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How to Prove Damages in a California Wrongful Death Suit

Posted by Emily Ruby | Dec 14, 2023 | 0 Comments

Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult experience, and the thought of filing a wrongful death lawsuit may not be at the forefront of your mind. However, pursuing legal action is crucial for both justice and financial recovery for the surviving family members.

To successfully navigate this process in California, it's important to understand the legal provisions surrounding wrongful death claims. Proving liability is a key aspect, but equally important is demonstrating the damages suffered as a result of the loss.

At Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys, our Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers have extensive experience handling wrongful death cases and proving damages in a wrongful death suits. We can provide valuable assistance in proving your claim. Our team will leverage our connections, expertise, and track record to position your case for success.

Reach out to us today for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you through this challenging time.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California

A civil action may be taken against a person or entity whose careless or deliberate behavior caused the death of another individual. If you've lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence, a wrongful death claim could help you seek justice and compensation.

Parties Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In California, not everyone can file such claims. The state law limits who can pursue these cases to specific individuals tied closely to the deceased. Primarily, it's limited to the surviving family members like spouses and children or their legal representative.

The legal process, while seeming straightforward on paper, requires expertise in understanding complex elements of proving fault beyond reasonable doubt - hence needing assistance from skilled wrongful death attorneys becomes crucial for success.

Wrongful Deaths: More Than Just Fatal Accidents

It is crucial to broaden our understanding of what constitutes a "wrongful death" in the United States. It goes beyond fatal car accidents caused by disregarding traffic laws; it encompasses a range of scenarios where intentional harm has been inflicted, such as murder, as well as unintentional harm resulting from medical negligence. Essentially, any situation where the defendant had a duty to ensure safety but failed to do so falls within the scope of wrongful death lawsuits.

Legal Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

A wrongful death case in California revolves around four pivotal legal elements. These are negligence, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

Role of Negligence in Wrongful Death Cases

Negligence plays an essential role when proving liability. It is about demonstrating that the defendant acted irresponsibly or failed to act reasonably under certain circumstances. For instance, failing to follow traffic laws could be considered negligent behavior if it results in fatal injury.

To establish negligence successfully in a wrongful death lawsuit means showing that the person or business caused harm through their careless actions or omissions. 

Breach of Duty and Causation

The next step is establishing a 'breach of duty'. To prove a 'breach of duty', it is necessary to demonstrate that the defendant had a legal obligation to ensure safety towards the deceased, such as following traffic regulations. However, if they failed to fulfill this responsibility and their actions resulted in a fatal car accident, it establishes negligence.

Causation is closely connected to this matter. It involves establishing the direct or indirect link between the defendant's breach and the resulting harm, specifically in cases of wrongful death under California law. This element is crucial for a successful legal action seeking compensation for the victims' death.

Last but certainly not least comes ‘damages'. They refer to both economic (medical expenses) and non-economic aspects (pain & suffering). Demonstrating them might involve calculating potential future earnings lost due medical malpractice-induced deaths; tabulating funeral costs; even quantifying abstracts such as emotional distress among surviving family members.

Proving all of the above is a difficult task, and it's best managed by a seasoned wrongful death lawyer. They can help make sure your case stands strong, bringing justice for the unfortunate loss of your loved one. Sure, no amount of money really makes up for losing someone you care about deeply. But getting those at fault to answer does give some kind of resolution and closure.

Key Takeaway: 

In a California wrongful death case, it's critical to prove four key legal elements - negligence, breach of duty, causation and damages. This process includes showing that the defendant acted irresponsibly or failed to act at all, leading to fatal consequences. It's also about demonstrating how the defendant didn't meet their safety obligations towards the deceased person and how this directly caused harm. Lastly, there is an emphasis on calculating both economic impacts such as medical costs and more.

Proving Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In wrongful death cases, it's essential to accurately calculate economic damages. These typically include expenses such as medical bills, burial expenses, and the loss of wages. It might seem overwhelming at first, but with the right approach, you can establish these damages effectively.

Documenting Medical Expenses and Funeral Costs

The process starts by gathering all bills related to the deceased's final illness or injury. This includes hospital stays, doctor visits, medications - anything that represents a direct cost due to their condition.

Burial costs also play an important role in calculating economic damages. You'll need receipts for services like embalming or cremation, burial plot purchase or rental as well as other associated expenditures such as flowers and memorial service arrangements.

Estimating Loss of Income

This is where things get tricky because we're trying to quantify something intangible - potential future earnings that have been lost due to premature death.

You must consider factors like the decedent's age at the time of death; education level; occupation; work history; salary growth rate among others when estimating this figure. Eligible survivors have two years from the date of death under California law to file a lawsuit, which makes swift action crucial in these situations.

To paint an accurate picture, you may even require expert testimony from economists who specialize in labor markets & wage analysis - they could provide insight into what someone with similar characteristics would likely earn over a lifetime if not cut short tragically.

Remember, while documenting your claim isn't easy, especially amidst grief, keep pushing forward because justice deserves its day in court too.

Calculating Non-Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

When dealing with the fallout of a wrongful death, things like lost wages and medical bills are easier to quantify. But how do you put a dollar value on the pain of losing someone? That's where non-economic damages come into play.

Understanding Non-Economic Damages

In California wrongful death cases, non-economic damages refer to intangible losses suffered by surviving family members. This includes emotional distress caused by loss of companionship or moral support that would have been provided by the deceased.

A skilled death lawyer can help paint this picture for the court but quantifying these types of damages is subjective and often difficult because it involves placing monetary values on aspects such as love, care, and guidance which cannot be measured tangibly.

Methods for Quantifying Non-Economic Damages

The process used to calculate these figures often varies from case to case. The jury may consider factors like age, occupation, and health condition before deciding upon an amount that represents just compensation for your pain and suffering.

Sometimes they use what's called the "per diem" method - calculating an everyday cost since their loved one's passing until their estimated life expectancy date - while other times they might apply multiplier methods based on economic damage amounts. Regardless of the approach used, though, all aim at ensuring justice is served through adequate compensation.

It should be noted, however, there isn't any fixed rule about how much will be awarded as each situation has unique considerations.

In conclusion, understanding both the nature and importance associated plus potential calculation methodologies could prove invaluable during the pursuit of a fair wrongful death settlement after tragedy strikes.

Also, bear in mind that only an experienced attorney familiar with the intricacies involved within the field is able to guide you appropriately, ensuring all your rights are protected while securing the maximum possible compensation.

Thus, it is advised that you seek expert advice promptly if you are dealing with loss caused by another's carelessness. Delaying a claim can make it more difficult to pursue, so acting quickly is essential.

Key Takeaway: 

Calculating non-economic damages in a California wrongful death case is tough, as it involves putting a price tag on intangible losses like love and moral support. Methods vary from the "per diem" approach to multiplier methods based on economic damage amounts. An experienced attorney can guide you through this complex process, ensuring justice and fair compensation for your pain.

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

When it comes to filing a wrongful death lawsuit, timing is crucial. In California, the law sets strict time limits, known as the statute of limitations.

The clock starts ticking from the date of your loved one's death. Under California law, you have exactly two years to file a wrongful death claim. Miss this deadline and you may lose your right to seek justice entirely.

Why Two Years?

This might seem like an arbitrary period but there's logic behind it. The idea is twofold: First, evidence tends to degrade over time - witnesses forget details or move away, documents get lost; secondly, defendants deserve certainty - they should not live indefinitely under threat of litigation.

Possible Exceptions

In certain situations though, exceptions apply which could extend this limit:

  • If at first the cause of death isn't clear and only becomes apparent later on,
  • If some legal disability prevents immediate action such as minor children who need legal guardians appointed,
  • Or if the defendant intentionally concealed their involvement in causing harm resulting in death.

The Need for Prompt Action

No matter what your circumstances are - don't delay. Remember that preparing a solid case takes time too.

A skilled wrongful death attorney will need adequate time gather all necessary facts about how negligence or intentional harm caused your family member's tragic loss.

You'll also want enough lead-time left so any unforeseen hiccups won't jeopardize meeting those key deadlines.

It's advisable to begin the wrongful death process as soon as possible in order to avoid any potential setbacks. Your attorney can help navigate through these time limits while you focus on grieving and supporting your family.

Key Takeaway: 

Timing is key when filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California - you have exactly two years from the date of your loved one's death. But don't wait, as building a solid case takes time too. There can be exceptions that extend this limit, but it's always better to start early and let your attorney navigate these complexities while you focus on healing.

FAQs in Relation to How to Prove Damages in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

What are the damages for wrongful death in California?

Damages include both economic losses like medical bills, funeral costs, and lost income; and non-economic ones such as loss of companionship or consortium.

How do I prove damages in California?

To prove damages, document all relevant expenses. Calculate potential future earnings. For non-economic damage, quantify emotional pain using accepted legal methods.

How much is a wrongful death lawsuit worth in California?

The value varies case by case. It hinges on factors like age at time of death, earning capacity and dependents' financial need.

What defenses can be raised in a wrongful death action?

Possible defenses include proving lack of negligence or causation. Another defense could argue that the statute of limitations has expired.


Understanding wrongful death lawsuits in California is no small task. Yet, you've made strides toward it today.

You learned about the key players - who can file these suits and why they're so crucial for justice.

We unpacked the legal elements of a wrongful death case: negligence, breach of duty, causation, damages. Each plays its part in building a strong claim.

Economic and non-economic damages took center stage as we discussed how to document medical expenses or estimate loss of income; pain suffered by surviving family members isn't left out either.

Lastly, remember that time waits for no one - two years might seem like plenty but when dealing with grief and paperwork simultaneously? It's wise to begin the process promptly instead of postponing it.

For family members that have lost a loved one in a wrongful death accident that would like assistance from experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorneys, contact Greenberg and Ruby. We provide free consultations and take great pride in representing good people with difficult cases. Call or fill out our form for help today.

About the Author

Emily Ruby

2022 "Women in Law" Award Winner, Emily Ruby, specializes in complex cases, many of which involve catastrophic injuries and deaths. Mrs. Ruby has personally obtained more than $100 Million in compensation for her clients with an impressive 97.4% success rate and is a graduate of the prestigious CAALA Trial Academy. She was selected as one of Forbes' Best Wrongful Death Lawyers and is a writer for Advocate Magazine.


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