your family will likely require an experienced lawyer.

With Dordulian Law Group (DLG), our consultations are always free, confidential, and without any obligation. If you or your family was impacted by the tragic death of a loved one, we will be able to review the facts of your claim, provide an overview of your legal options, and include an estimate for how much your wrongful death damages award may be worth.

How Can a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Lawyer Help Win My Case?

A wrongful death lawyer should be skilled in proving negligence and securing all available damages – including those that are difficult to quantify, such as emotional trauma, pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, and more.

Hiring a Los Angeles, California, wrongful death lawyer to handle your case can be advantageous on a number of levels, perhaps most importantly being that you stand a much better chance of securing a maximum financial damages award that will allow you and your family to move forward with a semblance of closure after the tragic loss of a loved one.

Well-known wrongful death lawsuits, including the claim brought by the family of George Floyd (which led to a $27 million settlement) and the claim brought by the family of Breonna Taylor (which led to a $12 million settlement), almost always involve highly skilled, qualified, and experienced lawyers.

Major Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Recent Years

Probably the most well-known wrongful death verdict would be the O.J. Simpson murder case. Although declared not guilty in the criminal trial, Simpson was found liable for murder in the civil trial brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman. In the O.J. Simpson wrongful death case, the following multi-million dollar damages awards were secured:

  • Nicole Brown’s children were awarded $12.6 million through her estate.
  • The victims’ families were awarded $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Some additional high-profile wrongful death cases that have transpired over the years include:

  • The case against Porsche brought by the daughter of actor Paul Walker following his fatal car accident
  • The case against Fiat Chrysler brought by the family of actor Anton Yelchin following his fatal rollover accident
  • The case against Robinhood brought by the family of a trader who died by suicide
  • The case against the City of Baltimore brought by the family of Freddie Gray who died due to injuries sustained while in police custody
  • The case against the City of Sacramento brought by the family of Stephon Clark who was shot and killed by to Sacramento Police Department officers

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim/Lawsuit?

Under California law, the following family members or personal representatives are able bring a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Spouses
  • Domestic partners
  • Children
  • Grandchildren (if the decedent’s children are also deceased)
  • Other minor children (including stepchildren) provided they were dependent on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support
  • Any additional individuals who would be entitled to the decedent’s property under California’s laws on intestate succession (assets that would have passed through the decedent’s will are typically affected under such laws, usually pertaining to assets owned alone by the decedent, solely in their name)

What is the California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?

In California, eligible surviving family members typically have two years following the date that the deceased individual passed away to file a wrongful death claim. However, an exception called the “discovery rule” may apply if:

  • You reasonably didn’t know that the person died, or
  • The cause of the death giving rise to your wrongful death claim doesn’t become clear until sometime after the person’s death

In such instances, you may actually have more than the standard two-year California wrongful death statute of limitations to file a claim – specifically, two years after the date on which the person’s death was (or should have been) known, or the cause of death giving rise to the wrongful death claim was determined.

There may be other exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations as well – sometimes requiring the surviving family members to file a claim sooner. For example, if you’re suing a public entity in California for wrongful death, you usually need to file a claim within six months of the person’s death. If the claim is denied (which it often is), you will have an additional six months to sue in court.

In medical malpractice cases, you must file a wrongful death claim within three years of the date of injury, or one year after you reasonably should have discovered the injury (whichever is earlier).

There are other rules which apply to wrongful death cases filed by minors injured as a result of the death of a loved one or representative. A survival action can be brought up to two years from the date of the injury, or six months after the decedent’s death (whichever is later).

Because the statutes of limitations in wrongful death and survival actions vary depending on the circumstances, it’s important to talk with a DLG wrongful death attorney who can advise you as to exactly when your filing period expires.

How Much is My Wrongful Death Case Worth?

The value of a wrongful death claim can depend on the extent of negligence, the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, the loss of income or another type of benefit to the surviving family members, and more. Wrongful death claims often lead to multi-million dollar settlements when an experienced and proven lawyer is handling the case.

When you reach out to DLG regarding your wrongful death claim, we will provide an estimate for how much your case may be worth and how long it may take to recover maximum financial compensation.

Contact the Best Los Angeles, California, Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

DLG was founded by former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. Dordulian is a proven wrongful death and personal injury lawyer with more than 25 years of experience and over 100 jury trial victories. At DLG, our team of dedicated attorneys have expansive experience successfully litigating wrongful death cases, and we will fight hard to obtain the maximum financial compensation you and your family deserve.

It’s important to file your wrongful death claim as soon as possible following the tragedy in question. This is, in part, to preserve any evidence you may need to prove your case. We will work with medical experts and other investigative professionals like our in-house Chief Investigator with 30 years of experience in the LAPD, Detective Moses Castillo. Our team will help gather and preserve crucial evidence that will strengthen your case.

DLG’s Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers have secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts for clients while maintaining a 98% success record. With our No Win/No Fee Guarantee, there is never any upfront cost for our expert wrongful death legal representation, and you never pay a dime until we successfully secure a maximum financial damages award for your claim.

Contact a DLG Los Angeles, California, wrongful death lawyer today at 818-322-4056 to arrange for a free consultation.

Don’t miss the deadline for filing your wrongful death civil lawsuit. Surviving family members who fail to file claims within the statute of limitations waive their right to seek financial compensation for damages.

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