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Under California law, the surviving family members of someone who died as a result of the unlawful conduct of another may bring an action for wrongful death. A death is “wrongful” if it is caused by negligent, reckless or intentional misconduct. Death resulting from medical negligence, an automobile accident or even a slip and fall are but a few examples. Only surviving family members (heirs at law, such as spouse and children) may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. It is not enough to have been close friends or even someone who lived with the deceased.
In a death action, there are certain limitations on the damages recoverable against the defendant. The general (or non-economic) damages recoverable include compensation for the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support, enjoyment of sexual relations, training and guidance. Damages are not permitted for grief, sorrow, or mental anguish, or the decedent’s pain and suffering. Additionally, juries are not allowed to consider the poverty or wealth of the decedent.
In addition to the general damages, there are special (or economic) losses that may be recovered as a result of losing a loved one. Those “economic” losses include the financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family, during their life expectancy immediately before his/her death or the life expectancy of the surviving family members, whichever is shorter. Compensation may also be awarded for the loss of gifts or benefits that the family would have received from the decedent, funeral and burial expenses and the reasonable value of household services that the decedent would have provided.
Life expectancy (the number of years the deceased would have lived absent the misconduct) is often determined by reference to generally accepted tables setting forth the average life span of a person of the same age. For example, a male 55 years of age is expected to live another 24.4 years. Other factors that may be considered are the health, habits, activities, lifestyle, and occupation of the deceased just prior to their passing.
If you believe you have lost a loved one because of another's wrongful conduct, please call Mr. Ralph for a free consultation.