A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil suit claim that can be presented based on an intentional or negligent death of a person. In the United States, every state allows the family or estate representative of a deceased individual the legal opportunity to seek compensation for their loved one’s wrongful death. Every state, however, will have different laws that govern wrongful death claims. This will limit the opportunity on several different factors. The rules & regulations that govern wrongful death lawsuits in California set boundaries based on the specifics of each individual case, and the statute of limitations.
If you have a loved one who has perished due to the intentional act of negligent act of another, one of the most fundamental steps to take in filing a claim is speaking to a qualified wrongful death attorney in Orange County. An attorney will ensure that that your case is properly filed and will also help to ensure that your claim is filed in the appropriate time frame. Further, in the event that your claim involves several different states, speaking to a proficient attorney will help you understand in what state the filing must occur.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims
There are several different ways in which a person can suffer a death by negligence or intentional action. The following list highlights some of the most common wrongful death cases:
- Death by negligence caused by:
- An impaired driver
- A careless medical practitioner
- A defective product
Death by harm of an intentional act caused by:
- Any form of murder
- A random fight even if it is without the intention to kill
Wrongful death claims are generally considered to occur when an entity can be held legally responsible for causing the direct or indirect death of a person. An entity can be, but not limited to the following:
- Another individual
- A government agency or government official
- A medical practitioner
- A manufacturing company
- A business
Equally important, this entity will have no legal excuse for having caused the death of the individual. Under California state law, a wrongful death occurs when the death of a person occurs through the wrongful death or negligence of another person.
Due to the importance of case specifics in a wrongful death lawsuit, it is imperative to take a closer look at the different methods in which a party can be held liable for the death of a person.
1) Driving Under the Influence: Negligence
A person can be held legally liable for the death of another in the event that his or her negligent conduct was a significant factor in causing the death of the victim. A motorist who was driving under the influence of an impairing substance is considered to be a negligent driver because he or she was careless.
Most wrongful death claims are made against individuals who have caused the accidental death of another while he or she was driving carelessly. While the driver may not have had the intention to harm another, he or she can still be held legally responsible for being reckless.
Common examples of reckless driving include, but are not limited to the following:
- Driving at illegal speed limits
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Distracted driving which includes
- Cell phone use
After auto accidents, many types of documents by different agencies may be completed and processed. Each one has its own bearing on the potential outcome of a wrongful death claim. This could be medical records from emergency responders and hospital staff, on-scene investigations from responding law enforcement officers and even California Vehicle Accident Reports.
2) The Failure to Maintain a Safe Property: Negligence
Property or business owners in California who invite others into their property have a reasonable duty of care to keep the premises safe and free from hazards. In the event that a death occurred in the premises due to a careless compliance of the owner or property manager, these individuals could be held legally responsible.
While the following list is not comprehensive, it highlights a few of the most common responsibilities property owners have a duty to maintain in order to provide safety to their visitors.
- Replace a broken staircase
- Fix broken elevators
- Make sure that a swimming pool has appropriate fencing and locking mechanisms
- Maintain even and stable pavement/walkways
3) Medical Malpractice: Negligence
Wrongful death cases do exist in the medical field. While medical specialists are safeguarded in many cases, they can nonetheless act careless and if proven, this can be the foundation for a wrongful death claim.
Some common examples of medical malpractice include:
- Failure to diagnose a condition which worsened had it been treated earlier
- Surgeon’s carelessness during an operation
- The prescription of incorrect medication which includes the dosage amount
4) Defective Products: Negligence
There are countless of examples in which a consumer has been injured or suffered an unexpected death due to a defective product. Most consumers purchase items expecting the item to be safe for use and unfortunately, many items are sold without proper testing. Examples of defective products can include medicinal products to automobiles that have been incorrectly designed or manufactured.
Filing a wrongful death claim for the death of an individual over a defective product is typically referred to as a products liability lawsuit. A products liability lawsuit has standing when the victim’s death was a result of a manufacture, design, or wrongful test of a product.
5) Suicide: Negligence
When it comes to suicide, every state will have a different law pertaining to the responsibility of the deceased person. If it is proven that a person had a particular duty of care concerning the victim, this person could be held legally responsible for the suicide of the victim.
Certain regions also uphold a victim’s alleged aggressor as responsible for the victim’s death. For instance, a partner who causes distress or a school bully that ridiculed a student, both can be held legally liable for the victim’s death if it is proven that their interaction lead to the victim’s death. In recent years, there have been cases where even schools and or school districts are held liable when their staff failed to prevent student’s behavior that led to suicide.
6) Occupational Death: Negligence
Workplace employers have a duty to ensure that their workers are safe from avoidable injury. While workplace injuries are typically handled through workers’ compensation claims, under certain circumstances, they can be handled through a wrongful death claim. Further, if a workplace injury or death occurred due to a product used, the manufacturer of that product can be held responsible.
What is the California Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit in California is generally 2 years. However, there’s 3 primary points that need to be considered when pursuing a wrongful death claim in California.
- In the majority of situations, a 2 year time limit applies from the date of death (or injury) as outlined in the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1
- In the instance of wrongful death or personal injury caused by medical malpractice or health care provider negligence, the statute is extended to 3 years from the date of injury or death; or 1 year after discovery of the injury (or through “reasonable diligence should have discovered” the injury). California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5
- If the claim is in relation to a death incurred by a government agency or public entity, the claim must “not later than six months after the accrual of the cause of action”. California Government Code §911.2
It’s important to note that all rules have exceptions and nuance that couldn’t possibly be covered in this article. For that reason, it’s always better to act sooner rather than later and discuss the details of your matter with a lawyer that can answer all of your questions. Nearly all attorneys who handle wrongful death cases in California will schedule a complimentary consultation to gather all of the information and discuss your options.
Pursuing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California
The State of California allows the family or estate representatives of victims to bring forth a claim for a possible restitution for the losses sustained due to an individual’s wrongful death. A wrongful death claim is not the same as a criminal case. It is a civil action that will not bring the perpetrator imprisonment; rather, it will only seek to obtain monetary compensation for the grievances sustained from the victim’s death. For criminal actions, the Orange County District Attorney’s office will decide to pursue criminal charges in a separate court of law.
If a member of your family has been killed due to negligence of another, you should consider filing a wrongful death claim promptly. Speak to a knowledgeable orange county attorney who has experience in wrongful death claims in the State of California. He or she will be able to help you strategize your case to give your claim the best opportunity at being successful.