Wrongful death is legally defined as an injury that leads to another person's death. A wrongful death suit must be filed by the victim's survivors, the deceased's executor, or a court-appointed administrator in order to receive monetary compensation for the person's death. It probably goes without saying, though common law explicitly states that dead people can not file their own lawsuits.
It is hard for some people to discuss compensation for the death of a loved one, as truly, you cannot put a price on their loss. That said, the law does not deal much with emotions or the ways in which people feel. Instead, it seeks to collect compensatory damages that will hopefully allow survivors to live according to the means the deceased once provided or contributed to. At a minimum, the goal is to provide for the survivors so that in addition to losing a loved one, they are not left destitute.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?
In order for a death to be considered “wrongful,” strict criteria must be met. The following are the criteria that need to be met in order for wrongful death victims' families to be considered for financial compensation.
Death as a Result of Another's Malice or Negligent Harm
Determining what ultimately killed a person and the intent with which their lives were ended, is subject to thorough evaluation and analysis. The law demands there be “clear and convincing evidence” that supports, without a shadow of a doubt, that the victim died at the hands of someone who acted willfully or with negligence. In doing so, it is hoped that false or baseless accusations do not muddy or complicate already trying waters.
The law is painstakingly careful about defining what constitutes a wrongful death because unfounded accusations of another can undeservingly lead to their demise. As such, the law defines malice as a deliberate act that is carried out in the hopes of causing significant detriment to another. The law explains negligence as one's failure to act in a manner that would most typically prevent harm, death, or damage. This can include willful ignorance, a disregard of one's obligations to the victim, or making a dreadful mistake.
Death That Results From a Disregard of Duty
We all have, in one form or another, a duty to each other. Drivers are duty bound to follow the rules of the road in order to prevent accidents and deaths. Medical professionals have an obligation to do no harm to their patients. Mental health professionals are required to provide appropriate care to their patients based on their psychological state. When a death results from the disregard or negligence of these kinds of duties, it is attributed to wrongful death status.
Death That Yields Quantitative Damages
Deaths that generate quantifiable, monetary damages, such as those connected to hospitalizations, funeral costs, and medical equipment charges, also fall under the rubric of wrongful death. Additionally, pain and suffering are frequently assigned a monetary value in order to properly compensate families and other survivors.
Additional Losses Experienced by Survivors of a Wrongful Death
In addition to the loss of financial support a loved one's death may cause, there are a number of other losses that survivors experience. Some of these noneconomic damages include the loss of emotional and physical support, a loss of sexual relations and intimacy, social status, companionship, and comfort. The husband, for example, who attended events with his wife and no longer has her at his side is most definitely experiencing the kind of loss that has no cash value.
Wrongful, unanticipated, and seemingly preventable deaths take a heavy emotional and psychological toll on survivors, no matter who it is they lost. Generally speaking, family members accept the money they are awarded in wrongful death cases in Orange County. But what they frequently want as well as a punishment for the person or persons who caused the victim's death. Survivors value the money they are awarded and the potential it offers, but as a parent in California who lost an adult child in 2013 said, “It kills your human spirit to even be offered money for your child.”
Why File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Being financially compensated for a loved one's wrongful death certainly makes at least a modicum of sense. No, you cannot put an accurate dollar amount on how much someone is worth to you. But the law understands that.
What the law also understands is the ramifications a wrongful death lawsuit has on the accused. When a defendant is found guilty of a wrongful death claim, it means it was determined that they caused negligent harm, acted out of malice, ignored their duties to the victim, or caused quantifiable damage to their survivors. They can not only be forced to pay compensatory damages but, depending on the exact details of the case and the court's judgment, also be hit with punitive charges.
When Should I Speak to a Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Many people are unsure as to when or if they should contact a wrongful death lawyer in Orange County. It is always best to contact a qualified wrongful death attorney so that together you can review and assess the circumstances under which your loved one died. These circumstances do not have to have occurred in any particular setting, but they do need to meet the legal criteria. If legal criteria for wrongful death is met, it is important to note that filing must happen within two years, the state's statute of limitations, from the victim's date of death.
Some people are unsure of whose behalf they are allowed to file a wrongful death suit. The law delineates a number of family members who are allowed to receive compensation. This list includes “real parties of interest,” such as common and civil law spouses, financial dependents, life partners, immediate family members, adult children, parents, and other distant family members in the absence of more immediate relations. A wrongful death attorney is your best guide through these sensitive times.