Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Orange County: What You Need To Know

Dealing with the loss of a family member is never easy but can be especially harrowing if their death occurred due to someone’s negligence or intentional act. While money provides little consolation, surviving family members may be able to seek financial compensation via a wrongful death lawsuit.

This article provides an overview of filing a wrongful death claim in Orange County, CA. Read on to learn about the legal requirements and factors that can impact the outcome of your wrongful death case.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

In legal terms, “wrongful death” is death caused by the intentional, reckless, or negligent behavior of another. The deceased person’s estate and close family members are usually eligible to seek financial compensation (“damages”).

Note that a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case, meaning you can only pursue a civil remedy in the form of monetary payment from the responsible party.

Depending on the facts of the case, your loved one’s death may also give rise to criminal charges and a separate homicide lawsuit in a criminal court. If the criminal case ends with a conviction, the wrongdoer will face jail or prison time, probation, and/or other sanctions.

Accidents That Can Give Rise to a Wrongful Death Claim

Almost any situation involving negligence, recklessness, or intentional behavior in which a person dies can be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. Common examples include:

  • Animal attacks like dog bites
  • Traffic crashes, such as motorcycle or car accident cases
  • Medical malpractice, such as when a doctor fails to administer the correct treatment and the patient dies
  • Dangerous product defects
  • Intentional criminal acts like assault and murder

Who Has the Right to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Orange County?

The surviving family members of the deceased person have the right to file a wrongful death suit. Immediate family members have precedence. The order of priority goes like this:

  • Spouse or registered domestic partner
  • Children, including adopted children
  • Grandchildren, if the deceased’s children are also dead
  • Other minors who lived in the deceased’s household for at least six months and depended on them for 50% or more of their financial support
  • Parents (if the victim was a minor or unmarried with no children, the right of priority to file a suit goes to the parents first)
  • Siblings or children of departed siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Children of any spouse who passed away
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to inherit from the deceased under California’s laws on intestate succession

When too many people are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s often more practical for one attorney to represent all plaintiffs. In such cases, you may want to consider having the personal representative of the decedent’s estate file one claim on behalf of all interested parties. The court will then distribute the settlement in line with state laws.

What Compensation Is Available in Wrongful Death Claims?

Damages in a wrongful death case aim to compensate heirs for the value of the support their family members would have provided had they lived. Wrongful death settlements may pay out both economic and non-economic damages.

There is no cap on damages in a California wrongful death lawsuit except for the statutory limit on medical malpractice damages.

Economic Damages

Economic or monetary damages in a wrongful death settlement can include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost wages and other income the deceased would have earned had they lived
  • Any financial support the decedent would have provided to the family, including gifts or benefits
  • The dollar value of household services the decedent would have performed

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic wrongful death damages include compensation for:

  • The loss of your loved one’s love, care, affection, comfort, assistance, companionship, protection, society, and moral support
  • The loss of your loved one’s training and guidance
  • For spouses or domestic partners, the loss of sexual intimacy
  • The decedent’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement

Punitive damages aren’t usually available in a wrongful death lawsuit unless your family member’s death was due to a felony homicide and the wrongdoer was convicted. However, you may be able to seek punitive damages in a separate survival action on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits vs. Survival Actions

Plaintiffs in Orange County often pursue wrongful death suits in combination with another type of civil lawsuit: survival actions. The deceased’s personal representative can bring a survival action on behalf of their estate to seek compensation for losses suffered by the victim (rather than their family).

A survival action can compensate the deceased’s estate for two types of losses:

  • Claims unrelated to the victim’s death which the deceased had the right to pursue in their lifetime, and/or
  • A personal injury claim for the injuries that caused the death, as long as the victim survived those injuries for at least some time (no matter how short)

Damages available in survival actions include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Punitive damages

What Is the Deadline for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Orange County?

The time limit, also known as the statute of limitations, for filing a lawsuit varies depending on your location and the cause of action. Every state has its own wrongful death statute of limitations.

In California, you have two years from the date of your loved one’s passing to initiate a wrongful death action.

For survival actions, the estate has two years to file a claim from the latter of either:

  • The date of the injury
  • Six months after the decedent’s death

Have You Lost a Loved One in an Accident? Contact an Experienced Attorney Today.

If the loss of your family member was someone else’s fault, you should be able to seek justice for your loved one’s death. At Khalil Law Group, our wrongful death attorneys believe the responsible parties should be held liable.

Our legal team has many years of experience representing family members in wrongful death cases. Call (714) 617-5189 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with an Orange County wrongful death attorney.