How To Know If You May Have A Valid Wrongful Death Claim
Losing a loved one is never easy, especially if you discover that the death was caused by the negligent acts of another person. Families that find themselves in this situation may be able to recover compensation by filing a wrongful death claim. But, how do you know if you have a valid claim? Here are the five elements that every wrongful death claim consists of:
The Death of a Loved One
A wrongful death claim can only be filed when there has been a death caused by another person’s negligence. If the victim was severely injured, but not killed, a personal injury claim would need to be filed instead of a wrongful death claim.
The Role of Negligence
Was the death actually caused by another person’s negligence? This question must be answered if you want to recover compensation in a wrongful death claim. There are three steps to determining if negligence was a factor in your loved one’s death.
First, the family members must be able to show that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care. Basically, this means the plaintiff must show the defendant had a legal obligation to act responsibly in order to protect the victim from harm. For example, drivers must follow all traffic laws and drive responsibly because they owe a duty of care to other people on the road.
Next, the family must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care, which means they failed to act in a responsible manner. For example, a driver breaches their duty of care when they run a red light, go above the speed limit, or violate any other traffic law.
However, it’s not enough to just prove that the defendant breached their duty of care to the victim. Family members must connect the dots and show how the breach led to the victim’s death. For instance, let’s say a driver runs a red light and crashes into your loved one’s vehicle, causing fatal injuries. The driver breached their duty of care to the victim by violating a traffic law, and their failure to abide by the traffic laws led to a fatality. However, if the victim was killed in an accident that was completely unrelated to the defendant’s decision to run the red light, the defendant is not liable for the victim’s death.
This is only one example of wrongful death, but it clearly illustrates how the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence led to the victim’s death. Proving negligence is one of the most difficult aspects of a wrongful death case, which is why it’s so important to rely on an experienced attorney for help.
Your Relationship to the Victim
Next, you will need to determine if you are permitted by state law to file a wrongful death claim. Each state has its own laws regarding which family members are able to take legal action. In California, the victim’s spouse, domestic partner, or children are allowed to file a claim. If the victim does not have a surviving spouse, partner, or child, anyone who would be entitled to inherit the victim’s estate can file a claim.
Other members of the family, including the victim’s stepchildren and parents, may also be permitted to file a wrongful death claim. But, these family members are only allowed to file a claim if they can prove that they were financially dependent on the victim.
If you are not one of these family members, you will not be able to file a wrongful death claim.
The Timing of the Death
The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in California is two years. This means family members only have two years from the date of the victim’s death to file a lawsuit. If it has been more than two years since your loved one’s death, the court will most likely toss out the lawsuit.
Many family members put off taking legal action because they think they have plenty of time. But, two years can go by fairly quickly if you are mourning the loss of a loved one. It’s best to seek legal representation right away instead of waiting until you’re up against a tight deadline. Not only will this ensure you don’t miss the deadline, but it will also give your attorney an opportunity to collect evidence when the incident is still fresh in witnesses’ minds.
Wrongful Death Damages
In order to recover compensation in a wrongful death case, you must be able to show that you incurred expenses or suffered losses as a result of the victim’s death. For example, if you paid for the victim’s funeral, provide proof of these expenses so you can be reimbursed by the defendant.
Family members that were financially dependent on the victim may recover compensation for their loss of income. To calculate how much the family members lost, the court will need to determine how much the victim would have been able to earn if they were still alive.
Compensation may also be awarded to victims who can prove they suffered loss of companionship, guidance, care, and love as a result of the victim’s death. How can you quantify the immense pain and suffering that you are experiencing? It can be challenging, but an experienced attorney will be able to help you calculate the value of these immeasurable losses.
Do you believe you have a valid wrongful death claim? If so, contact Carpenter & Zuckerman right away to discuss your case. We will review the details of your case to determine if you should proceed with a wrongful death claim. If you do have a legitimate claim, our compassionate wrongful death attorneys will ensure your family is compensated for your tremendous loss.
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