You can sue for wrongful death. What does that mean?

A wrongful death claim can be brought against a defendant who has caused that death of an individual through negligence or an intentional act. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit which is brought to the court directly by a representative of estate and/or the survivors of the decedent against the party that is legally responsible for the death.

A wrongful death claim can arise after the following situations:

  • When a victim is intentionally killed
  • When a victim dies due to medical malpractice
  • When a victim dies in a car accident involving negligence

In order to find a defendant liable in the case of a wrongful death claim, it falls on the plaintiff(s) to prove that negligence or an intentional act resulted in the death of the victim. It must be proven that the defendant owed the victim a standard duty of care, but breached this duty through his or her actions. As a result, this breach of duty was the direct cause of the victim’s death and that the death caused the damages that the plaintiff in the claim is attempting to recover.

Examples of wrongful death damages include loss of consortium, loss of the deceased’s expected income, and the costs of medical treatments incurred by the deceased as a result of the injury prior to death.

A qualified and experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to provide you with advice and counsel about the type of damages you may recover, whether there are damage caps, and the best course of action to take.

How do you know if negligence was involved?

“Negligence” is a general term, as there are many types of negligence. Therefore, it’s important to understand which type you’re attempting to prove in your wrongful death suit. 

The most common types of negligence that can be proven are:

  • Contributory negligence: the plaintiff caused his or her own injuries and is not eligible to receive any damages 
  • Comparative negligence: the plaintiff is marginally responsible for the injuries to him or herself; this is reflected in the percentage of damages he or she is responsible for
  • Gross negligence: the negligence was so egregious that it showed a complete lack of concern for the safety of the victim; it goes much further than a simple careless action

Gross negligence typically applies in cases involving wrongful death. 

An experienced attorney can give you your options

Many wrongful death lawsuits settle before ever reaching a court of law. Settlement options include: 

  • Mediation: both parties discuss the case with a professional mediator who provides recommendations on how to settle the case
  • Arbitration: A judge or similar authority listens to both parties in a series of meetings and then makes a ruling in favor of either the defendant or the plaintiff. 

If the arbitration is binding, the verdict is final. If it is non-binding, both parties can choose to go to trial if neither side agrees with the verdict. 

Scott S. Harris, California wrongful death attorney, can explain your rights, the different types of damages that are available to you, and the options for settling your case.