Northern California Wrongful Death Lawyer
The legal system uses the phrase “wrongful death” to describe a death caused by another person without legal justification. Wrongful deaths can be either accidental (such as a death caused by a car crash) or intentional (such as a murder).
“Legal justification” for causing a wrongful death usually refers to the right to act in self-defense or to a law enforcement officer’s right to use deadly force to protect the public. In accident cases, there is rarely a legal justification for causing a death.
Wrongful death lawsuits usually seek compensation for accidental deaths. Criminal prosecutions, rather than civil lawsuits, typically address intentional killings. As a practical matter, people who cause an intentional death usually go to prison and cannot pay a wrongful death judgment. Car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and business premises insurance all cover accidental death claims, but no insurance covers a homicide.
Accidents that cause a wrongful death are devastating to surviving family members. If your loved one was killed in an accident, a wrongful death lawyer at KKG Law can help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Our personal injury team helps surviving family members make wrongful death claims in Oakland, San Jose, Fairfield, and all other Bay Area communities.
Causes of Accidental Deaths in Northern California
Any act of negligence that contributes to a death might entitle the victim’s family members to wrongful death compensation. For example, if a high school football coach puts a player back on the field after the player had a concussion, and the player dies from a brain injury after a second concussion, the school may be liable for the coach’s negligent failure to protect the student athlete.
The most common acts of negligence that cause or contribute to death fall into one of these categories:
Transportation accidents are a leading cause of wrongful deaths. Transportation accidents account for about a third of all accidental deaths in the United States. Approximately 93% of those occur during collisions with cars and trucks. Other deaths occur in transportation accidents involving:
- Collisions with trains
- Collisions with busses
- Collisions with tractors and other farm machinery
- Boating accidents
- All-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents
- Small aircraft crashes
Medical malpractice is another large contributor to the tragedy of wrongful death. A 2016 study determined that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Only heart disease and cancer claim more lives. About 10% of all U.S deaths result from preventable medical mistakes. That figure may be much higher, given that doctors and hospitals do not always disclose or admit mistakes that cause a patient’s death.
Healthcare errors are not always included in the medical malpractice statistics. Statistics included in the 2016 study did not include deaths of nursing home patients, deaths caused by healthcare workers in outpatient clinics, deaths of assisted-living facility residents, or deaths caused by negligent home healthcare aides. Giving the wrong medication to an elderly resident of a nursing home is an example of a wrongful death due to healthcare errors that would not be included in medical malpractice statistics.
Property hazards and unsafe premises, including:
- Child drownings in uncovered swimming pools
- Broken stair treads or missing handrails causing falls from staircases
- Electrocutions due to improperly maintained equipment
- Hidden hazards (such as uncovered wells) on property
Construction accidents, including scaffolding that collapses and falling debris from building demolitions.
Unsafe and defective products, including:
- Children’s toys that create choking hazards
- Furniture that tips over and crushes a child
- Defective brakes, steering, or other parts of an automobile
- Defective vehicle design, such as the placement of a fuel tank that causes a vehicle to explode in a collision
Workplace injuries are a significant cause of accidental deaths, but job-related deaths are generally covered by workers’ compensation death benefits rather than wrongful death compensation. There are, however, limited exceptions to that rule. For example, the family of a delivery driver who is killed in a traffic accident may be entitled to pursue wrongful death compensation in lieu of (and occasionally in addition to) workers’ compensation death benefits. A Bay Area wrongful death lawyer can advise families whether to seek workers’ compensation death benefits, wrongful death compensation, or both when an employee dies while working.
Family Members and Wrongful Death Claims
California law allows certain family members to participate in wrongful death claims. The relatives who may be entitled to recover wrongful death compensation include:
- The deceased’s spouse or domestic partner (if the domestic partnership was registered).
- The deceased’s living children.
- The deceased’s grandchildren if their parent is no longer living and is a child of the deceased.
- If the deceased had no surviving children, siblings or other relatives who would have inherited from the deceased if the deceased had died without a will.
In some cases, other individuals who depended upon the deceased for support may also be entitled to wrongful death compensation. They include parents, stepchildren, and unrelated minors who lived the deceased for more than 180 days.
While California law excludes other family members from wrongful death claims, it is often possible to make a survival claim in addition to a wrongful death claim. A survival claim is appropriate whenever death or loss of consciousness was not instantaneous. If the accident victim experienced pain and suffering before dying, the victim’s estate can pursue compensation on behalf of the victim.
Compensation paid to a victim’s estate to settle a survival claim is distributed according to the terms of the victim’s will. A typical will has a residual clause that determines how the rest of the estate will be distributed after specific bequests have been honored. Any beneficiary of the residual clause (which might include people other than the family members listed above) will inherit the proceeds of the survival claim under the terms defined in the victim’s will.
California Wrongful Death Compensation
In California, eligible family members are entitled to compensation for economic and noneconomic losses that are caused by the accident victim’s death. Economic losses include:
- Lost financial support that the accident victim would have contributed to family members (including, in the case of a spouse, half of the victim’s future earnings).
- The value of lost services that the accident victim would have provided to family members. Services include things like cleaning, meal preparation, home or auto maintenance, investing joint assets, and performing other tasks that benefit the family.
Noneconomic damages provide compensation for losses that cannot be measured in dollars:
- The loss of love, affection, comfort, care, companionship, assistance, protection, and moral support that the accident victim would have provided to family members.
- A spouse’s loss of sexual relations.
- A child’s loss of advice and moral guidance.
Money cannot replace love, but compensation makes a statement about justice by holding people accountable when their negligence causes a death.
To learn how KKG Law can help you receive wrongful death compensation if your loved one was killed in an accident, call us at 707-898-8125. You can also use our online contact form to send us a message. KKG Lawrepresents surviving family members in Oakland, San Jose, Fairfield, and all other Bay Area communities.