Losing a family member is a traumatizing experience, particularly if the death occurs as the result of someone’s negligence or a willful act of violence. In addition to the enormous emotional burden the remaining family members must carry, there can be devastating financial repercussions as well, particularly if the decedent was the primary bread winner.
Often family members do not know where to turn for help. However, there are a great number of resources that are readily available. In addition to support from organizations and groups who can help with the emotional consequences, a California wrongful death attorney can be a particularly good resource.
An attorney experienced with wrongful death claims can help families answer important questions, like whether or not they are entitled to compensation for the loss of their loved one.
Any monetary awards given for the loss of a life are called damages. Damages awarded in personal injury lawsuits come in two types. The primary kind of damages awarded in these suits are practical in nature and are based on the person’s lost earnings, any medical expenses that were incurred, property that was lost or damaged and any other type of practical expense. For example, the damages for lost earnings are based on the loss of the expected income the deceased person would have earned for the rest of their expected lifetime.
So, for example, if a 30 year old man earning $60,000 per year was negligently killed in an auto accident, and his expected lifespan was 80 years, and his expected retirement age was 65, then he’d be expected to earn at least $2,100,000, plus an adjustment for inflation. The family could claim damages based on the loss of this income that would have benefited the family.
The other type of damages that can be awarded are punitive damages. These awards are more rare as they are intended to punish the person or entity who caused the death, and the court would have to be convinced that they person was grossly negligent or acted willfully to harm the decedent. Sometimes this is clear cut; for example, when a drunk driver causes the accident that results in a loss of life. Other times, it is not so clear, but an attorney can evaluate the circumstances of the particular case and make a determination whether or not to pursue punitive damages.
Another question that families often have is who will ultimately pay the damages that are being sought. This is particularly true if the person believed to cause the loss of life has a relationship with the family. The question of who will ultimately pay can be very complicated, but in wrongful death cases, insurance companies and other organizations are often the ultimate payees, rather than a specific individual.
Wrongful death cases are heard in civil courts and are decided, by a judge or civil jury, on the preponderance of evidence. This is a less stringent criteria than must be met in a criminal case. In fact, wrongful death cases are decided independently of any criminal proceedings and there does not have to be a criminal charge involved in order to pursue a wrongful death case.
A very memorable example of this is the infamous OJ Simpson case, where even though Simpson was found not guilty in the criminal case, Nicole Brown Simpson’s family and Ronald Goldman’s family brought a wrongful death case separately, and won a judgment of $8.5 million in compensatory damages (such as lost earnings) and $25 million in punitive damages, for a total judgment of approximately $33.5 million.
Because of the complexity of these types of cases, it is advisable to work with an experienced attorney who can provide an objective look at the specifics of each case. Many wrongful death attorneys elect to provide a free consultation to family members to help them understand their options prior to making a commitment to move forward with a case.
Rahul Alim works for Custom Creatives, a digital marketing firm in Los Angeles. Custom Creatives has been helping Personal Injury Attorneys, law firms and all small businesses grow their business with effective online marketing strategies, design and execution.