Lawsuit document

How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Surviving family members or a deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party whose wrongful act or failure to act caused the death of a close relative. If your loved one met an untimely death because of someone’s wrongful or illegal negligent, reckless, or intentional act, you might be eligible for money damages for your loss.

A California personal injury attorney can review your situation and guide you through the process of how a wrongful death lawsuit works.

Determine the Cause of Death

The first step is to find out what caused the decedent’s death. You can only make a claim against the person or company responsible for the death, and you cannot do that until you are certain about why your loved one died.

Often, it appears obvious why someone died, and then new facts emerge that change the entire case. You need to be clear on the cause of death so that you can sue the correct person. If you find out later that there was a different cause of death, you might not be able to sue the at-fault party if the deadline has expired.

Let’s say that a drunk driver struck the car your relative was driving, and your loved one died at the scene. It would be tempting to sue the drunk driver, but a thorough exploration of the death certificate and the decedent’s medical records could reveal that an improperly treated cardiac condition caused the decedent to suffer a fatal heart attack right before the crash. The cardiologist might be the correct party to sue.

Be Certain That a Wrongful Act of Failure to Act Caused the Death

Sometimes, people die from natural causes without anyone doing something wrong. It is not enough to know that a person died. Determining the cause of death and identifying the responsible party are essential to going forward with a wrongful death claim. Some examples of wrongful acts that can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Committing a criminal act, like a shooting, that kills someone else.
  • A nursing home failing to administer prescribed medication to a resident who died from the lack of medication.
  • A hospital giving the wrong medication to a patient, resulting in that patient’s death.
  • Being the at-fault driver in a car collision in which someone died from their injuries.

These are just a few of the many things that can be the basis for a wrongful death claim.

Decide Whether You Need to File Two Lawsuits

If your loved one suffered, even for moments, before death, you might need to file a “survival” cause of action as well as a wrongful death lawsuit. Each type of lawsuit can qualify for different types of money damages. Your attorney will evaluate the available options.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

You might be the closest person on the planet to the decedent, but if you do not fall within one of the categories of California’s wrongful death statute, you cannot file a lawsuit or collect damages. Surviving spouses or domestic partners, surviving children, and sometimes other family members have the right to go after the responsible party for compensation.

Demand Letters

Your wrongful death attorney will send a demand letter to the at-fault party or that entity’s lawyer. The letter will state your case for holding that person responsible and how much money you demand from that person or company.

The Litigation Process

Considering the amount of money at stake, people usually fight the allegations in the demand letter. Your lawyer will likely have to file a lawsuit for you to get the compensation you deserve. California law only gives us a short time to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. After the deadline passes, you lose the right to money damages for your loss.

The court might require the parties to attend mediation to try to resolve the dispute. The lawyers can negotiate throughout both the claim and litigation stages. If the case does not settle, you will have to go to trial to reach a resolution.

A California personal injury attorney can advocate on your behalf and handle your legal matters so that you can focus on rebuilding your life. Get in touch with our office today.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.