victim dies during personal injury case

What Happens if an Injury Victim Passes Away While Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim?

Sometimes an accident that causes personal injury initially can end up with the victim passing away. In such situations, California law permits both a personal injury action by the injured individual while they are alive and a wrongful death action by the heirs after death from the accident.

Under California law, a wrongful death claim is a civil case. The survivors of the decedent can bring the case directly to court. Also, the personal representative of the deceased individual’s estate can file a civil lawsuit. The fault is expressed only in terms of financial damages, which the defendant will be ordered by the court to pay to the deceased’s survivors if the lawsuit is successful.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Case in California?

According to California law, only certain individuals can file a wrongful death lawsuit. More specifically, the relevant statue enables only the below-mentioned parties to file a wrongful death case:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse
  • The decedent’s surviving domestic partner
  • The decedent’s surviving offspring

In case the decedent does not have any surviving relatives, then a wrongful death case may be filed by anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession”. This can include the decedent’s parents or the decedent’s siblings, depending who is living at the time of the deceased individual’s death.

If they can prove that they were financially dependent on the decedent, the following individuals can also file a wrongful death case under California law:

  • The decedent’s “putative spouse” and children of the putative spouse
  • The decedent’s stepchildren

Adequate Proof of Negligence

Did your loved one pass away due to another’s negligence? Unfortunately, many accidental deaths occur due to someone else’s wrongful actions. In such cases, you must adequately satisfy all specific legal elements related to negligence. These elements include the following:

  • The responsible party had a duty of care owed to victims
  • The party violated that duty of care
  • The breach caused the incident and injuries that led to the victim’s death
  • The death caused losses to the claimants

Duties of care can differ depending on the specificities of the type of incident that occurred. Below are some examples:

Example 1

A motorist has a duty to drive in a reasonably safe way, depending on the road and weather conditions. This duty can be breached in various ways, such as drunk driving, distracted driving, aggressive driving, violating traffic rules, and other reckless acts.

Example 2

A business has a duty to sell goods that are safe for their intended usage and to warn customers about possible hazards. In case a company manufactures or sells a faulty or unreasonably risky product without adequate warnings, this can comprise a breach of duty.

Example 3

A medical practitioner is expected to provide the level of care that other similarly trained and reasonable practitioners would offer in the same circumstances. If a doctor’s actions fall below that standard and a fatal error occurs, it is considered a breach of duty.

Example 4

A property owner is duty-bound to make sure that their premises are free of hazardous conditions. If an owner was aware or should have been aware of peril and did not fix the condition or warn visitors, they are in violation of the duty of care.

Upon establishing the breach of duty, you must present proof that the breach caused or contributed to your loved one’s injuries and death.

Wrongful Death Claim: Damages

Various personal injury damages are available in wrongful death cases in California. The facts of a particular case will determine the specific amounts involved.

Damages are often divided according to whether they compensate the estate for losses related to the death or the surviving relatives for the personal losses they experienced due to the death. The losses that are usually attributed to the estate include the following:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Medical and hospital expenses for the decedent’s final injury or illness
  • Loss earnings, including potential income the decedent would reasonably have been expected to earn if they had survived

The losses that are usually attributed to the surviving relatives include:

  • The value associated with household services
  • The loss of expected financial support
  • The loss of love, attention, moral support, affection, guidance, and community

Time Frame to File a Wrongful Death Claim for a Loved One

Under California law, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed within two years of the decedent’s passing. If the family is unable to file a claim in the state’s civil court system within two years, it will almost certainly lose the right to file a case at all.

Legal Help from a Seasoned California Wrongful Death Attorney

In general, it can be a complicated task to prove the elements of a wrongful death claim, though these elements are necessary for you to recover damages. A skilled and knowledgeable attorney at the law offices of Garmo & Garmo can help you obtain a favorable outcome in a wrongful death case. Call today at (619) 441-2500 for a free initial consultation.