What is Wrongful Death?

What are wrongful death lawsuits and when might they be brought against another person? A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of civil action that can be brought against a company or person responsible for another’s death.

Wrongful Death and Negligence

Normally, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by surviving family and brought against, for instance, a car company for selling a faulty vehicle or a liquor store owner for selling alcohol to a minor that lead to a roadside fatality.

Wrongful death claims usually involve wrongdoing or some form of negligence. A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against anyone from a doctor or highway engineer to car manufacturer.

If a car manufacture, for example, knowingly ships out vehicles with faulty parts, then the car manufacturer might face a wrongful death lawsuit subsequent to a fatal accident tied to those faulty parts.

Alternatively, a physician who prescribes too high a dose that ultimately leads to a wrongful death could face a wrongful death lawsuit.

Although some cases of wrongful death are indeed murder, many cases of wrongful death involve simple negligence.

Civil Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In most cases a close family member or spouse can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. If found guilty of wrongful death, the defendant bringing the wrongful death lawsuit will be “made whole” and awarded civil damages.

Civil damages are simply monetary awards given to the plaintiff from a guilty defendant. Civil damages can be general or special – general damages are typically more intangible and include compensations for emotional distress as well as pain and suffering.

Special damages include more quantifiable payments. Lost wages and even future income that would have been generated by that family member had s/he not suffered a wrongful death could both be considered special damages.

Before contacting a law firm, make sure that you document all of the facts surrounding the timing and circumstances of the wrongful death. Contact any witnesses who could help strengthen your wrongful death lawsuit as well.

Individual circumstances and the amount of negligence largely dictate how much compensation in civil damages the surviving kin receive for a wrongful death.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California

In California, hospital and funeral bills are part of the special damages that are paid to the surviving kin. Future financial support that would have been generated had the wrongful death not occurred also constitute civil damages payable to surviving kin.

A very common rationale behind filing a wrongful death lawsuit is to address medical malpractice that resulted in wrongful death. Medical malpractice is a form of negligence and, if proven in court and linked to a wrongful death, could entitle surviving kin to general and special civil damages.

In California, if the wrongful death occurred in a patient who had less than a 50-50 chance of survival, then the wrongful death lawsuit has a much worse chance of standing up in court. The reasoning behind this is that negligence by a physician would be harder to link to a wrongful death if the patient were already in a poor state of health.

Also, since the California Supreme Court has ruled that a fetus is not a person, wrongful death lawsuits are not applicable in this area.

Finally, California has a statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. This means that if surviving kin or a spouse fails to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the two year timeframe following the wrongful death, then the California civil court system might not hear the case.