After a fatal tragedy, a victim’s family will face not only emotional devastation, but significant financial burdens as well. Medical and funeral expenses can be substantial, especially when paired with the loss of financial and household support.
If your loved one’s death resulted from someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, you might be entitled to compensation. The experienced team at Suits Litigation, Inc. can help you and your family pursue legal action to recover for your loved one’s death. Our San Jose-based practice has extensive experience pursuing claims for families in Santa Clara County and throughout California.
What Might Prompt a Wrongful Death Suit?
California’s wrongful death law allows surviving family members to sue for damages when someone dies because of someone else’s negligent, reckless, or intentional acts. In certain circumstances, someone’s failure to act — when they have a legal duty to do so — can also justify a lawsuit.
Many types of accidents and situations can lead to a wrongful death claim, including
- Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Workplace Accidents
- Premises Liability Claims
- Medical Malpractice
- Defective Products
- Construction Accidents
- Dog or Other Animal Attacks
- Exposure to Chemical or Toxic Materials
Other incidents can also form the basis for wrongful death actions. If you have lost a loved one and believe someone else may be at fault, you should consult with an experienced attorney.
How Wrongful Death and Survival Actions Compensate Family Members
A California wrongful death action can help reimburse a grieving family for financial losses related to a loved one’s death. The types of compensation available include:
- Funeral, cremation, and burial expenses.
- Loss of society, companionship, protection, and affection.
- Loss of financial support due to the loss of the deceased person’s income.
- Reasonable value of household services that would have been provided.
A wrongful death claim compensates the surviving family members for their own losses; it is not an action for financial compensation on behalf of the deceased. To recover those damages, the decedent’s estate may be able to file a California survival action. This is a claim brought by the decedent’s estate to compensate for the victim’s losses from the wrongful act.
A survival claim is similar to a personal injury action. It allows the deceased person’s estate to pursue various types of damages on their behalf, including:
- Costs for medical expenses.
- Reimbursement for property damage.
- Pain and suffering on behalf of the deceased.
- Lost wages.
- Punitive damages.
An experienced attorney can help you determine the best strategy to pursue maximum compensation in your family’s situation.
Who Recovers in a Wrongful Death or Survival Action?
A wrongful death claim is pursued by and on behalf of a victim’s surviving loved ones. Any settlement or verdict goes to a spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren, or others dependent on the decedent for support. A court may divide a settlement award among multiple surviving loved ones or direct that one or more trusts be set up with the proceeds.
A settlement or award for a survival action goes to the decedent’s estate. After paying any debts, the remainder will be distributed according to the terms of the estate plan.
Valuing a Wrongful Death Claim
California has no damages cap, which means there is no limit on how much a jury could award in a wrongful death lawsuit. Many factors contribute to how an insurance company or jury determines the value of a wrongful death claim.
Some of the most common factors include:
- The age of the decedent.
- How many children the decedent had and their ages.
- The value of the financial support provided by the decedent.
- The value of household services that were lost.
- The circumstances surrounding their death and the extent of pain and suffering.
- Any personal fault on the part of the decedent that contributed to the incident.
Discussing your situation with an experienced attorney can help you understand what your claims may be worth and the best course of action for your family.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death or Survivor Claim Take?
Many wrongful death claims are resolved without a trial. An attorney may be able to help you resolve a straightforward wrongful death insurance claim in as little as a few months. Under California law, insurance companies have a maximum of 40 days from receiving a wrongful death demand letter to respond. If more than 40 days is required to complete their investigation, they may request additional time to review the claim thoroughly.
Many wrongful death claims involve multiple insurers (on behalf of multiple defendants), which can further complicate and delay the process. If the facts of the occurrence that caused the death are disputed, resolution can take even longer.
If you cannot negotiate an acceptable settlement, you may need to pursue compensation in a jury trial. Litigating a case through trial can take many months or even years.
When Should I Talk to an Attorney?
After the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to think about pursuing a legal claim. However, you should seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. California law limits your time to pursue legal claims against the responsible parties.
Acting quickly also helps your lawyer preserve evidence, conduct a thorough and timely investigation, and initiate any other legal actions that may be necessary to ensure the success of your claim (like issuing subpoenas or submitting FOIA requests).
Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?
It is best to consult with a tax professional regarding your situation. In most cases, you do not have to report your wrongful death settlement or verdict as earned income for federal tax purposes. Settlements obtained for physical illness, injury, or death are generally nontaxable.
However, there may be tax consequences if you recover compensation for your deceased loved one’s accident-related medical expenses that were previously claimed a deduction. Other exceptions may also apply in your situation, and the tax laws and requirements change frequently.
Why Contact Suits Litigation, Inc.?
Suits Litigation, Inc. has the skills and experience necessary to help you successfully pursue wrongful death and survival actions. Our compassionate advocates will work with you to seek the best possible outcome in this overwhelming, painful time. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.