Losing a loved one suddenly is one of the most tragic experiences in life. While such losses devastate families emotionally as they endure grief and loss, they also cause significant financial strain. When a person dies on the job, their family may have lost a primary wage earner or sole breadwinner. When a family is dependent on one person's earnings, the loss of that person could mean financial devastation for them.
In California, families of workers who died in workplace accidents are entitled to workers' compensation death benefits. However, it is important to remember that such benefits are woefully inadequate in cases where families are dealing with immediate and future expenses. When a workplace death is caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, families can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault third parties to seek additional, much-needed compensation to cover all of their damages and losses.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under California law, only certain individuals are allowed to file a workplace wrongful death lawsuit. The relevant statute specifically allows the following individuals to bring a wrongful death claim:
- The deceased person's surviving spouse or domestic partner.
- The decedent's surviving children.
- If there is no surviving family member in the deceased person's line of descent, then a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought by anyone who is an heir or would be entitled to the decedent's property. This could include the victim's parents, siblings or other relatives who are living.
- Any other person who was living with the decedent or was dependent on him or her financially.
- The deceased person's putative spouse of children of the putative spouse.
- The decedent's stepchildren.
Damages in a Workplace Wrongful Death Settlement
The loss of a loved one as a result of someone else's negligence or wrongdoing is a very personal, painful experience that no amount of money can make better. However, victim's families in these cases have the right under California law to seek compensation for the economic and non-economic losses they have suffered as a result of their loved one's death. Therefore, the value or worth of your workplace wrongful death settlement depends on a number of factors.
Economic damages: The economic losses in a wrongful death settlement are largely determined based on the decedent's earnings while employed, his or her overall health at the time of death, when he or she planned to retire and how much the decedent contributed to his or her family in expenses and labor.
In California, economic damages as part of a wrongful death settlement can include medical expenses (incurred by the decedent before he or she died), funeral and burial costs and estate planning expenses. In terms of lost income, you may be able to claim lost wages including future income and value of benefits such as health insurance, pension, retirement accounts and stock options.
Non-economic damages: California law allows families to seek non-economic damages for their losses including pain and suffering (of the decedent) and loss of care, guidance, advice, protection and companionship from the deceased. In some cases, the plaintiff may seek and be awarded punitive damages.
This is more common in cases where the death was caused by negligence or wrongdoing that was outrageous or egregious. In a workplace accident, that could mean a company that willfully put workers in grave danger by maintaining an unsafe workplace, violating federal safety laws or by not providing workers the training and equipment to do their jobs safely. The goal of punitive damages is to punish the negligent parties and deter them from such negligence in the future.
Understanding Wrongful Death Settlements
A majority of workplace wrongful death cases don't go to trial. They are settled out of court. This is why you need a skilled wrongful death attorney who has a successful track record of handling workplace accident cases. You need a lawyer who is both a skilled negotiator and an experienced trial attorney who has the ability to take the case before a jury, if necessary.
If the defendant's insurance company fails to offer you a fair settlement, the case usually goes to trial. However, it is common for companies and other third parties to avoid going to trial because it takes more time and costs more money. A knowledgeable and resourceful lawyer will help you secure a fair settlement with skilled negotiation so you receive the monetary compensation and financial security you need and rightfully deserve.
A wrongful death settlement is not just about receiving money. In many cases, it's also about getting justice and holding wrongdoers accountable. In workplace wrongful death cases, some of the common defendants may include construction companies, contractors, sub-contractors, property owners, other drivers and manufacturers of defective products.
First and foremost, workplace wrongful death lawyers help look out for the best interests of your family and take all the necessary actions to protect your rights. Your lawyer can request incident reports on your behalf. They can help you gather evidence from the scene of the accident, get medical records and other documentation in place and communicate with the defendant and their insurance company on your behalf. Attorneys can also help gather expert witnesses who can help bolster your claim and put you in a position to receive the best possible settlement.
In California, wrongful death claims must be filed within a specific time period, also known as statute of limitations. A wrongful death claim in California must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent's death. If you are bringing a wrongful death claim against a governmental agency, a "notice of claim" must be filed with the entity within 180 days of the decedent's death.
If you have lost a loved one in a workplace accident, the experienced workplace wrongful death attorneys at Greenberg & Ruby LLP can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Wrongful death lawsuits can be complicated especially in work injury cases where there may be more than one defendant. Call us at (323) 782-0535 to schedule a no-cost consultation and case evaluation. We will put our knowledge, resources and experience to make sure you receive maximum compensation for your tremendous losses.