Losing a family member is an incredibly painful and devastating experience. In these difficult times, seeking justice and financial compensation through a wrongful death claim can help support surviving family members. If your loved one has been killed in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, an attorney can file a civil case on your behalf. At Garrity Traina, our Sacramento wrongful death attorneys are here to listen, offer guidance, and fight for your family’s rights during this challenging period.
The First Steps Toward Justice and Compensation
Dealing with the loss of a loved one can be overwhelming, and you may feel hesitant to discuss your situation with a California wrongful death lawyer. However, it’s important to remember that insurance companies are not known for waiting. Claims adjusters are trained to investigate and challenge liability for fatal accidents caused by their insured parties’ negligence. This approach may even extend to first-party insurance claims. To ensure the protection of your family’s interests in this trying time, it is crucial to seek legal counsel promptly.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death arises from negligence, encompassing car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and more. When any of these situations occur, surviving family members have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court to seek justice for their loved one.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In California, wrongful death cases are governed by statute. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, the individuals entitled to compensation through a wrongful death action may include:
- Domestic partner
- Children of the decedent
- Stepchildren of the decedent
- Putative spouse (someone who believed, in good faith, that they were legally married but may not have been)
- Minors who were at least 50 percent financially dependent on the decedent, lived in the same household for at least 180 days before the death, and meet other specified criteria
How a California Wrongful Death Attorney Can Support Your Family
When you have tragically lost a loved one due to another person’s negligence or carelessness, an experienced Sacramento wrongful death attorney can offer essential support. Although no amount of legal action can erase the pain of losing a family member, a skilled attorney can guide you through the challenges faced by grieving families. In addition to handling the legal aspects of your claim, your lawyer can provide information about local support groups, grief counselors, and books that may bring some comfort.
It’s crucial to choose a California wrongful death lawyer with whom you feel comfortable. Look for an attorney with extensive experience handling serious cases. Equally important, you should be able to communicate openly and honestly with your lawyer, as you will be sharing sensitive and heartfelt experiences throughout the legal process.
Types of Compensation Available in a Wrongful Death Case
While nothing can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, California law allows for “just” compensation for those entitled to recover. The heirs of the decedent may receive compensation for the following:
- Costs of a funeral and burial
- Loss of future financial support
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of companionship, comfort, affection, moral support, and consortium
- Loss of care, training, and guidance as a parent provided by the victim
- Loss of household services
- Medical expenses incurred before death in a survival action
- Potential punitive damages in cases involving felony homicide
The Deadline to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California
Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, you typically have two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there are exceptions for medical malpractice, government entity cases, and others.
If your wrongful death claim involves a public agency, you must file a notice of claim within six months of the fatal incident date as per California Government Code Section 911.2.
For medical malpractice cases resulting in wrongful death, the lawsuit must be filed within three years from the incident date or one year after the death is discovered, or with reasonable diligence, whichever occurs first, in accordance with the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5.
Acting promptly is crucial, as insurance companies, hospitals, and government entities often attempt to evade responsibility or cover up the evidence. Witnesses may disappear, and crucial records may be altered or go missing. Don’t delay in seeking legal assistance.
Helping a Jury Understand Your Loss
In many cases involving the loss of a loved one, settlements are reached outside of court through insurance negotiations, mediation, or arbitration. However, when the defendant or their insurance company disputes the cause of death, it may be necessary to take the case to trial in Sacramento County so that a jury can determine a fair outcome.
Collecting compelling evidence and information about your loved one is crucial in every wrongful death case. This allows your attorney to effectively demonstrate the depth of the individual who has passed away and the immense losses endured by surviving family members.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can survivors recover punitive damages from a driver responsible for wrongful death?
A: In most cases, insurance policies exclude liability for punitive damages. If a case is filed against the driver and won, they may be required to pay punitive damages out of pocket, assuming they have sufficient assets. Our experienced attorneys thoroughly discuss punitive damage cases with clients.
Q: If my loved one died in Sacramento but lived in another state, where should I file a wrongful death lawsuit?
A: You can file a wrongful death lawsuit either where the incident causing the death occurred or where the defendant in the case resides. If the fatal incident took place in Sacramento County, that would be the appropriate jurisdiction for your lawsuit. Alternatively, you could file a suit against the “at-fault” party in their state of residence.
Q: If I live outside of California and my loved one died in Sacramento, do I need a Sacramento wrongful death attorney or an attorney from my state?
A: The attorney handling your case must be licensed in the state where the claim is filed. Depending on where the incident causing the death occurred or where the defendant resides, you would select the appropriate attorney accordingly. If the incident occurred in Sacramento or the defendant lives there, then a Sacramento wrongful death attorney would be necessary.
Q: Can I sue for wrongful death if a loved one is killed by a drunk driver?
A: Cases involving the loss of a loved one due to a drunk driver are indeed tragic. Wrongful death and punitive damages can be pursued in nearly all such claims.
Q: Have you handled nursing home fatality cases?
A: Yes, our Sacramento wrongful death law firm has extensive experience with accidental deaths in nursing homes. California’s wrongful death and survival statutes aim to provide peace of mind to families after the loss of a loved one.
Q: How long does it take to settle a wrongful death lawsuit?
A: The duration of a wrongful death lawsuit depends on various factors. If liability is clear, a quicker settlement is more likely. Disputes over negligence may require depositions, expert opinions, and lengthen the process significantly. Additionally, the amount of liability insurance carried by the negligent party also impacts the settlement timeline. If the insurance policy has minimal coverage, the negligent party’s insurer may pay sooner. However, larger policies or company involvement often lead to longer delays.
Q: My son was killed in a motorcycle accident. Despite being not at fault, the other insurance company claimed we couldn’t recover for his death due to his lack of insurance. Is this true?
A: According to California Civil Code Section 3333.4, uninsured drivers are generally precluded from recovering for pain and suffering damages. However, insurance carriers often attempt to mislead claimants into believing that wrongful death claims are also barred by this statute. This is incorrect, and our experienced attorneys can clarify this issue for you.
Q: Are wrongful death lawsuit settlements taxable?
A: No, any settlement awarded for injury or physical illness, including wrongful death, is non-taxable. The IRS does not tax compensation intended to cover pain and suffering.
Q: Is a wrongful death lawsuit a criminal or civil case?
A: Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases falling under personal injury law. Surviving family members can only recover compensation through a civil suit filed in Sacramento County. Criminal charges may be filed separately against the person responsible for the death in order to punish them, but such criminal cases do not provide financial compensation to the decedent’s family.
At Garrity Traina, we understand the immense pain and loss you are going through. Our experienced Sacramento wrongful death attorneys are dedicated to fighting for your rights and helping you obtain the full compensation you deserve. Our firm founder, Edward A. Smith, is recognized by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for his exceptional track record in securing substantial verdicts and settlements.
If you believe that the negligence of another party caused the death of your loved one, please reach out to our compassionate team for free and friendly advice. We are committed to providing you with the support and guidance you need during this difficult time. To learn more about your options, call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for a free consultation.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 7.21.23] Photo by Pixabay [cs 2062]