Not many people actually understand what a wrongful death claim is -- and even fewer understand how they work.
That can cause people to walk away from a tragic situation feeling like they have no hope of seeing justice for the needless death of their loved one.
This is what you should know.
Wrongful death claims allow you to take legal action
When someone dies due to the negligence of another, a wrongful death claim allows the deceased's close relatives to file a civil claim for their losses. Those losses include things like:
- Funeral costs
- The money that the deceased would have likely earned during his or her lifetime and presumably provided as support to his or her family
- The loss of comfort and companionship that the survivors experience
That's why only a few people have legal standing to make the claim.
In California, the deceased's spouse or domestic partner and children (and, in some cases, grandchildren) are the primary people with the right to file a wrongful death claim. That right is also sometimes extended to those who would have been entitled as heirs to the deceased if he or she has no children -- like the deceased's parents.
Wrongful death verdicts don't rely on criminal charges
Some people think that wrongful death actions are related to criminal charges. They aren't.
In many cases, there isn't enough evidence to show that someone is criminally guilty of another person's death or criminal laws don't really apply. That's why wrongful death lawsuits exist -- they take place in civil court where the standard of evidence required to win a case is much lower and criminal statutes don't come into play.
For example, you may be certain that your husband's doctor made a mistake that no doctor should have made -- and it caused your husband's death. However, there are no criminal charges that apply. It's considered a medical mistake, or malpractice. A wrongful death suit gives you the chance to take your case to court and ask for justice for the deceased and compensation for your losses.
Source: FindLaw, "California Wrongful Death Laws," accessed Oct. 20, 2017