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What Damages Are Available In A Wrongful Death Case?

The loss of a loved one may cause immense suffering to the surviving family members. Apart from emotional distress arising out of the deceased’s death, they are bound to suffer financial losses. Typically these losses arise from the medical expenses as well as burial expenses incurred throughout the difficult period. 

For this reason, the law provides that the decedent’s family members have a right to pursue compensation for their losses by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Here are the damages that you may be eligible to recover in a wrongful death claim in California.

Understanding California’s Wrongful Death Law

Following the death of a loved one that occurred due to someone else’s negligence or intentional act, the decedent’s family members have recourse in law. Section 377.60 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure allows surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the tortfeasor.

Essentially, this type of claim allows them to recover any losses suffered as a result of the death of their loved one, and at the same time, it cushions them from incurring any losses in the future.

What Are Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

“Damages” is a legal term that denotes the plaintiff’s claimed losses in a wrongful death claim. In other words, it is the compensation sought after by a plaintiff when they file a wrongful death or any other personal injury claim in California.

What Damages Can be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case in California?

In the event of a successful claim, the plaintiff, who in this case is the decedent’s family members, may be entitled to damages which are intended to compensate them for their losses. Such compensatory damages may include economic and non-economic losses as provided under California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) No. 3921.

Economic Damages

California Civil Jury Instructions No. 3921 provides the following economic damages recoverable in a claim:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Any financial support the deceased would have contributed to the family during their lifetime
  • The loss of gifts or benefits the plaintiff would have expected to receive from the deceased
  • The reasonable dollar value of household services that the deceased would have provided to the heirs 

Non-economic Damages

The non-economic damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit are for the following impact on the family members:

  • Loss of the deceased’s love, comfort, companionship, affection, protection, assistance and moral support
  • Loss of the deceased’s guidance
  • The loss of enjoyment of sexual relations

Noteworthy is that there is no universal cap for deciding the amount of non-economic damages in a California wrongful death lawsuit. In essence, this means that the jury may award any reasonable amount to the present situation based on the evidence and common sense.

How is the Value of a Wrongful Death Claim Calculated in California?

Typically most wrongful death claims in California involve an insurance company. This means that negotiations for settlement are often common and are likely to occur until an amicable agreement regarding a fair amount is arrived at. 

However, if an out-of-court settlement doesn’t solve the underlying issue of compensation, the case may proceed to court and is decided by a jury and a judge. Either way, the party tasked with determining the appropriate amount to award the plaintiff will use a certain process to determine the fair award.

To put this into context, economic damages are calculated using hard evidence. Hard evidence denotes receipts, bills and the invoices of the deceased’s past pay stubs. 

Furthermore, the surviving family members’ economic losses associated with the death will be combined with the future projected losses to arrive at an exact or estimated value of an appropriate amount of economic damages.

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more complex and involve multiple factors. The value will be calculated based on what the jury deems reasonable and is based on evidence and common sense. 

Does California’s Wrongful Death Law Place a Cap on Damages?

California doesn’t place a limit on how much compensation can be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. Oftentimes, the amount of compensation awarded, especially for economic damages, is discretional. However, the only exceptional circumstances where a cap is placed on damages is in a claim involving medical malpractice.

Put briefly, in a medical malpractice wrongful death claim, the deceased’s family members can’t recover more than $250,000 in non-economic damages.

Can Heirs Get Punitive Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

The simple answer is no. California’s wrongful death law doesn’t allow an heir to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages can only be recovered through a survival action filed on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

The wrongful death statute of limitations is two years. This means that a claim for compensation must be filed within two years after the death of a loved one. 

It is imperative to seek help from a competent and qualified wrongful death attorney who will help you understand the law applicable in your case and, at the same time, shed light on the options available. This helps you make an informed decision on the basis of a successful claim.

Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys in California

If your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence, you might be entitled to damages under California’s wrongful death statute. However, obtaining compensation is not straightforward. There are certain things that you must satisfy to be eligible for compensation, and at the same time, you need to have filed the claim within the time frame provided under the statute of limitations.

For this reason, you need a competent and qualified wrongful death attorney at LA Century Law that will help secure your rights and interests throughout the claim process. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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