The Los Angeles City Council has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of a teenage girl who was fatally struck by a taxicab nearly Dockweiler State Beach. According to a San Diego Union Tribune news report, the incident occurred about two years ago when 16-year-old Naomi Larsen was crossing Vista Del Mar after leaving the fire pits in the beach. She was struck by a car and suffering injuries that led to her death weeks later.
Details of the Settlement
In the lawsuit, her parents argued that the death of their daughter was caused by the city's failure to ensure safe ways for pedestrians to cross from the beach to their parked vehicles on the street. The complaint also stated that the highway was hazardous to pedestrians, but the city did nothing to fix the problem.
In a report, city lawyers said it would be tough to defend the case because Los Angeles had failed to take steps to protect beachgoers in spite of repeated crashes in the area. Also, there are no crosswalks on Vista Del Mar for about two miles between Imperial Highway and Napoleon Street. An attorney who represented the family said he was happy to the case resolved. The council approved the settlement, 12-0, with two council members absent.
What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death can be caused by pretty much any person or entity. Under California law, survivors of the deceased in a wrongful death case can recover monetary compensation for the death of a loved one that was caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing. In general terms, a wrongful death occurs when one person or entity is responsible for the death of another. California law states that the wrongful death is a fatality caused by the “wrongful act or neglect of another.”
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action as opposed to a case that is adjudicated in the criminal justice system. So, a case that involves murder, homicide or manslaughter charges in criminal court could be tried as a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. While defendants are found “guilty” of a crime in the criminal justice system and punished for it with jail or prison time, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the defendant is found “liable” for the death of the decedent and asked to pay compensation to survivors.
Who Can Seek Compensation?
In California, anyone who is entitled to inherit from the deceased in the absence of the will as well as the representative of the deceased person's estate is entitled to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. The following individuals can usually file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state of California:
- The deceased person's spouse or domestic partner.
- Living children (minor and grown)
- The children of any child of the deceased if that child is no longer living.
- If the decedent had no surviving children, siblings, parents or other relatives who would have been heirs to the deceased person's estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Stepchildren can also file such claims.
- Any minor who lived with the decedent for more than 180 days before the death and who depended on the decedent for at least half of his or her support.
In California, the loss of a fetus does not give rise to a wrongful death claim because since there has been no live birth, a pregnant woman is not regarded as a parent. Also, under California law, a death can give rise to only one wrongful death lawsuit. Each person who may be entitled to compensation must be made part of that lawsuit.
Claims against Government Agencies
When a death occurs in an auto accident to which a dangerous roadway or intersection caused or contributed, then, family members of the deceased victim can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the government agency responsible for designing, building and/or maintaining that roadway. This, often, is a city, county or state agency. There are time limits within which such claims must be filed against governmental agencies.
Under California Government Code Section 911.2, any personal injury or wrongful death claim against a governmental agency must be filed within 180 days of the incident. This claim is usually the precursor to the lawsuit. If the governmental agency prefers to settle with the plaintiffs, then it does not proceed to the lawsuit stage. However, this happens very rarely.
Under the provisions of California's Government Code, Section 835, a public entity can be held liable for injuries caused by a condition of public property when the plaintiff proves that there was a dangerous condition on the public property at the time of injury and that the injury was caused by that dangerous condition. The plaintiff must also prove that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury of the kind that occurred.
Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Compensation in wrongful death cases can be divided into economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages usually includes all damages that can be quantified such as medical expenses before the decedent's death that occurred as a result of the accident, funeral and burial costs and lost current and future income as well as benefits such as life insurance, pension, etc. A minor child is generally entitled to an award of lost support until the child turns 18. Economic damages also includes the value of gifts and household services.
Non-economic damages includes such losses as the loss of the decedent's love, care, companionship, assistance, affection, society and moral support. In situations where a spouse or domestic partner is involved, the loss of intimacy with the deceased may be included. In the case of a child, the loss of training, guidance and mentorship, which the decedent would have provided also qualified. It can be challenging to put a value on non-economic damages.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer will be able to evaluate a case and help determine such damages and help ensure that your legal rights and best interests are protected every step of the way.