How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death is a death caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another person. (CA Code of Civ. Pro. § 377.60) Claims generally are made by the surviving spouse, parents, or children of the decedent. As the plaintiffs, it’s their job to prove their case.
Since the victim is not there to testify, the surviving family members will need to establish negligence of the party responsible for causing the wrongful death. This creates a litany of issues, which is why it is so important to have the right attorneys and investigators investigate the matter.
As you proceed to build your wrongful death claim, it’s important to keep in mind how to go about proving the case. We have provided answers to some of the most common questions we receive from family members that have lost a loved one.
How do you prove wrongful death in California?
To prove wrongful death in California, you must prove the elements of the claim without the benefit of testimony from the victim. Other witnesses and tangible evidence may be used to establish the wrongful act, causation and damages to prove the elements of the claim and the right to compensation.
Proving wrongful death in California
The party bringing the claim has the burden to prove their right to damages, and are generally in the form of money. In wrongful death cases, the party bringing the claim is the surviving family.
In addition, there are some differences in the burden of proof required that may allow damages to be proven with other witnesses and evidence. A wrongful death claim focuses on the loss of the family members and the victim’s contributions to the family.
On the other hand, a personal injury claim focuses on the losses and suffering of the victim. Understanding what you must prove, and working to build admissible evidence of these elements, allows you to make your claim successful.
What types of evidence may be used to prove wrongful death in California?
As you prepare your claim for wrongful death, you may rely on any of the following evidence:
- Testimony of witnesses involved in the accident
- Testimony of family members and others familiar with the family
- Statements and findings of law enforcement and other investigators who examined the accident scene
- Admissions that the opposing party made to others
- Photographs and video of the accident and its aftermath
- Accident reconstruction
- Medical records and expert testimony
- Financial records, wage statements and occupational experts
- Items and objects damaged
- Employment and training records
- Receipts and loss statements
- Death certificate and autopsy reports
These are just examples of common evidence used in wrongful death claims. You must investigate and determine the best evidence to present in your situation.
What do you have to prove in a California wrongful death claim?
Proving a wrongful death claim in California means establishing each element of the offense. If even one element of the case is missing, the case fails. Proving a wrongful death claim in California means providing evidence of each of the following:
Negligence or a wrongful act
Negligence or a wrongful act is the foundation of any wrongful death claim. For a party to be liable to pay damages, they must have acted negligently or somehow wrongfully. It’s the same standard that applies in all personal injury claims. Negligence may be an affirmative action, or it may be a failure to act.
To prove negligence, you must prove the standard of care and a breach of the duty of care. Witnesses may be used as well as other forms of evidence like documents, violations of laws and codes and photographs that show the accident scene. Negligence may be the basis of a claim, but recklessness and intentional wrongful acts may also form the basis of a wrongful death claim.
Note: The duty of care may vary depending on the cause of the injury. Identifying the standard of care ensures that you demonstrate the correct facts showing the legal liability of the defendant.
A death occurred
Proving a wrongful death claim requires proving that a death occurred. This may be proven with a death certificate and medical testimony. An autopsy may show the manner of death.
The victim’s death was the result of the wrongful act
Along with proving that a death occurred, you must prove that the death resulted from the negligence or wrongful act of the defendant. Another name for this legal concept is causation. Usually, you will rely on expert testimony to speak to the cause of death and how the accident caused fatal injuries.
Once the plaintiffs have established that the defendant is liable for a wrongful act, and that the wrongful act caused the victim’s death, they must prove their damages. Of course, damages have occurred – you have suffered the unimaginable loss of your loved one. Specific damages that you may prove for compensation are funeral and burial costs, lost financial support from the victim, lost household services, love, companionship, comfort and moral support and other losses.
Proving these losses may require testimony, information about life expectancy, the victim’s education and income and other information that may be relevant to showing what the family has lost in the loss of their loved one.
The victims have standing to bringing the case
Only qualifying family members may bring a wrongful death claim. The plaintiffs should be prepared to show their standing to bring the case under California law.
In addition to proving each element of the case, the plaintiffs must be prepared to refute evidence that is presented by the defense. They may disagree factually with some of the evidence, or they may present affirmative defenses.
Lawyers for Proving Wrongful Death
Proving a wrongful death claim can be a complex undertaking. By carefully reviewing the elements that you must prove, you can gather the appropriate evidence.
At LA Century Law, we take on difficult cases, and win. When you need help after the unimaginable loss of a loved one, we’re here to prove the case and your right to compensation. Contact us today to talk about how we can bring your case and seek justice for your loved one and your family.