Navigating the Complexities of Wrongful Death Cases Involving Minors

Wrongful death cases involving minors are devastating. Whether a child has lost one or both of their parents or has died in an unfortunate accident, the legal process that ensues is emotionally challenging for everyone involved. Read on to learn what to expect and what steps to take to maximize your payout.

Can a Minor File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

A minor can file a wrongful death in California. The following people, among others, can file a wrongful death claim:

  • The decedent’s biological and adopted children
  • Stepchildren and children of the decedent’s putative spouse (a person who mistakenly believed in good faith that they were lawfully married to the deceased), if they were financially dependent on the decedent
  • Minors who, at the time of the decedent’s death, had lived in their household for the previous 180 days and depended on the decedent for 50% or more of their financial support

Appointing a Guardian

While minors can file wrongful death claims, they can’t do it on their own: They need a parent or guardian to legally represent them and file and pursue the claim on their behalf. If there is no living parent or guardian, the court will appoint one — usually, a close relative of the child.

In some cases, the child’s parents may have designated a trusted adult to act as the child’s guardian in their will. If the parents left no instructions, the court will choose a guardian. If the child has close surviving relatives, such as grandparents or adult siblings, the court will probably assign guardianship to them unless there are aggravating factors.

What Compensation Is Available To Minors in Wrongful Death Claims?

Compensation available in wrongful death cases involving minors includes both economic and non-economic damages. However, punitive damages are not available in wrongful death cases in California.

Economic Damages

Economic damages have a clear monetary value and include:

  • Burial and funeral costs
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of the decedent’s financial support, gifts, and benefits
  • Loss of the decedent’s household services

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages can provide compensation for losses that don’t have a clear dollar value but are nonetheless significant. Examples include the loss of the decedent’s:

  • Love
  • Care
  • Comfort
  • Affection
  • Society
  • Guidance
  • Companionship
  • Assistance
  • Protection
  • Moral support

The value of non-economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits involving minors can be substantial. Jurors are more likely to award higher awards to children who have recently lost one or both of their parents or parents who have lost a child.

When Can a Minor Access the Payout in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Whether the case settles out of court or goes to trial, the minor child won’t be able to access the money right away. Wrongful death payouts can have multiple recipients, such as:

  • The person who paid for the deceased’s medical bills
  • Health care providers who stand to collect outstanding liens
  • Family members who covered the funeral expenses
  • The minor’s guardian who may be owed compensation for caring for the child

After paying any other recipients and creditors, the remainder of the funds will be placed in a trust for the child’s benefit. Once the minor turns 18, they will be able to access the trust funds.

Putting the money in a trust is often to the child’s advantage, as trust funds can accrue interest over time, leaving the child with more money than the original award.

Can You File a Wrongful Death Claim If You Lost a Minor Child in an Accident?

California laws allow anyone who has care or custody of a minor to file a wrongful death action if the child dies due to an unforeseeable mistake.

However, if a minor is killed by an intentional act, only the child’s parents, grandparents, or legal guardians may file a lawsuit.

In either case, both parents have a right to recover damages as long as they aren’t divorced or separated. If so, only the parent who had custody of the minor at the time of death has a right to compensation.

How Much Compensation Can Parents Seek for the Wrongful Death of a Minor Child?

Settlement and jury awards in wrongful death cases vary greatly. The exact amount will depend on the circumstances of your case, but some factors that can influence the final award include:

  • The child’s age, gender, and overall health status
  • The life and work expectancy of the child
  • The child’s lifestyle and habits
  • The relationship between the plaintiff(s) and the child
  • The age and health status of the plaintiff(s)

Calculating the value of a wrongful death claim is typically easier for minors aged 15-18, as you have more clarity on their projected earning capacity and how much they would have made if they were still alive. The younger the child, the more difficult it is to estimate their work expectancy.

To have as accurate an estimate as possible, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney. They will be able to analyze your case, identify all potentially recoverable losses, and provide an estimate of the full value of your claim.

How Long Do You Have To File a Wrongful Death Claim Involving a Minor in California?

The standard deadline, also known as a statute of limitations, to file a wrongful death suit in California is two years from the date of death.

While this deadline is usually very strict, the courts may extend the time frame in cases involving minors to up to two years after their 18th birthday. However, it is rarely a good idea to wait that long.

Wrongful death claims can be complicated, so the sooner you start building your case and legal strategy, the better. Additionally, the longer you wait, the likelier it is that crucial evidence may be destroyed or go missing.

Contact Our Experienced Wrongful Death Attorneys Today

No one should go alone through wrongful death cases involving minors. At Khalil Law Group, our experienced wrongful death lawyers can guide you with confidence and compassion through every step of the process. Call (714) 617-7870 to schedule your free consultation with a wrongful death attorney in Orange County, CA.

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