As wrongful death happens due to the negligence or intentional act of another person, dealing with the lawsuit can be very challenging for the grieving family members. That is why having a reliable and qualified wrongful death attorney by your side is the most recommended way of approaching the case. Besides, a wrongful death lawsuit works quite differently than other types of lawsuits and can be incredibly complicated at times. It requires a proper understanding of the laws and expertise in handling such cases to get the right compensation for your losses. Below is a detailed look at how a wrongful death lawsuit works under California law.
Identifying the Guilty Party
A wrongful death can happen because of a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, or as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals or using defective products. Although most of the wrongful death lawsuits are filed asserting negligence and carelessness, criminal acts like assault or murder can also cause wrongful death. Regardless of what caused the wrongful death of the victim, the family members would need to work with the attorney to identify the guilty party to file a lawsuit.
Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
California law allows only close family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can be the surviving spouse, children, or domestic partner of the victim, or parents or siblings in case the deceased had no spouse/partner or children. Other than that, certain people who were financially dependent on the wrongful death victim can also file the lawsuit. This includes the stepchildren, putative spouse, and parents of the deceased.
Note that the California statute of limitations gives family members only a 2-year window to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The period can go even shorter under particular circumstances, such as when you are filing the case against a government entity. That is why it is important to keep an eye on the time frame to file the wrongful death lawsuit, so that you do not lose your chances to receive the right compensation for your losses and hold the defendant accountable for the death of your loved one.
Investigating the Death
You need to produce persuasive evidence to convince the jury that the defendant’s negligence led to the death of your loved one. To investigate the case, your attorney would check the police report, speak to the witnesses, look at the medical records, and analyze the vehicle damage (in case it was a motor accident). Your attorney would also check if there was any negligence on the victim’s side, as it can reduce the compensation amount that the family members could receive.
Your attorney would also try to find out relevant information about the case by asking questions to the defendant in writing. These are legally called interrogatories, which are an important part of fact-finding to support your lawsuit. Your attorney can also request the defendant for a copy of his/her insurance policy to see how much money he/she can pay out in compensation. The defendant can also be questioned in a deposition held in the attorney’s office and recorded to be produced in court, if required.
Most of the time, the defendant or their insurance company would be ready to negotiate a settlement instead of going for a trial in court. Your attorney can do the negotiations with the defendant or their insurer before filing the lawsuit to make sure that you get reasonable compensation. Normally, your attorney would estimate the amount for medical bills and funeral costs, loss of financial support, as well as the loss of love and care, and demand compensation for that accordingly.
If the defendant or their insurance company refuses to settle the compensation amount, or offer a much lesser settlement amount, you can take the case to court for trial. Your attorney would file the wrongful death lawsuit laying out all the important facts of the case, such as the date and time of death, the cause of death, as well as how the negligence of the defendant led to the death. You are also required to send a copy of the filed lawsuit to the defendant, who would then get a 30-day period to respond to the complaint.
All courts in the state of California prefer resolving disputes without going for a trial. After you file the wrongful death lawsuit, the judge might ask you to attend a settlement meeting with the defendant, which is supervised by a retired judge or a mediator lawyer. This is to allow both the parties to find some common ground and resolve the case out of court. In case an agreement is reached and the defendant agrees to pay the compensation amount that is acceptable to you, you would need to draft a settlement contract, sign it, and submit it to the judge.