An Overview of Wrongful Death Suits
The death of a person because of the misconduct or negligence of a third party may be considered a wrongful death, and a lawsuit for that may be filed by surviving family members of the decedent. This may be death due to murder and other criminal activities where the same evidence brought in a criminal proceeding may be used although the standard of proof in a civil action is lower.
A defendant in a civil lawsuit may be acquitted in criminal court but found liable in a wrongful death suit. A classic case is that of O.J. Simpson who was acquitted of murdering his wife in 1994 but found liable for her death as well as that of a man named Ronald Goldman three years later, the jury deciding that an award totaling $33.5 million was appropriate.
Each state has its own set of statutes for wrongful death suits, but in general a wrongful death suit can be filed by close family members or a personal representative of the victim’s estate, and the award, if forthcoming is divided equitably among the plaintiffs. In some states, two separate actions can be filed for the benefit of the surviving family members and for the benefit of the estate. In California, however, only one civil action can be brought for a wrongful death suit (California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60-377.62).
For a wrongful death suit to prosper, the following must be in evidence: someone died; death was caused by negligence or intent to do harm of another person or entity; surviving family members experienced pecuniary harm as a result of the victim’s death; and there is a personal representative of the estate. As such, a wrongful death suit may apply in a vehicular (land , air or water) accidents, occupational exposure to toxic substances, criminal behavior, and death occurring while engaged in a supervised activity i.e. school.
Damages in a wrongful death suit can be extensive, as explained on the website of Habush Habush & Rottier S.C. ®, and may include compensation for actual pecuniary losses. This may seem simple, but in fact it is difficult to determine the extent of this because so many factors impinge such as medical and burial expenses, future income, life expectancy, and loss of parental guidance. The jury may also award punitive and survival action damages which includes the pain and suffering experienced by the victim prior to actual death.
A wrongful death suit is complicated, and needs the expert legal knowledge of a wrongful death lawyer to carry out properly. If you believe you are entitled to compensation for the death of a loved one, do not hesitate to find a competent lawyer in California to help you.