All too often, people die tragically and needlessly as a result of someone else’s negligence. Wrongful death cases refer to those lawsuits that are brought by family members of the deceased individual who died as a result of the negligent acts of another. The aim of the wrongful death case is to properly compensate the family for the financial and emotional losses brought about by the death of their loved one.
In California, there are some “wrinkles” to the wrongful death case that are not typically found in other types of injury cases. Obviously, since the lawsuit cannot be brought by the individual who has died, it must be brought by one or more other persons. However, the members of the class of people who are allowed to bring the case is strictly governed by the Probate Code under California law. Not just any “loved one” who was close to the deceased individual can sue. With certain exceptions, a significant other who was not married to the deceased individual cannot bring a wrongful death lawsuit, even though this person may have had the very closest relationship to the decedent, and, indeed, may have sustained the greatest loss.
Not only is the individual who may sue regulated under California law, but the types of damages that the individuals can claim is also regulated under California law. For example, family members of the deceased individual may sue for the financial support that the decedent would have contributed to the family during his or her life expectancy, but it is based on whose ever life expectancy was shorter, the deceased individual, or the person bringing the lawsuit. Another unusual damage in the wrongful death case is the “loss of gifts or benefits” that the person bringing the lawsuit would have expected to have received from the decedent during the decedent’s life expectancy. The reasonable value of household services that the deceased individual provided to his home is also compensable, as is the loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support.
The jury instruction which sets forth the law discussing the type of damages that may be received in a wrongful death case also says that the jury may not consider the plaintiff’s (i.e. the person who is suing) grief, sorrow, or mental anguish, or the plaintiff’s poverty or wealth. And the jury is also not allowed to consider the decedent’s pain and suffering which resulted in the death.