Understanding the Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case in Orange County

Have you lost a family member due to another person’s negligence or reckless behavior? You may be eligible to seek monetary compensation, also known as damages, through a wrongful death claim in a civil court.

While no amount of money could compensate for your loved one’s death, an award of wrongful death damages can relieve some of your financial and emotional stress during this difficult time. Read on to learn about the types of damages in a wrongful death case in Orange County, CA, and what compensation may be available to you.

Who Can Seek Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In a California wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased person’s surviving family members can seek compensation from the responsible party.

Heirs

State law gives precedence to the immediate family members of the deceased individual. The order of priority under wrongful death laws is as follows:

  • Surviving spouse or registered domestic partner
  • Children, including adopted children
  • Grandchildren, if the deceased’s children are dead
  • Parents
  • Siblings or children of departed siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Children of a spouse who passed away
  • Anyone entitled to inherit from the deceased under state laws on intestate succession

Dependents

The following parties can also file a wrongful death claim, whether or not they qualify under the previous section, if they were financially dependent on the decedent:

  • Putative spouse (someone who believes in good faith that they were married to the deceased)
  • Children of a putative spouse
  • Stepchildren
  • Parents

Minors

A minor child, whether or not they qualify under the previous two sections, has the right to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit if at the time of the deceased’s death:

  • They lived in the decedent’s household for the previous six months at a minimum; and
  • Depended on the decedent for 50% or more of their financial support.

What Damages Are Available in Wrongful Death Claims?

Depending on the nature and extent of your losses, you may recover the following types of damages in a wrongful death case:

Compensatory Damages

As the name suggests, compensatory damages aim for wrongful death to compensate you and other eligible family members for the loss of your loved one. There are two types of compensatory damages in a wrongful death lawsuit: economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic or financial damages can compensate you for monetary losses such as:

  • Funeral expenses for the deceased
  • Lost wages, earning capacity, and other income the deceased would have earned had they lived
  • Financial support the deceased would have provided, including lost benefits or gifts
  • The dollar value of household services the deceased would have provided

Non-Economic Damages

The goal of these wrongful death damages is to compensate you for intangible losses with no clear dollar value, including:

  • The loss of the decedent’s love, care, comfort, affection, companionship, protection, assistance, society, and moral support
  • The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance
  • The loss of sexual intimacy with the decedent, also known as loss of consortium, if relevant

Since 2022, you can also recover wrongful death damages for your loved one’s pain and suffering or disfigurement. You may not, however, recover damages for your own pain and suffering or mental anguish caused by the victim’s death.

Punitive Damages

Wrongful death punitive damages aren’t a form of compensation. With punitive damages, the law seeks to punish the wrongdoer and deter them and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

Punitive damages aren’t available in wrongful death lawsuits unless the death was due to a felony and the wrongdoer was convicted on criminal charges of homicide. However, punitive damages may be able available through a separate survival action.

What Is a Survival Action?

In some cases, the decedent’s estate may initiate a type of lawsuit called survival action to recover compensation for losses suffered by the deceased person, not the surviving family members.

Damages available in survival actions include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Punitive damages, in cases of egregious or malicious behavior

What Are the Requirements To Bring a Survival Action?

The deceased person’s estate can bring a survival action for two types of losses:

  • Claims unrelated to the decedent’s death which they had the right to pursue when they were alive, and/or
  • A personal injury claim for the fatal injury that caused their death, as long as the deceased person did not die instantaneously

Additionally, to be eligible for punitive damages, the deceased must have suffered some economic harm, no matter how minuscule, in relation to the accident.

How Are Damages in Wrongful Death Claims Calculated?

California law doesn’t set a cap on wrongful death damages except for a¬†statutory limit on compensation for medical malpractice.

In all other cases, the jury will decide the amount of wrongful death damages based on various factors, including:

  • The average life expectancy of a person of the victim’s age
  • The decedent’s health, occupation, lifestyle, habits, and activities
  • Testimony by expert witnesses

Usually, the jury will consult the life expectancy tables in¬†Vital Statistics of the United States, but they aren’t binding. The judge in wrongful death lawsuits will direct the jury to keep in mind that some people live longer and others die sooner than the official life expectancy.

The jury is not to consider your emotional trauma, including grief, sorrow, mental anguish, pain, and suffering.

When determining your compensation amount in a wrongful death claim, the jury must reduce economic damages, such as compensation for future lost income, to their present cash value. There is no such requirement for non-economic damages.

Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney in Orange County

If you’ve lost a loved one in a wrongful death accident, you may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages. At Khalil Law Group, we can help you seek fair compensation for your loss through a wrongful death claim.

Our wrongful death attorneys can advise you on the types of damages in a wrongful death case in Orange County, CA. We can support you at every turn if you’re eligible to seek compensation. Call (714) 617-7870 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney.