Under California law, a wrongful death refers to a type of fatality that was caused by negligence or wrongdoing on the part of an individual other than the deceased person. California's wrongful death statute allows the deceased individual's survivors or immediate family members to bring a civil lawsuit and seek monetary compensation from the defendants (parties that caused or contributed to the decedent's death).
These laws were created or put in place to help compensate immediate family members and heirs of the decedent for lost financial support, medical expenses, funeral costs and other damages, depending on the nature and circumstances of the case. Families of deceased victims not only go through an emotional rollercoaster but also experience significant financial strain, especially if the family member they've lost was a breadwinner or sole wage earner in the family.
Who Has the Burden of Proof?
In a wrongful death case, as in all personal injury cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. This essentially means that the plaintiffs must gather and present evidence to show negligence or wrongdoing on the part of the defendant. For example, if a person died as the result of a surgical error, it is the responsibility of the plaintiffs to demonstrate that the death occurred directly as the result of the surgical error and not because of a naturally occurring complication that was outside the control or responsibility of the medical professional.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
Typically, there are four elements that must be proven for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful for the plaintiff. There are four main elements that must be proven in a wrongful death case:
· Duty of care: First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty of care to the decedent. This means that the defendant had a duty to exercise care and caution toward the decedent. An example is when a person is killed by a distracted driver. Motorists have a duty of care to drive attentively. When they fail to do so, it is considered a breach of their duty. During a wrongful death case, the judge will consider a number of factors to determine whether a duty was owed by the decedent to the decedent.
· Breach of Duty: The next step is to prove that the defendant violated his or her duty of care. For example, the plaintiff may be able to present proof that the defendant was distracted when he or she was texting while driving. This could be proven by presenting cell phone records that show the driver was actually texting during the collision or moments before the collision.
· Causation: The plaintiff must then show that the breach of duty directly caused the harm that led to the decedent's death. So, in the case of an auto accident, the plaintiff must show that the collision directly caused the decedent's fatal injuries.
· Damages: Finally, the plaintiff must show that the decedent actually sustained damages. Monetary damages include medical expenses, lost future income, funeral and burial costs, etc.
Proving a wrongful death case can be complex. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, please contact an experienced Orange County wrongful death attorney who can advise you regarding the next steps.