The first steps for a California wrongful death claim

One of the most unfortunate situations I deal with as a California personal injury attorney is the event where the negligence of an individual or business results in the wrongful death of one or more individual claimants.  There are various things that a competent lawyer does at the outset of these types of claims which I would summarize as follows:

  • First it must be determined who the proper parties are who are entitled to assert a claim.  California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 states that the proper persons who may bring claims include the surviving spouse, child, and/or grandchildren (if the child of the decedent is deceased).  In some other cases, they may also include dependents who (although not technically children, lived with the decedent for at least 180 days prior to the death and were financially dependent upon the decedent).
  • The next thing to determine is what the so called “economic” or “out of pocket” damages may be.  These can include the most obvious expenses such as the cost of medical and funeral expenses but, also include the value of lost earnings that the decedent was contributing to the household expenses of the survivors.  Oftentimes, this requires the attorney to retain the services of an accountant and/or economist to determine the estimated earnings and extrapolate this over the expected normal lifespan of the deceased person.
  • Finally, a quality wrongful death lawyer will take the time to get to know more about the personal relationship that the decedent had with the individual claimants.  The law states that the victims who survive the death of a loved one should be able to recover the damages associated with their loss of companionship and love associated with that person.   Oftentimes, evidence is gathered in the form of family photographs, videos, and other items that memorialize these damages.