Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences we can face. The death of a family member can be even more painful to face if he or she lost her life due to someone else’s negligent, reckless, or intentionally violent behavior.
In these situations, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party to claim compensation for the damages you and your family suffered as a result of the incident that led to his or her death. However, proving a wrongful death case requires satisfying a series of specific legal elements.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
In all states, only certain individuals can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased. If you qualify, you must file the lawsuit within two years of the date of your loved one’s death, and you must prove that you are one of the following people in relation to the deceased.
- A spouse or domestic partner
- A surviving child
- A person who is in the line of succession to inherit the deceased’s property in the event that no spouse or child exists, such as a parent or sibling
- A person who is financially dependent on the deceased, such as a stepchild, a putative spouse or putative children, or parents
You can file a lawsuit against any party that may be at-fault for the death of your loved one, including individuals, corporations, hospitals, or government agencies. You can file a wrongful death claim against a single person or entity, or multiple parties. However, to prove your case and claim compensation, you will need to provide evidence to support a series of four elements.
Element #1: Duty of Care
Before you can establish that a wrongful death occurred and that the at-fault party is responsible, you will first need to prove that the at-fault party owed your loved one a duty of care at the time of the accident. To prove duty of care, you can provide a copy of medical records, a lease agreement, surveillance footage, and other pieces of evidence that establish the relationship between the at-fault party and your loved one.
For example, if your loved one died in a car accident, you can prove that the at-fault driver owed him or her an obligation to follow the rules of the road and to drive safely. If your loved one died due to dangerous conditions in an apartment building, you can prove that the landlord had a duty to maintain safe premises and respond to hazardous conditions promptly.
Element #2: Breach of Care
After you establish the responsibility that the at-fault party had to your loved one, you must prove that he or she breached the duty of care in some way. Proving this element will vary based on the circumstances of your case. For example, if a driver ran a red light and crashed into your loved one’s vehicle, you can establish the breach by showing police records and surveillance footage.
Element #3: Causation
Once you establish that the breach occurred, you will next need to prove that the breach of care directly led to the death of your loved one. You can prove this by displaying medical records, witness testimony, surveillance footage, expert witnesses, and many more pieces of evidence. Your attorney can help you determine which evidence you need to prove causation.
Element #4: Damages
Finally, you must prove that the death of your loved one led to damages that you and your family members can collect in your lawsuit. Damages in wrongful death cases differ from personal injury lawsuits and can include any of the following.
- Final medical expenses for the deceased
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of future earnings
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of consortium or companionship
If you are grappling with the death of a loved one in California, you may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit on his or her behalf. To do so, you will need an attorney on your side who is familiar with the legal process that governs these lawsuits and who has the resources necessary to help you build your case. Contact a Bakersfield wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case and to begin the filing process.