A Huntington Beach mother filed a wrongful death claim two days after her son was killed by local police. According to a CBS Los Angeles news report, investigators say Steven Shiltz was killed by police during soccer practice at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex the night of March 9 as dozens of parents and children looked on in horror. Shiltz was armed with a baseball bat and a broken bottle and was charging toward a crowd when two officers shot and killed him under the bleachers, witnesses said.
Police said they received multiple calls reporting a man armed with a bat and a broken bottle chasing children and others around the sports field where several events were taking place at the time. His mother who filed the wrongful death lawsuit said her son has suffered from mental illness since he was a child. Others said they had never seen Shiltz's violent side. His mother had reportedly obtained a restraining order against a son in February of 2013, but she says that order is no longer in effect and that her son was turning his life around at the time of his death.
Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are often brought against an individual or an entity that has causes someone's death negligently or intentionally. Wrongful death claims allow the estate or the representative of the deceased person such as an immediate family member to file a lawsuit against the party who is liable for the death. A wrongful death claim is applicable when a victim is killed by another as a result of negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Wrongful death claims are often filed against police or jails, particularly in cases where police brutality or mistreatment in jails is alleged.
A wrongful death claim can be spurred by a variety of situations including when someone is intentionally killed or murdered. We saw this in the OJ Simpson case where Simpson was sued for wrongful death by the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson after OJ Simpson was acquitted in the criminal case. Wrongful death claims could also stem from car accident fatalities that involve negligence. For example, if a victim dies as a result of a car accident caused by a drunk or speeding driver, the motorist could face a wrongful death claim.
What Needs to be Proven?
In order to prove wrongful death, plaintiffs who file the lawsuit must prove that the death was caused by the defendant's negligence, carelessness or recklessness. Plaintiffs must also prove that the defendant had a duty to the deceased victim. For example, a doctor has a duty to provide competent and quality care to his or her patient. A driver has a duty to drive safely and obey the rules of the road.
The plaintiff, who has the burden of proof in such cases, must prove how the defendant had a duty to the decedent and how that duty was breached through negligent actions or intentional wrongdoing on the part of the defendant. In addition, the plaintiff must also prove how the defendant's negligence caused their loved one's death. The death of the victim must have also generated quantifiable damages such as hospitalization, medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, lost future income, etc.
As we've already seen, the merits of a wrongful death case hinge on proving that another party is responsible for the death of the deceased. While this may seem fairly simple, proving fault in wrongful death cases can be rather complicated. There are several challenges that wrongful death cases may present. Here are some of those challenges.
Statute of limitations
Under California law, a wrongful death lawsuit must be brought within two years of the death. When the case involves governmental agencies, the wrongful death claim must be filed within 180 days of the death. This is one of the reasons it is important to speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. A knowledgeable lawyer can advise you regarding whether your case may qualify for an exception to the statute of limitations. Exceptions include certain circumstances where the court may grant waivers or in the case of minors where the lawsuit can be filed by a child only when they attain the required age.
The Jury's Perception of the Case
When it comes to determining the damages in a wrongful death case, it is often up to the jury to decide what the case is worth. To arrive at this determination, the jury will consider the surviving estate. Juries tend to be more sympathetic to plaintiffs with whom they can relate. Such plaintiffs are likely to get a more favorable verdict than those whom the jury perceives as exploitative. So, the challenge here is to present a strong case where there is no doubt in juror's minds that the plaintiff has suffered a significant loss and that the defendant has committed a wrong or an act of negligence.
Finally, pursuing a wrongful death claim is no easy task for plaintiffs. It is often heartbreaking for victims' families to even think about filing a claim or lawsuit when they've just buried their loved one and are still grieving their loss. In addition, they may have to relive the traumatic experience of losing their loved one as they proceed with the process during depositions and testimony. This is a significant challenge plaintiffs face in wrongful death cases.
For many of our clients, the main purpose of filing a wrongful death lawsuit is not money. It is about righting a wrong and holding a negligent party or a wrongdoer accountable for his or her actions. In some cases, it is an entity or a corporation that might have caused the death. A wrongful death lawsuit might also bring about systemic changes that might end up saving lives in the future. So families get the satisfaction that their loved one didn't die in vain and that their death brought about a positive change. Call our Huntington Beach wrongful death lawyers to get the competent and compassionate representation you deserve.