A Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Secure Just Restitution
Coping with the death of a partner, spouse, or parent is an insurmountable challenge in itself, but the pain is amplified when a loved one’s passing is caused by someone else’s negligent behavior.
In legal terms, this is called a wrongful death, and family members may be eligible for compensation. A compassionate wrongful death lawyer can help your family at this difficult time. In San Diego, CA, our personal injury law firm led by Mr. Kerry Steigerwalt, has assisted victims and their bereaved families for over 30 years, helping provide resources to secure the damages they are entitled to.
We work strictly on a contingency basis, so you will not pay any fees for legal representation unless we are successful in recovering monetary damages.
What is a Wrongful Death?
When negligence, carelessness, wrongdoing, or criminal behavior is responsible for the death of an innocent victim, this may constitute a wrongful death claim. It refers to a fatality that occurs due to the misdeeds of a third party, including corporations and business entities.
A civil law term, wrongful death is entirely separate from criminal prosecution. Many people are familiar with the trial of O.J. Simpson, who was declared not guilty in his criminal murder case, but then later found liable in civil court for wrongful death. Mr. Simpson was ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of the victims.
We urge our clients to focus on healing and leave concerns about insurance claims and legal issues to us.
These claims are commonly filed by the spouse, children, or domestic partner of the deceased. Parents, siblings, and in some cases, other individuals who were close to the victim may also bring a suit. Only one lawsuit per wrongful death is allowed, even if multiple parties have the right to file a claim.
- Motor Vehicle Accidents – Including car, truck, motorcycle, train, bus, boat, bicycle and pedestrian accidents
- Premises Liability Incidents – Such as slip and falls, dog bites, drowning, carbon monoxide poisoning, or criminal attacks occurring on another party's property
- Medical Malpractice – Misdiagnosis, pharmaceutical errors, or surgical mistakes
- Workplace Accidents – Construction and other occupational accidents
- Product Liability Accidents - Injuries from prescription drugs, automotive equipment failures, or dangerous medical products
Claiming Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The deceased likely earned money before his or her untimely death and used that money to support a family. These financial contributions disappear with the victim's death.
In a wrongful death case, pecuniary, or financial, injury is the main measure of damages. These damages can be divided into two categories, which in turn are typically defined by two time periods.
The first category covers losses experienced by the decedent from the time of the negligent act causing the injury, until the time of the victim’s death. These might include hospital bills, ambulance fees and other medical expenses, the victim's emotional and physical pain and suffering, the deceased’s lost income, and the funeral and burial expenses of the family.
The second category covers recovery of losses suffered by the family members after the victim's death. This category is targeted toward compensating the next of kin or dependents for their financial losses.
Types of Damages
There are three types of damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Economic damages seek to compensate the loss of expected earnings, medical and burial expenses, loss of benefits such as pension plans, loss of inheritance due to the deceased's untimely death, and other financial contributions the survivors are deprived of due to the victim's death.
- Non-economic damages seek to compensate for non-tangible losses such as the survivors' pain and suffering, loss of consortium from a deceased spouse, loss of protection and nurturing from a deceased parent, and more. In California, non-economic damages in a wrongful death caused by medical malpractice are limited to a maximum of $250,000.
- Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for malicious or serious wrongdoing, or to deter others from similar bad conduct. California courts allow for substantial punitive damage awards in particularly grievous cases.
Calculating the total amount of damages in wrongful death cases can be complicated, requiring the services of expert witnesses such as economists and actuaries. Since the monetary compensation includes both economic and non-economic damages, the calculations determine not only lost present and future income, but also the monetary value of services and care provided by a parent such as affection, guidance, child care, cooking, laundry, house cleaning and maintenance, shopping, education, medical care, transportation, and other intangibles.
Comparative Negligence and Assessing Liability
Comparative negligence or comparative fault is a principle used to assess liability in proportion to fault. If it is determined that the deceased person was partly negligent in a wrongful death case, the judgment will be reduced by the amount of the victim's negligence.
In California, a survival action allows the deceased's estate (the deceased person's representative or successor in interest) to continue with a lawsuit pending at the time of the victim's death. For example, the estate can sue for injuries and other losses suffered by the deceased before he or she died, thus taking over the victim's personal injury claim.
Help from Compassionate Attorneys
Wrongful death cases often involve complex areas of the law, such as death caused by medical malpractice, and can result in significant settlements and courtroom awards. It is wise to hire an knowledgable personal injury lawyer who can protect your interests.
In the aftermath of a deadly accident, there are many details to attend to in a time of severe emotional distress. One such important detail to be aware of is the statute of limitations governing wrongful death cases. The California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335-349.4 states that the limit for a fatality caused in a wrongful, negligent manner is two years. Therefore, like most personal injury and other negligence claims, plaintiffs have two years from the date of the victim's death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Another example would be the complicated procedural rules for filing a wrongful death caused by medical malpractice case. The rules include a requirement that the defendants be notified at least 90 days before filing a wrongful death action.
We urge our clients to focus on healing and leave concerns about insurance claims and legal issues to us. In addition to aggressive representation and caring counsel, our firm provides referrals to outside resources that are available for grieving families.
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We are proud to have secured maximum compensation awards for many families of victims of wrongful death. While money does not make up for the loss of a loved one, victims of wrongdoing deserve restitution, and a generous sum can pave the way to a brighter future. If you believe that another party may be liable for the loss of a loved one, please contact our office today to schedule a complimentary consultation.