Death of a loved one due to the wrongful act or negligence of another party is one of the most difficult situations a person will ever encounter. In the aftermath of a fatal accident, pursuing legal action can be the last thing on your mind. However, many people experience mounting funeral expenses, medical bills, and the loss of critical income provided by their loved one, leading to financial burdens that compound their feelings of loss. If you are experiencing these challenging circumstances, you are not alone. Our Rocklin wrongful death attorneys are here for you.
Kreeger Law Firm specializes in handling all types of personal injury cases, including wrongful death. Our compassionate, resourceful team can navigate your legal obligations so you and your family can focus on healing. Do not let legal complications impede your family’s healing with financial roadblocks—contact a Rocklin wrongful death attorney today.
Is Wrongful Death a Personal Injury?
Wrongful death is, in fact, a type of personal injury and often stems from common personal injury case types like car accidents and premises liability. However, while other areas of personal injury law compensate the victim for their damages, wrongful death is different in that the victim has died. In cases of wrongful death, the family or legal guardian is the recipient of compensation.
A personal injury lawyer is the proper legal counsel trained to handle wrongful death cases. Personal injury lawyers can assess the wrongful death claim based on any negligent events that occurred to cause the accident. Your attorney can then negotiate a settlement or conduct litigation in court to finalize the case.
What Type of Law Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases, not criminal. Although there may be criminal charges associated with the case, the wrongful death case will take place in civil courts, separate from any relevant criminal charges. Specifically, wrongful death is a case seeking monetary compensation for the death of a person.
Compensation is available for multiple damages in a wrongful death case. The most common involve medical expenses resulting from the associated incident, but compensation can also cover damages like wage loss, pain and suffering, emotional losses after death, and funeral and burial expenses. In addition, if you or your family was financially dependent on the person who died, you can recover compensation for the amount that the person would have earned had they survived.
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death claims must demonstrate each of the following elements:
- The death of an individual
- Negligent actions or actions with an intent to harm caused the death
- Surviving family members who are experiencing financial harm due to the death
- An official representative of the decedent
When a wrongful death claim includes the necessary elements, the plaintiff must submit the case within the statute of limitations as established by the state. Since wrongful death claims qualify as a personal injury case, the California statute of limitations is two years from the date of the decedent’s death. However, unlike non-fatal personal injury accidents, wrongful death cases may involve the ‘discovery’ action. If the cause of death is not immediately apparent, but is instead uncovered later, the statute of limitations begins at discovery. For instance, if your loved one passed away three years ago from cancer, but the cause of the cancer was a chemical frequently encountered at work and not identified until recently, you can still file a wrongful death claim for two years.
The establishment of a personal representative depends on state laws. Under probate code section 58 (a) of California law, personal representatives can include: an estate’s executor or administrator, special administrator, successor’s personal representative, public administrator, a surviving spouse, a domestic partner, or next of kin. There are more qualifications, but in general, the person who would normally serve as the beneficiary of the decedent’s estate will take up the role of personal representative.
Speak with a Rocklin wrongful death lawyer to determine if your claim will fulfill each of these elements.
Types of Wrongful Death Accidents Cases
A wrongful death claim can arise in the aftermath of a number of circumstances. However, the most common include the following situations:
- Medical malpractice that results in the decedent’s death
- Automobile or airplane accident
- Occupational exposure to hazardous conditions or substances
- Product malfunction
- Criminal behavior
- Death during a supervised activity
To build a successful wrongful death case, your Rocklin wrongful death attorney must establish both negligence and liability. To establish negligence, the attorney must demonstrate that the defendant had a duty of care to prevent the victim from experiencing harm, such as the duty to drive safely. Then, the attorney must prove the defendant breached this duty by acting carelessly, such as driving recklessly. The attorney must show that the breach of duty directly led to an incident that caused death, like a car accident. Finally, the attorney must prove that the death caused the financial damages in question.
What to Expect from a Wrongful Death Lawyer
After establishing each of the necessary requirements to file a wrongful death case, your Rocklin wrongful death lawyer will gather as much evidence as possible. Depending on the case, this process can be relatively simple or extremely complex. Vehicle collisions that result in fatalities are straightforward and may only require access to police records and interviewing witnesses. However, multi-party cases involving product malfunction or misrepresentation can take a great deal of time to process and may require chemical data or even expert testimonies depending on the situation.
After gathering evidence to support your case, a wrongful death lawyer will compile all the evidence and submit it to the attorney representing the other party. Most personal injury cases, including wrongful death, are settled via negotiations outside of court. If your case settles outside of court, the beneficiaries of the deceased will divide the compensation received among themselves. However, if the case goes to trial, a jury will be the deciding factor regarding compensation disbursement.
As mentioned, most wrongful death cases settle through negotiations outside of court trials. Your Rocklin personal injury attorney will present the other party’s insurance company with a demand letter which outlines your economic and non-economic damages. However, if the settlement offered is unfair, or if the insurance company takes part in bad-faith actions to prevent you from receiving compensation, your attorney can either pursue litigation or make other attempts to reach a settlement agreement outside of court.
There are two main alternatives to the litigation process: mediation and arbitration. Mediation occurs when the parties involved in the incident meet and discuss the case with a mediator. This mediator is a third party that is neutral to both sides (i.e., is not family or friends with either party) and serves to assist the parties in finding a successful way to settle the case. It is important to note that, while most mediators are attorneys or other public service officials, your attorney cannot serve as your mediator. These separate parties have two distinct roles in the negotiation process.
Arbitration occurs when two parties convene with an arbiter. Like mediation, the arbiter will listen to both sides during the negotiations process. The arbiter will then make a ruling in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant based on the evidence presented. If neither party agrees with the arbiter’s ruling, it is a nonbinding arbitration which would require both parties to determine a new means to settle their case.
The primary difference between mediation and arbitration is that arbitration can be enforced in court. Mediation occurs as an agreement between the two parties and non-binding. Both processes can be as formal or informal as the involved parties desire. However, binding arbitration can be held up in a court of law and the resulting settlement is due according to the arbitration agreement.
Why Settle Out of Court?
If you cannot resolve your claim outside of court, your attorney may pursue litigation. However, it is important to consider several factors before abandoning trial alternatives:
- Amount of the claim
- Length of the anticipated trial
- Wait time until trial
- Honest assessment of your chances at winning
- Potential unfavorable publicity for either side
- Strength of your evidence
- Possible punitive damages in the event of a loss
- Chances at arriving at a partial settlement
- Potential expense of a trial
Both sides should consider these factors before moving on to a trial. Litigation means being in the public eye and discussing your loved one’s death in court. In addition, you may reach a more favorable settlement outside of court. Your Rocklin wrongful death attorney can help you assess the factors above and persist in mediation or build a strong case should you decide to go to trial.
How Do I Choose the right Law Firm in Rocklin, CA?
The most critical aspect in any wrongful death case is the experience level of the attorney. Find a lawyer with years of experience in personal injury and wrongful death that knows the ins and outs of the legal system as well as the negotiations process. Kreeger Law Firm has proudly served the Rocklin, CA area for over thirty years. Our compassionate, skilled team will help you develop a comprehensive wrongful death case to give you the best chance at maximum compensation for your losses. While a financial settlement will not replace your loved one, it can ease the financial burden you have experienced after their death. Contact Kreeger Law Firm to request a consultation with a Rocklin wrongful death attorney today.