Wrongful death cases are heartbreaking and confusing.
They’re heartbreaking because they inherently involve a death that should not have happened — the loss of precious life as a result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness.
They’re confusing because they work differently than other kinds of legal proceedings, and in Bakersfield, wrongful death lawsuits are governed by a complicated statute with very strict rules.
If your family has recently been rocked by the terrible tragedy of unexpected death, you probably have a lot of questions. This article is designed to answer some of those questions.
Of course, every scenario is unique, and we always urge grieving families to seek sound, personalized legal advice as soon as possible. The experienced Bakersfield wrongful death lawyers at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine are here to help.
How Is Wrongful Death Different from Other Legal Proceedings?
A wrongful death claim is completely different from a criminal proceeding. It is a civil lawsuit, and the outcome is expressed purely in financial terms.
While a person’s death might result in both a wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal homicide proceeding, the two are entirely separate. The outcome of one does not affect the other, and a different set of laws applies to each.
Wrongful death is also technically distinct from a regular personal injury claim because the victim isn’t the one filing the lawsuit. Rather, it is the victim’s survivors or personal representative who commence the legal action, claiming damages on the deceased’s behalf (as well as for their own personal suffering in connection with the death).
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Bakersfield?
State law is very specific about who can and can’t bring a wrongful death action in California courts. Generally speaking, relief is limited to very close family members. Unfortunately, though, the law’s definition of a close relative doesn’t always match the family’s.
The only parties allowed to file a wrongful death suit in California are the:
- Domestic partners
- Children of the deceased
There are two exceptions, however, that add to this list:
First, the following parties can bring a wrongful death suit if they can demonstrate to the court that they were financially dependent on the deceased person:
- A putative spouse
Second, if (and only if) there are no survivors in the deceased’s line of descent, then any party “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” can file a wrongful death lawsuit. While the qualifying parties will depend on the exact makeup of the family, this often includes:
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
Generally speaking, the damages awarded in a California wrongful death lawsuit are divided into two categories: (1) compensation to the deceased person’s estate and (2) compensation to the deceased person’s relatives for their own personal injuries related to the death.
Examples of compensation awarded to the estate might include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills (including hospital bills) related to the illness or injury that resulted in death
- The deceased person’s lost income while still alive
- The income the deceased person was reasonably expected to have earned during the rest of his or her life
Examples of personal injury compensation awarded on behalf of the individual relatives include:
- The loss of financial support from the deceased
- The loss of any household services the deceased person might have provided
- The loss of love, affection, support, and/or parental guidance
The precise financial value of these damages varies considerably, but in any cases, they can amount to a substantial sum of dollars. Our experienced Bakersfield wrongful death lawyers can help you asses the facts and circumstances of your unique situation to determine how much a wrongful death lawsuit might be worth.
What Is the Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Bakersfield?
California requires that any wrongful death claim be filed in state court within two years of the death. That is a narrower time frame than is allowed in some other jurisdictions, so families are advised to seek legal advice sooner than later.
Waiting too long — even one day past the two-year limit — usually means that you and your family will be permanently unable to seek justice on your loved one’s behalf.
Two years might seem like a long time, but legal claims take a while to prepare, especially where complex issues are involved (as they often are). The sooner you take action, the better.
Only Pay if You Win: Contingency Fee Representation for CA Wrongful Death
The Law Offices of Mickey Fine is proud to offer contingency fee representation for victims of wrongful death in California. That means we advance all the costs of litigation, and we only take a fee if we are successful in recovering money for our clients.
Wrongful death cases are difficult and often devastating. We are committed to providing comfort, support, and strategic legal guidance when you and your family need it most.
Put our experience on your side. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today. Simply call, text, or contact us online.