Any kind of accident has the potential to be life-altering for a victim and their family when it takes place. But when that accident results in the death of a person, the magnitude of the tragedy increases exponentially.

It is critical to retain an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible if a loved one dies as the result of a drunk driver, medical malpractice, because a property owner did not maintain their property in a safe and acceptable way, or in any other similar situation where a wrongful death may have taken place.

An attorney will work with the estate of the victim to seek many possible forms of compensation. This can include:

  • Loss of future income
  • Loss of future inheritance
  • Recovery the costs of medical bills
  • Payment for pain and suffering the victim may have experienced before they passed away
  • Loss of care, companionship, and love the deceased would have provided if they had lived
  • Funeral expenses

Wrongful death cases rest on the ability to prove negligence

While wrongful deaths can occur in any number of ways, the key to winning a wrongful death case is proving negligence on the part of a defendant. This means it must be shown that a person acted outside of what would reasonably be expected, and by doing so, they breached a duty of care to a victim and can be held liable. For example, a person who drives drunk and kills another person did not act responsibly and breached the duty they had to do so. More than likely, the drunk driver will be considered negligent.

Understanding who can file a wrongful death claim and who cannot

Only persons named in California’s Code of Civil Procedure can file a wrongful death lawsuit. A surviving spouse and children can bring a claim, but some of the rules about this are very complicated.

California also operates under a “one action rule” meaning that all claimants must join together to form a single wrongful death lawsuit. This is done so that a responsible party does not need to defend against several possible legal actions.

Also, there are some instances when a wrongful death claim can be filed, and when it cannot. For example, the California Supreme Court has ruled the death of an unborn child or fetus is not actionable. A justifiable homicide is also not actionable. For example, this may happen when a person is killed while they are committing a felony, perhaps during an armed robbery or burglary.

One gray area is suicide, which may be actionable if it can be shown that a responsible party had a duty of care to the victim and that their actions or inactions were a substantial factor in the cause of the suicide.

The Law Offices of Donald D. Hiney serves clients in San Diego, Chula Vista, and surrounding San Diego communities.