If your loved one has died as a result of someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, you may have the right to file what is known as a wrongful death claim. Under California law, family members such as spouses, domestic partners, children and other family members have the right to receive monetary damages after their loved one's wrongful death. The statutes allow families to recover benefits to pay for the expenses they incur as a result of their loved one's death as well as to replace the deceased family member's financial contributions to the household.
If you have lost a loved one as the result of a negligent or reckless act, it is important that you contact an experienced Orange County wrongful death attorney who can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Wrongful death law is also a complex area of the law, and dealing with such cases can be intimidating. A knowledgeable lawyer can help with compiling the evidence that is necessary to help you secure maximum compensation and to hold the negligent parties accountable.
Who is Responsible for Paying the Damages?
In a wrongful death case, any person or entity that caused or contributed to your loved one's death should pay the damages. In such cases one or more persons or entities may share legal liability for the incident that caused your loved one's death.
When it comes to pursuing a wrongful death claim, it is important to identify and locate all of the responsible parties. This often requires a comprehensive, in-depth investigation that includes witness interviews, investigation of the location where the incident occurred, obtaining reports generated by police and emergency medical personnel, medical reports, etc. The list of responsible parties often depends on the nature and circumstances of the incident. Here are some of the parties who may be held liable in wrongful death cases.
Car accidents: Often, the driver may be held at fault for the accident. If another person owns the vehicle, he or she may also share responsibility. If the driver was operating an employer's vehicle and was on the job at the time of the incident, the employer may also be held liable.
Truck accidents: Some truck drivers operate independently. But a majority of drivers are operating a truck that belongs to a trucking firm, large corporation or an employer who can be held liable in addition to the driver. In some cases where equipment failure is involved, a company that was responsible for checking and maintaining the truck can also be held liable.
Premises liability: In slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents, a private property owner and/or property manager can be held responsible for accidents caused by dangerous conditions on their property. Some parties that may be held liable in such accidents include a property owner, manager, maintenance staff, security provider and repair contractors.
Product liability: If a dangerous or defective product causes a death, the manufacturer of such a product can also be held liable. A product distributor or retailer can also be held in some cases. A manufacturer can also be held liable if they failed to warn consumers about the dangers posed by their products.
Workplace accidents: If your loved one suffers a fatal injury on the job, the employer is only liable for workers' compensation benefits provided through the state of California. Such compensation may pay for medical expenses and some death benefits. But, in such cases, families of deceased victims may also be able to sue third parties whose actions or lack of action/negligence caused or contributed to the incident.
Medical negligence: A medical professional has a legal obligation to provide quality treatment and care to patients. A mistake made by a medical professional or carelessness during treatment where they failed to meet the accepted standard of care, could lead to a potential wrongful death lawsuit as well.
Who Pays Wrongful Death Settlements?
A wrongful death settlement is essentially monetary compensation for the survivors' losses. This might include losses such as medical expenses (incurred by the decedent before his or her death); lost future income; lost benefits such as health insurance, pensions, stock options and so on; funeral and burial costs; pain and suffering (experienced by the decedent); and loss of love, care and companionship.
In most cases, insurance companies who provide liability coverage for the defendants pay out wrongful death settlements. Typically liability insurance policies will have limits. If the defendant does not have insurance coverage, then they will be personally responsible for paying any judgment or settlement amount and possibly the legal fees incurred by the plaintiff.
In most cases, wrongful death settlements compensate survivors for their losses, which means that the money that is paid out is meant to provide compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Compensatory payments may or may not be taxable depending on the reasons the money was awarded.
Compensatory payments for physical injuries are typically not taxable, but the IRS may tax compensatory damages awarded for emotional pain, which may cause physical symptoms such as pain. In some wrongful death cases, the court may also avoid punitive damages that are meant to punish a person or entity for their egregious negligence or wrongdoing. Such damages may be taxable by the IRS.
Settlements in wrongful death lawsuits may be paid through a lump-sum payment or a structured settlement. With a lump-sum payment, plaintiffs receive a single, large payment for their damages. This gives family's significantly more financial flexibility as they may choose to use the money to pay off medical expenses or for funeral or burial costs. In a structured settlement, the defendant pays incrementally over time. It can be challenging to modify a structured settlement. Therefore, plaintiffs must be vigilant with regard to which type of payment they agree to receive. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help guide them in this regard.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
Because the laws surrounding wrongful death lawsuits can be complex, it is important for victims' families in such cases to contact an experienced Orange County wrongful death lawyer who will remain on their side, fight for their rights and ensure that they receive maximum compensation or their tremendous losses. If you have lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, the experienced California wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Timothy J. Ryan can help you pursue your legal rights. Call us at 714-898-4444 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.