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How Wrongful Death Lawyers Help Families Seek Compensation

Published September 11, 2023 by Harker Injury Law

How Wrongful Death Lawyers Help Families Seek CompensationWrongful death lawyers can use their legal knowledge and resources to give families the best chance of receiving maximum compensation. This includes helping you explore your legal rights, investigating your loved one’s death, and building the strongest possible claim for financial compensation.

Wrongful death lawyers not only know the law; they also know the tactics insurance companies and other at-fault parties use to try to reduce the amount of compensation they pay out. They will negotiate hard and even represent you in court to maximize your family’s chances of receiving the damages you need to rebuild your lives.

The wrongful death lawyers at Harker Injury Law want to hear your story and help your family seek compensation. Fill out our online contact form, and we will be in touch soon to discuss your wrongful death case.

Explain Your Legal Options

A wrongful death lawsuit allows the family members of a wrongful death victim to seek monetary compensation for the losses and suffering they have encountered as a result of their loved one’s death. It is a civil lawsuit that is completely separate from any criminal proceedings connected to what happened.

During your first conversation with a San Diego wrongful death lawyer, he or she will explain the legal avenues open to you.

Establish a wrongful death occurred

First, a wrongful death attorney must establish that your loved one’s death meets the criteria for a wrongful death in California. The California wrongful death statute defines it this way: “The death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

The wrongful death lawyer will listen carefully as you explain the circumstances that led to your loved one’s death. It would be helpful if you could bring any evidence you have with you to the initial consultation. This will assist the attorney in assessing whether your loved one’s death meets the threshold for a wrongful death claim.

Determine your individual legal rights

Next, the wrongful death attorney will establish your relationship to the victim. This matters because, under California law, certain family members have priority in filing wrongful death claims.

First priority goes to:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The surviving children
  • If the decedent’s children have passed away, grandchildren may make a claim

California law also outlines other parties who may also be entitled to pursue a wrongful death action. This includes other relatives, such as the parents or stepchildren of the deceased. Non-relatives may also be considered, including someone who believed he or she was married to the decedent and that putative spouse’s children.

Clearly, determining whether you have the right to file a wrongful death claim is complex. Additionally, although only one person files a claim, a wrongful death settlement is usually distributed to several parties.

Rest assured that a wrongful death attorney has the knowledge and experience to clarify exactly where you stand.

Explain the statute of limitations

In each state, the family of a wrongful death victim has a limited amount of time to file a claim. In California, this limit is 2 years from the person’s death. If you do not file a wrongful death lawsuit within this time frame, you are very likely to miss your chance.

Some cases may have even shorter timescales, such as wrongful deaths that occur at work. Therefore, it is vital to consult a San Diego wrongful death attorney as soon as possible so you do not miss your chance to secure the compensation your family needs.

Discuss your chances of success

An experienced wrongful death lawyer will have handled many similar cases to yours in the past. He or she is well-placed to explain how likely your case is to be successful. Your lawyer may also give you a ballpark figure of the level of compensation you may be able to obtain.

You can expect an experienced wrongful death attorney to be open and realistic about the challenges you will face. He or she will know the objections the insurance companies are likely to raise. However, if a wrongful death attorney agrees to take on your case, you can be sure that he or she is convinced that it has a strong chance of being successful.

Explore additional legal options open to you

When there has been a sudden or gradual death caused by the wrongful actions of a person or entity, wrongful death lawsuits can provide compensation for the losses incurred by the family due to their loved one’s death. This can even apply to medical bills the deceased incurred prior to his or her death.

So, if some time passed between the accident and your loved one’s death, you may be entitled to file a survival action on his or her behalf.

Survival actions seek compensation for the expenses and suffering experienced by the wrongful death victim prior to his or her death. This could include:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages – Not available in wrongful death cases unless it was the result of a felony

This is the compensation that he or she could have sought through a personal injury lawsuit if he or she had survived.

The personal representative of the decedent, sometimes the executor of his or her will, may be entitled to file a survival action on behalf of the deceased’s estate. If successful, the compensation would be distributed according to the terms of the decedent’s will.

Under California law, wrongful death and survival actions may be pursued separately, or they may be combined into a single suit. A wrongful death attorney will be able to explain whether a survival action is an additional option to pursue in your case and the best way to do this.

Investigate Your Loved One’s Death

Once a wrongful death attorney has agreed to take on your case, he or she will get to work investigating the exact circumstances of your loved one’s death. Wrongful death attorneys can work with a team of professionals, including investigators and expert witnesses, to piece together exactly what happened. 

Challenges to wrongful death investigations

Over time, people’s recollections of events fade and can become clouded. Additionally, some parties may be less than honest in their accounts of what took place. They may be trying to shift the blame away from themselves or protect others involved in the case.

Wrongful death lawyers are skilled at sorting through evidence and finding out what really happened. They can use this to build a strong case on your behalf that will give you the best chance of achieving a fair settlement.

The role of investigators

Investigators use a range of approaches in obtaining evidence to gain a clear picture of what happened. For example, they may uncover:

  • Documentary evidence
  • Video camera footage
  • Photographs from the event
  • Police reports
  • Medical records

Investigators are skilled at preserving evidence so that it can be used to support your case and is admissible in court if your case proceeds to trial. The evidence they uncover can help a wrongful death attorney build a strong case that gives your family the best possible chance of securing the financial compensation you need.

Use expert witnesses

Depending on the complexity of the case, wrongful death lawyers may also work with expert witnesses. According to California law, expert witnesses must have specialized knowledge, qualifications, or skills in certain areas. They must be able to demonstrate this expertise before their testimony is taken into consideration.

Expert witnesses may fall into the following categories:

  • Medical experts: May provide testimony on the cause of your loved one’s death and the pain and suffering they experienced
  • Financial experts: May testify to the level of damages required to compensate a family for their family member’s death
  • Engineering experts: In cases involving equipment failure or product defects, an expert witness may testify whether the manufacturer should have known the design was faulty

These are just a few examples of the types of expert witnesses a wrongful death attorney may work with to build a strong case for compensation. The testimony of these witnesses could help to prove liability – the cornerstone of any wrongful death lawsuit.

Determine Liability

In any civil procedure, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant is liable for the action or inaction that caused the loss.

In some wrongful death cases, the at-fault party is clear. For example, in a single-vehicle pedestrian accident, it may be relatively straightforward to show that the driver was at fault, and you can try to recover compensation from him or her.

However, many wrongful death cases are complex, potentially involving multiple liable parties. These could include:

  • Medical malpractice: Surgeons, doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, medical facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and others may be partially liable
  • Vehicular accidents: Drivers, vehicle owners, vehicle manufacturers, local municipalities, pedestrians, and others may all share a portion of the blame

California law operates on the principle of joint and several liability. In wrongful death cases, this means that more than one party could be found to share responsibility for your family member’s death.

A wrongful death claim based on joint or several responsibility is complex and requires the attention of an experienced and skilled wrongful death attorney. He or she will analyze the legal options open to you and advise you on the best course to maximize your chances of success.

Calculate Damages

Damages are provided in wrongful death cases to ensure that surviving families are not negatively affected financially by their family member’s death.

If families rely on insurance companies to calculate damages, they are unlikely to receive fair compensation that fully accounts for the losses they have suffered. Wrongful death lawyers provide crucial help for families by calculating the full extent of their losses. 

Damages available to families

Families can pursue both economic and non-economic damages in wrongful death claims. The California wrongful death statute does not allow families to claim punitive damages – compensation used to punish at-fault parties. However, if you also pursue a survival action, you may be able to receive punitive damages.

Economic damages may include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of the decedent’s lifetime income
  • Loss of household services
  • Loss of other benefits, such as health insurance and retirement income

Non-economic damages could include:

  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium (including sexual relations and intangible benefits of the marital relationship)
  • Loss of parental training, guidance, and support for children
  • Pain and suffering caused by the loss of your family member

Wrongful death lawyers will examine the full financial and emotional impact of a person’s death, leaving no stone unturned.

How wrongful death lawyers calculate settlements

An experienced wrongful death attorney will take many factors into account when calculating a fair settlement for your family. This may include your loved one’s:

  • Age
  • Health
  • Earning potential, including education, training, and employment history
  • Surviving family members’ ages
  • Expenses already incurred, including medical, funeral, and burial expenses
  • Health insurance and retirement benefits for family members

Several family members may be due compensation in a wrongful death suit. However, the funds will not be distributed equally to them all.

Your wrongful death lawyer will calculate how much of the settlement is due to each family member based on the following:

  • The relationship to the decedent
  • The losses each one has suffered
  • The total amount of compensation available to distribute

Represent You in Negotiations

After building a strong case and calculating fair compensation, it’s time to begin negotiations. Typically, these will be with the insurance company representing the at-fault party.

Your wrongful death lawyers will send the insurance company a settlement demand letter. The insurance adjusters will then make a counteroffer. There may be a lot of back-and-forth before both parties can agree on a mutually acceptable settlement.

At all stages of this process, your wrongful death attorney should keep you in the loop. Many claims can be settled through negotiation without the need to go to trial.

However, sometimes, the insurance companies will not cooperate or make an acceptable offer. In this case, it may be in your best interests for the case to proceed to trial.

Represent You in Court

Cases may go to trial when there is a question mark over liability. This is where the hard work done by your legal team during the investigation process may come into play.

Your wrongful death attorney will prepare thoroughly to represent you. This may even include staging a mock trial with hired jurors to anticipate challenges that may come up in court.

At the trial, 12 jurors will hear your case. Your lawyer will present the evidence he or she has gathered and will tenaciously argue your case to give you the best chance of success.

With help from the judge, the jury will decide:

  • Whether a wrongful death occurred
  • Whether the defendant was liable
  • The level of damages due to the family

Trials vary in length. Some may only take a few hours, while others go on for days. If you are unsuccessful at trial, you may choose to appeal if you and your attorney agree that there are strong grounds for doing so.

Help Distribute Wrongful Death Compensation

Wrongful death settlements are paid out in two different ways: lump-sum payments and structured settlements. A wrongful death attorney can help your family in both cases.

Lump-sum payments

Lump-sum payments are more common when an insurance company must pay the settlement. Your wrongful death attorney can then help your family decide the share each member will receive.

Structured settlements

However, receiving a lump sum can be overwhelming for some family members. So you can ask your wrongful death attorney to help you set up a structured settlement so you receive your payout gradually instead of receiving it all at once.

In some cases, structured settlements may be the only option. If the at-fault party does not have the funds to pay a lump sum, he or she may be required to pay the full amount in stages.

Why You Need Harker Injury Law on Your Side

When you’re grieving and trying to come to terms with the death of a cherished family member, you need a trusted advocate on your side. The wrongful death lawyers at Harker Injury Law are ready to help your family seek justice and a financial settlement that will let you rebuild your lives.

Our wrongful death attorneys will navigate the complexities of your claim, explaining the legal options that could give you the greatest chance of success. They will explore the full financial impact of your family member’s death, ensuring that everyone gets the best opportunity to secure compensation that will help them face the future with confidence.

Our legal team is here to take the emotional pressure of fighting insurance adjusters off you, allowing you to give your family the time and attention they need. Our San Diego wrongful death attorneys have already secured outstanding settlements for wrongful death victims’ families, including the payout of $1.8 million in one case.

Do not delay in seeking justice and compensation. Call us for a free case evaluation at 760-INJURED or complete our online form, and we’ll get in touch soon.

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  • J Reuben Clark Law Society
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