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Do you have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

Have you lost a loved one in a vehicle accident, medical malpractice or a workplace accident? If it was another party's reckless, negligent or deliberate actions that led to the fatality, your natural response might be to want to hold that person responsible for your damages -- even though no monetary award can undo your loss. You might have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

If successful, such a civil lawsuit could lead to compensation for the damages suffered by the surviving family members. Recovery could include both economic and non-economic losses.

State laws determine who may file a claim

If you are the surviving spouse or a child of the deceased loved one, you can pursue financial relief by filing a claim in a civil court. Legal counsel can answer questions about eligibility for grandparents, siblings and other extended family members under California laws. The court may order the appointment of a guardian to protect the best interests of minor children when applicable.

What makes a wrongful death lawsuit viable?

You must have a legal reason, or grounds, to file such a lawsuit. For this, you must show that the accused party's negligence caused your loved one's death. Furthermore, you must prove that it had a direct emotional and financial impact on the surviving family members. The following aspects can establish negligence:

  • Fault: You must prove that your loved one's death was not his or her own fault but brought about by the deliberate, reckless or negligent actions of the other party.
  • Damages: You must establish that the wrongful death caused quantifiable damages to you and other surviving family members.

What are the compensatory damages you can claim?

California laws allow the civil justice system to help surviving family members cope with untimely, unanticipated deaths of loved ones due to negligent acts by other parties. The damages you may claim could include the following:

  • Financial losses: You may claim the costs of any medical care in the time leading up to your loved one's death -- if it was not instant. Furthermore, any expenses related to the end-of-life arrangements may form part of your documented claims along with lost wages and potential future earnings. Children may even claim loss of potential inheritances.
  • Emotional damages: Along with the loss of your loved one's care, nurturing and guidance, you can claim loss of love, consortium and companionship. The mental anguish, pain and suffering that surviving family members suffer as the result of the defendant's negligence are typically also compensable.
  • Punitive damages: While civil lawsuits focus on recovery of damages rather than punishment, these damages aim to discourage future reckless or negligent actions by the defendant. However, awards of punitive damages are rare and not allowed in all states.

Statute of limitations

If you delay filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you may exceed the California statute of limitations and forego the chance of recovering damages. Others in similar situations in California seek the support and guidance of an experienced wrongful death attorney to assess their claims for viability, answer questions and navigate ensuing legal proceedings.

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