San Francisco Wrongful Death Attorneys
When someone is killed by the wrongful conduct, or gross negligence of another, it is called a “wrongful death.” These are the most tragic of cases, and happen all too often as a result of motorcycle accidents.
The Dolan Law Firm’s lawyers understand your suffering and grief having experienced the tragedy of an accidental death first hand. Some of our lawyers have lost family members and loved ones in serious personal injuries, including motorcycle and bicycle accidents. We have been on both sides, as clients and attorneys, and we want to help you through the legal aspects of life’s greatest loss.
Who can Sue for a Wrongful Death?
Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, only certain persons are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If you are not a qualifying party or a representative of the deceased person, unfortunately, you might not be allowed to recover damages.
When someone dies as a result of the negligence of another the law provides that their next of kin and their estate may act as plaintiffs to bring a civil action to recover economic and non-economic damages. This is true even if the deceased was partially at fault ( comparatively at fault) in the events leading to the fatality. If death is the result of a drunk driver, then punitive damages may be awarded.
The people who are considered next of kin include surviving family members such as a husband, wife, domestic partner, children, parents, or siblings, in order of priority to a claim. If a parent dies, the surviving spouse partner and children may all be plaintiffs, as well as anyone else who was likely to receive support if the decedent had lived.
What Are the Elements of Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of civil legal action that can be brought by the survivors of a deceased person who died as a result of a wrongful act or negligence. In order for someone to succeed in bringing a wrongful death case, they must prove the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- The death of a person;
- Caused by the negligence, or willful intent, of another; and
- The surviving family suffered damages as a result of the death.
What Are the Common Wrongful Death Accidents in California?
There are many types of accidents that lead to wrongful deaths. In California there are unfortunately thousands of preventable deaths a year many of which occur on the treacherous highways and roadways. Common causes of wrongful death in California include:
- Commercial Truck Accidents;
- Motor Vehicle Accidents;
- Motorcycle Accidents;
- Drunk Driving;
- Bicycle Accidents;
- Pedestrian Accidents;
- Defective Products;
- Exposure to Toxic Waste;
- Medical Malpractice;
- Premises Accidents;
- Intentional Acts such as: murder, manslaughter, arson and other deliberate acts.
How do you Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case?
Proving negligence or willful intent is a critical step in any wrongful death case. In order to recover compensation for your loss, you must prove that your loved one’s death was caused by another’s negligence or willful conduct. To prove negligence, your attorney must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the responsible party:
- Owed a duty to the decedent to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances;
- They breached their duty of care by carelessly or intentionally failing to act as a reasonably prudent person would under the same or similar circumstances;
- Their breach of duty caused the death of the decedent; and
- The decedent’s family suffered damages.
What Compensation is Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death plaintiff may recover monetary compensation for:
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of income from the decedent;
- Medical expenses prior to death;
- Loss of household support;
- Loss of child rearing support;
- Loss of medical and retirement benefits;
- Punitive damages for intentional and egregious acts;
- Other economic losses sustained by the accidental death of a loved one; and
- Non-economic damages such as the loss of support, companionship and affection.
A surviving spouse or partner, having lost their life companion, also has a separate right to recover damages for the terrible injury to the couple’s relationship. This is called a loss of consortium. The surviving spouse / partner’s loss is recognized as a separate civil action and provides separate damages.
How are Damages Calculated in a Wrongful Death Case?
Determining the type of damages in a case is one step in obtaining compensation. The other step is to prove the value of those damages. Many costs can be straightforward in proving the value, for example there is likely a receipt and a set price for a funeral. But, the calculation of some damages can be complicated, such as the loss of guidance, protection, and support that comes with the loss of a loved one.
There are several factors that come into play when calculating the value of wrongful death damages. Such factors include:
- Age of the decedent;
- Earning capacity of the decedent;
- Training / Education of the decedent;
- Value of the household services provided by the decedent;
- Value of love, attention, community, affection, and guidance from the decedent;
- Medical status prior to the decedent’s death;
- Value of lost benefits; and
- Circumstances of the decedent’s dependents.
You should seek out an experienced wrongful death lawyer to assist you and your family in these troubling times. An experienced attorney will take on the task of maximizing the compensation you are owed so you can take the time to mourn the loss of a loved one.
How Can a Wrongful Death Attorney Help?
Investigate the cause of the wrongful death: Your attorney will have to establish all of the elements of wrongful death including proving that negligence or willful conduct caused your loved one to die. This can involve investigations, depositions, information requests, police and incident reports, and other avenues of gathering evidence. An experienced attorney will investigate and gather evidence on your behalf to build the strongest case possible.
Evaluate: It is the job of an attorney to examine all of the evidence and information available to evaluate the likelihood of success of a case. Your attorney should be able to determine where the strong points in your case is and where there are weaknesses that need to be bolstered with argument and evidence.
Establish liability: Once enough evidence has been gathered, your attorney will use the evidence to prove the responsible parties were at fault. The opposing side will do all they can to counter any and all arguments you make. It is your attorney’s job to challenge the opposing side and protect your right to compensation by establishing liability by a preponderance of the evidence.
Utilize expert witnesses: In complex cases, which most wrongful death cases are, the insurance companies will have expert witnesses on retainer to provide their opinion as a counter to the evidence you supply. Well-established law firms will have their own expert witnesses that will thoroughly examine the full extent of your wrongful death case and provide their opinion to help prove the necessary elements of a wrongful death case. Sometimes complex medical issues can be contested by opposing expert opinions. It is critically important that your attorney knows how to challenge an expert witness in trial through the tools of civil procedure available in California.
Negotiate with insurance companies: While no amount of money can heal the loss of a loved one, it can undoubtedly help victims manage the financial costs associated with the loss and help them feel that those responsible for the loss has been held partially accountable. The last thing you should have to do after losing a loved one is battle against insurance companies to receive the compensation you are entitled to. Wrongful Death Lawyers have experience navigating the legal system to recover the maximum amount of compensation for a loved one’s loss.
Navigate the Legal System: Many wrongful death cases settle before going trial, but at times the only choice to receive just compensation is to move forward with trial. Your attorney should be able to handle every step of litigation from filing a lawsuit, gathering evidence, forming arguments, negotiating settlements, and representing you at a jury trial if the liable party refuses to provide a reasonable settlement offer to you and your family. An experienced attorney will know what the right decisions are and will advise you on the decision every step of the way. When insurance companies try and bully you out of substantial sums of money because they think they can, having a team of trial attorneys on your side will show them that you cannot be pushed around in your time of mourning.
Represent you and your family in Trial: If the responsible parties fail to offer you reasonable compensation, then your attorney will move forward with litigation, including taking your case to trial if necessary to achieve just compensation. Civil trial is full of rules and procedures that must be followed and having an experienced team of trial attorneys on your side is imperative in successfully bringing a wrongful death case.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Lawsuit Following a Wrongful Death?
You must act promptly after someone dies if you believe that they have died because of someone’s negligence. There are time limits for you to act, called statutes of limitations, which require you to bring a lawsuit within a limited period or risk losing the right to seek a recovery.
Statutes of limitations balance the competing interests of plaintiffs and defendants so as to provide the plaintiff time to investigate and find an attorney while giving a defendant some assurance that after a period of time, if no action has been brought, they will not be sued. Statutes of limitations in cases of accidental death can be as short as six months (if a governmental agency caused the harm). The time you have to act depends on who caused the accidental death, how it occurred, and where it took place (different states have different statutes of limitations). In California the typical statute of limitations provides two years to bring a lawsuit for negligence but can be as short as 6 months depending on the circumstances.
Contact Our Experienced Lawyers
At the Dolan Law Firm, our attorneys seek to help you pick up the pieces and to minimize the impact that such a tragedy has on a family. We know that you cannot pay attorneys’ fees at such a difficult time, so we do all work on contingency, receiving no payment until you win compensation. The wrongful death attorneys and staff of the Dolan Law Firm care for your legal needs so you can begin the healing process and take care of those left behind. Contact our team at the Dolan Law Firm today to set up your initial legal consultant in our offices with locations in Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, San Francisco, and Oakland.