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What Is A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

What Is A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Jun 11, 2020

What is wrongful death?

DLG Case Study: The Tufesa Bus Crash

Wrongful death is a legal term that, although heard quite frequently, isn’t necessarily always completely understood. Wrongful death is a subcategory of personal injury law that can cover a wide array of claims that lead to lawsuits involving everything from murder, to medical malpractice, to major car accidents. When you hear the term wrongful death, it is most likely in reference to a civil lawsuit brought by the family of an individual whose death resulted from negligence or misconduct. 

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.  

Perhaps the most high-profile wrongful death verdict is 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. Some additional high-profile wrongful death verdicts involving celebrities 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. 

At Dordulian Law Group, one of our primary wrongful death lawsuits currently in progress involves a tragic bus rollover accident that took place in May 2016. 

A passenger bus was scheduled to travel through the night from the Huntington Park Tufesa Station near Los Angeles to northwestern Mexico. After stops were made in Phoenix and Tuscon, the bus included 24 passengers. At approximately 4 a.m., the driver fell asleep, at which time the bus careened off the entrance to the San Carlos Bridge in Mexico near the port city of Guaymas. 

The driver lost control of the vehicle, causing the bus to veer to the right, striking the base of the bridge near a slight incline. Due to the direction the bus was traveling, the significant impact caused it to land on its side, suddenly ejecting many passengers from their seats. 

The crash caused substantial damage and led to many passengers sustaining catastrophic injuries. Three of the passengers tragically died at the scene shortly after the accident, while a fourth died later at a local hospital. 






Pursuing DLG’s wrongful death case:

In a wrongful death lawsuit an attorney must prove negligence or misconduct was involved. In this particular example, eyewitness testimony plays a significant factor. 

Following the accident we were able to speak with numerous passengers who confirmed that not only was negligence involved, but that the very eyewitnesses providing the testimony in this case made multiple attempts to avoid this tragic accident. 

Several surviving passengers observed the driver of the bus noticeably tired and even falling asleep at the wheel at various times. Many eyewitnesses reported making efforts to persuade the bus driver to pull over and rest, fearing for their safety. Some passengers went so far as to reportedly leave their seats and walk up to the driver, describing instances of begging and pleading with him to stop driving. Less than 10 minutes after an eyewitness reports such a plea, the fatal crash ensued. 

Who is entitled to wrongful death benefits in this case?

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)

In this case, the DLG plaintiffs are all heirs — the children and spouse — of a passenger who was on that bus. The case is somewhat unique in the sense that, as it involves a trip between two countries, plaintiffs happen to be residents of both the U.S. and Mexico (the victim of the accident was returning to Mexico after visiting her daughter in California). 

Wrongful death lawsuits can involve such a range of accident-types and circumstances, it’s advisable to always consult with a wrongful death lawyer when determining whether or not to pursue a claim. In this case, a surviving relative could have mistakenly believed that they were not entitled to wrongful death benefits due to where they lived in relation to where the accident took place. 

What are examples of the three types of wrongful death damages that can be pursued (economic, non-economic, and punitive)?

In California, economic damages for wrongful death can include without limitation:

  • The financial support the deceased would have contributed to the family during their lifetime
  • The loss of gifts or benefits the heirs could have expected to receive from the deceased
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The reasonable value of household services the deceased would have provided
  • Medical bills and other expenses incurred
  • Value of lost benefits, such as the decedent’s pension or health insurance

Non-economic damages for wrongful death can include without limitation:

  • Compensation for the loss of the deceased’s companionship and support
  • Protection
  • Affection
  • Moral support
  • Training and guidance
  • Sexual relations

Most California wrongful death lawsuits do not typically include punitive damages, as state law dictates they only be awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing in an effort to punish the wrongdoer.

In rare instances, punitive damages can be claimed through what is known under state law as a “survival action.” A survival cause of action is only applicable in cases where the decedent did not immediately die from his or her injuries. In such instances, even if the decedent lived only a short period of time between the accident and eventual death, a survival cause of action may be appropriate.

In the case of the rollover bus crash, we are able to pursue all three types of wrongful death damages due to the nature of the recklessness involved in the accident. 

Finding a qualified Los Angeles wrongful death attorney:

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, over 36,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2018.  

Given the varying types of cases, the myriad circumstances that can be involved, and the laws pertaining to the state where the accident occurred, it can be difficult to determine whether or not you might have a legitimate claim for wrongful death benefits following the death of a loved one. 

The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits to be filed is two years under California law, which means that from the date the accident occurred, you have two years to file a claim. 

If you believe may have a wrongful death claim and might wish to pursue a lawsuit — whether over a major car accident, commercial truck accident, transport bus accident, scooter accident, or other type of motor vehicle accident — contact an experienced attorney at DLG today for a free consultation. We have the necessary experience required to take on and win your unique case. 

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