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According to the National Safety Council, a person dies every five minutes in the U.S. because of the wrongful or negligent behavior of another person. When a person dies suddenly as a result of someone's negligence, the consequences to those left behind can be devastating. In addition to grief and emotional suffering, the surviving family members often suffer significant financial loss.

At John M. O'Brien & Associates, our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to helping affected family members recover the compensation they need to move forward and accept their loss.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

If your child, domestic partner, parent or other relative was accidentally killed, you have the legal right to seek justice and file a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

In order to qualify for a wrongful death case, the death has to have been caused by the reckless, negligent or deliberate behavior of another party.

Basically a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil court action filed in order to determine the amount of damages that surviving family members can receive due to the wrongful death of their loved one.

John O'Brien & Associates Is Handling All Types Of Wrongful Death Cases

Accidental death in US

John O'Brien & Associates’ wrongful death attorneys have extensive experience in a complete range of catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims such as:

  • Auto and truck crashes: when someone died due to driver’s negligence or careless driving
  • Nursing home abuse or neglect
  • Boating accidents
  • Workplace accidents: the employer neglected safety measures in managing the workplace, omission, which caused the death of an individual
  • Dangerous or defective products: a product that doesn’t have enough warnings or instructions regarding its usage can cause death. If it is proven that the victim died due to an already known - by the manufacturer - hazard or danger, yet they did nothing to address it, you have grounds for a wrongful death complaint
  • Medical malpractice: a medical professional is guilty for someone’s death, despite having all the competences to handle the case
  • Medication errors: a doctor’s professional’s advice or prescription goes wrong, despite him/her being knowledgeable enough to have given the right advice.

Keys to a Successful Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In order to have a successful in a wrongful death case, the surviving family members must prove:

  • The defendant had a duty of care to the deceased
  • The death was caused by the defendant's negligence or deliberate act and not by their loved one's fault
  • If the grounds for the above are met, then the surviving family members must next establish that they suffered quantifiable damages because of their loved one's wrongful death.

In case the parties of a wrongful death claim or wrongful death lawsuit agree to solve their differences and release the other party from responsibility, they can dismiss their claim and a settlement occurs.

In the simplest case, the settlement involves a defendant and/or insurance company paying the plaintiff money in exchange of releasing the defendant from all liability arising out of the incident or accident.

How much Time do I have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

If you believe a dear one’s death was caused by someone's negligence, you must act immediately. There are time limits for your complaint, called statute of limitations. These require you to bring a lawsuit within a limited period, otherwise you lose the right to seek benefits deriving from the wrongful death liability.

The statute of limitations depends on who caused the accidental death, how it occurred and the state where it took place.

For instance, according to California legislation, there are at least 3 main time deadlines to take certain legal action in wrongful death claims:

  • In general, the statute of limitations for a death in the state of California is 2 years from the date of the death
  • In case of medical malpractice, one year after the plaintiff discovers or 3 years from date of injury
  • If based on any government liability, a government claim must be filed within 6 months

Who Can File For A Wrongful Death Claim In California?

According to California law wrongful death claims can only be filed by individuals that are relatives for the deceased. Such individuals include:

  • Surviving spouse, children, dependent stepchildren and dependent parents
  • Individuals who would be entitled to inherit the victim’s estate such as parents, siblings or children of deceased siblings, grandparents or children of a deceased spouse

Wrongful death claim form

Click on the image above for the entire document

Legal action in a wrongful death case should be initiated by the victim’s legal representative on behalf of the surviving relatives. A personal representative is a person existent in a Will Contract or appointed by the court to handle the assets of the deceased.

Who can Qualify as a Victim in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

First of all, the victim's death must be shown to have been caused by other party’s negligence or wrongful act. In other words, the responsible party must have been a substantial factor or leading cause of death.

In medical malpractice cases, if the victim's chance of survival was 50% or less prior to the alleged wrongful act, then it would be statistically not probable that the healthcare provider caused the death and such claim can’t be actionable.

In the state of California, the following situations are NOT actionable under the wrongful death law:

  • The death of an unborn child
  • The death resulted from a justifiable homicide (for instance, if someone is killed while committing a felony, the victim's family has no right to bring a wrongful death action).

In case of suicide, it can be an issue only if the responsible party owed a duty of care to the victim and the responsible party's actions or negligence was a substantial factor in causing the suicide.

Wrongful Death Compensation

An individual’s relationship to the decedent may entitle them to some specific benefits. Compensation can be received by the surviving family members for the following types of damages:

  • Medical bills
  • Burial expenses
  • Compensatory damages for lost wages that their loved one would have earned
  • Compensatory damages for pain and suffering caused to the surviving family members
  • In some states punitive damages apply. These are intended to punish the person who is at fault for the wrongful death and discourage such future behavior.

The court will take into consideration a series of factors when determining the amount of damages to be awarded to the survivors of the deceased. These factors involve:

  • The amount of the victim’s net income available to the survivor
  • The value of replacement for the victims’ services
  • The relationship between the dead victim and the survivor
  • The life expectancy of all parties.

Surviving Members and Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Survivors in a wrongful death case include (in order of priority): parents, siblings, stepchildren, and in some situations, grandparents. The judge may appoint a conservator to hire an attorney to sue for the survivors. Conservators are people who stand in the shoes of someone legally incompetent.

These representatives usually have power of lawyers, get approval and are designated by a probate judge. Once the verdict or the settlement is reached, the proceeds are disbursed. Generally, money is held in trust for an underage individual, until the plaintiff finally reaches majority.

Otherwise (for instance the case of a demented senior), a court supervised trustee delves out funds – on a needed basis – on behalf of their incompetent charge.

An individual’s relationship to the decedent entitles them to specific benefits, as it follows:

  • A surviving spouse claims the coverage of mental pain, suffering and losing the decedent's protection and companionship
  • Underage children have the right to seek compensation for lost parental companionship and guidance, and also for pain and suffering caused by the victim’s death
  • Each parent of a deceased minor can recover for pain and suffering. In case of losing an adult child, parents may claim coverage for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.

Moreover, medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent's injury or death may be recovered by whoever has paid for them.

Contact Our Experienced Lawyers at John M. O'Brien & Associates

At John M. O'Brien & Associates we are dedicated to helping mothers, wives, husbands, sons and daughters get through what could be the most difficult experience they will ever have to deal with. For instance, we successfully tried a medical malpractice case against an obstetrician in Sacramento whose negligence led to the wrongful death of a mother after giving birth. The patient was a 33-year-old woman who bled to death after a normal vaginal delivery. The case was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict of $2,500,000.

Our firm has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for other grieving family members who have lost a loved one to a preventable tragedy. We have dedicated our practice to helping people who have suffered great loss as the result of another person's negligence in Sacramento and Elk Grove area. We serve as tireless advocates for our clients and fight aggressively to ensure they recover the full compensation they deserve.

Wrongful Death Q&A

Q: What sort of damages can be recovered in a wrongful death case? See Answer


Q: What is the general statute of limitations for a wrongful death case in California? See Answer


Q: What are the fees for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? See Answer


Q: If I lose the wrongful death case, do I have to pay the other side's fees or costs? See Answer


Q: Are there any special rules in wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice? See Answer


Q: Which relatives can bring a claim? See Answer

Call John O'Brien 800.722.4176
or Ask John O'Brien a question
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Verdict and Settlements
  • Wrongful Death Claim

    Result: $2,500,000     Read more
  • Wrongful Death Case

    Result: $2,300,000    Read more