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Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer


Few things in life are as heartbreaking and devastating as the death of a loved one in an accident. While there is nothing that may undo the pain of losing someone you love, a wrongful death claim may provide justice and financial compensation to survivors. When a family member is killed in an accident due to someone else's negligence, a wrongful death attorney can bring a case on behalf of survivors.

The grieving process may seem overwhelming and you may want to delay discussing your case with an attorney. However, the unfortunate reality is that insurance companies will not wait. Insurance claims adjusters are trained to investigate and dispute liability for deadly accidents caused by the negligence of their insured. For that reason, it is essential to have a legal representative on your side to ensure your family is protected.

If you have lost a loved one in a wrongful death accident, our Sacramento wrongful death lawyers are available to guide you and your family through this difficult time. For details on how our law firm can help, call (916) 921-6400 to schedule a free, confidential and compassionate consultation with one of our injury lawyers

In this article:

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a loss of life caused by negligence. It may include deadly accidents due to negligence or recklessness such as car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and more. When any of these situations occur, surviving family members may file a lawsuit in civil court for the wrongful death of a loved one.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

In California, wrongful death cases are governed by statute. Under California law, the individuals entitled to compensation through a wrongful death claim include:

  • A spouse
  • A domestic partner
  • Children of the decedent
  • Stepchildren of the decedent
  • Putative spouse (someone who may not have been legally married but believed in good faith that they were legally married). 
  • Any minor who was at least 50 percent financially dependent on the decedent and lived in the household for at least 180 days before the death.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

It is essential to consult with a skilled wrongful death attorney that you feel comfortable with. Make sure they have the experience to handle this serious matter. Even more important, you must feel comfortable communicating with this lawyer because you will be sharing sensitive and heartfelt experiences with them. 

It's important to act quickly because insurance companies, hospitals, and government entities are quick to cover up, minimize, or in other ways try to avoid responsibility for the death. Witnesses disappear, marks in the road can be covered over, hospital records can change or disappear. It happens every day. You have two years from the date of death to file a lawsuit, as outlined in the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. However, there are significant exceptions in medical malpractice, government entity, and other cases.

How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help Your Family

If you have lost a family member due to someone else's negligence or carelessness, an experienced wrongful death attorney in Sacramento can help. Although an attorney can never make the pain of losing a family member go away, they can help you work through the issues a family faces after the unnecessary death of a loved one. Besides handling the legal aspects of the claim, the lawyer will be able to help you with local support groups, grief counselors, and books that may bring some comfort.

What are Damages in a Wrongful Death Case?

Although the loss of your loved one can never be replaced, California law provides for “just" compensation to those who are entitled under the law to recover. The heirs of the decedent may be awarded for the following:

  • Costs of a funeral and burial
  • Loss of future financial support
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Loss of companionship, comfort, affection, moral support, loss of consortium
  • Loss of the victim’s care, training, and guidance as a parent
  • Loss of household services
  • Medical expenses incurred before death can also be recovered in a survival action.
  • Punitive damages may be recovered if the victim was killed as a result of felony homicide.
Loss of a Child

We will collect the child's school records, any honors or awards they have received, hobbies and art projects, yearbooks, writings, and a copy of the guest book from the funeral. We'll talk to everyone who knew your child about characteristics unique to your child. For instance, were they a free-spirit, disciplined, bright, humorous, full of joy, etc.? We'll find out what your hopes and dreams for them were.

We'll want to know about important dates such as birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, and how they were celebrated in your family. We'll find out the life expectancy of your child at death, the role of your child in your family, the wishes and hopes you had for them, what your child's strengths were, if they engaged in any community work, any honors or awards they won and how the family is handling the grieving process.

We recognize that talking about the above can be difficult. We'll take in stages as you feel willing to discuss these heart-wrenching issues.

Loss of a Spouse

We'll ask about the length of your marriage, where you met, and we'll want to find wedding photos, picture albums, and travel folders. We'll discuss dreams you shared, ones you attained, ones that now will never be realized. We'll ask about losses and hardships you survived together. We'll ask about your family of birth and the extended family activities you shared. We'll ask about your children and the relationships they had with each parent.

We'll explore the role of each of you in your marriage, special moments and future moments you looked forward to that will never be, as well as how you are experiencing the grieving process. We'll discuss the economic results of the death on you and on the family. We are sensitive to the fact that these issues may be difficult to discuss, and we are here for you when you feel ready to discuss them.

Loss of a Parent

We'll collect family albums and photos of your parents and the family. We'll need to find out about employment, children's ages, and the parents' ages. We'll ask about the activities of each parent with each other and with their children.

We'll ask about your fondest memories of them, what they taught you about life and any wishes or dreams that will not be fulfilled. We'll ask how you're handling the grieving process. We'll ask about any difficult times your family has been through and how your parents handled such times. We will be asking for your help in drawing a portrait of what your dad or mom was like. How they lived and how they loved. We recognize you may be in deep grief now and unable to discuss these issues in depth. When you are ready, we will be here.

Loss of a Sibling

We'll collect photos from your family album that demonstrate the life and activities you shared with your sibling. If the siblings are all grown adults, it is good to provide photos ranging from childhood to adulthood, including recent family gatherings.

While the deceased's parents may have a unique perspective of the child they lost, siblings often will know details, including the fears, dreams, and desires that perhaps the deceased had not yet shared with their parents. Siblings often experience a more 'honest' relationship with each other, which helps to add depth to the information collected from the parents.

Additionally, children and parents will often view the same event in a totally different light. Your insights into your sibling's life will be valuable to help a jury really get to know your loved one. In this way, a truly detailed portrait can be presented. It may not be possible to discuss these things right away or in one sitting. It is okay. Knowing that sharing these details helps us get to know your relative better and memorialize their life journey.

Helping a Jury to Understand Your Loss

Most cases involving the loss of a loved one are settled out of court through insurance negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. Occasionally, the causation for the death is disputed by the defendant or their insurance company. It is often necessary to take a case to trial in Sacramento County for a jury to decide a fair result.

In every case, it is critical to collect compelling evidence and information from the family. This way, an attorney can show a jury or the defendant's insurance company the depth of the individual who has died and the types of losses surviving family members have faced.

California Wrongful Death FAQ

What is a wrongful death claim, and how can it help my family?

Damages for wrongful death may be available for the deceased person's spouse, parent, and child. Damages are available for the deceased’s estate as well. The claim can be made against the driver and/or owner of the vehicle that caused the car accident.

If the at-fault party did not have insurance, an uninsured motorist claim could be filed if this coverage exists. Family members of the decedent can sue for the loss of companionship, loss of services, loss of income, and other losses. Typically, the settlement is shared by family members, and the amount of each share is either agreed upon by the family members or decided by the judge.

Can survivors recover punitive damages from a driver who caused wrongful death?

It depends. Almost all insurance policies exclude liability for punitive damages, so the auto insurer will not pay them. The driver might have to pay such damages out of pocket if a case is filed against him and won. That presumes that the driver has enough assets to pay a judgment. We discuss this with our clients in every punitive damages case.

If my loved one died in Sacramento, but they lived in another state, where does a wrongful death attorney file suit?

A wrongful death lawsuit must generally be filed either where the incident causing the death took place or where the defendant in the case resides. If the incident causing the death occurred in Sacramento, that would be the correct place to bring the suit. Alternatively, a suit could be bought against the “at fault” party where he or she lives.

If I live outside of California, and my loved one died in Sacramento, do I need a Sacramento wrongful death attorney, or do I need one from my state?

The attorney handling the case must be licensed in the state where the case is filed, and generally speaking, the case would be filed where the incident causing the death took place or where the defendant in the case resides. If the injury occurred in Sacramento or if the defendant lives here, then that is where the suit must be filed.

Can I sue for wrongful death if a loved one is killed by a drunk driver?

Cases where a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, are tragic. In almost all such cases, there is a suit for wrongful death and punitive damages.

Have you worked with nursing home fatalities?

Yes, our Sacramento wrongful death law firm can help with cases involving accidental deaths in nursing homes. California wrongful death statutes and survival statutes help the family obtain peace of mind after the death of a loved one. If your loved one was neglected in a nursing home and later died as a result, we'd like to review your case.

How long does it take to settle a wrongful death lawsuit?

Whether a lawsuit for wrongful death can be settled quickly depends on many factors. If responsibility is clear, that makes a faster settlement more likely. On the other, if negligence is disputed, many depositions may need to be taken, and experts retained, which will increase the time the case takes. Another factor is how much insurance the negligent party had. If there is only a small sum of insurance, it's more likely the negligent party's insurer will pay up earlier. 

However, if there's a large insurance policy or if a company is involved, their insurance will likely delay paying out as long as they can. It's important to have an experienced wrongful death attorney in your corner to keep the pressure on. Another factor that can determine how long a case takes to settle is finding out the economic losses to survivors. If the person wrongfully killed had been working, experts need to be retained to calculate how much the decedent would have earned over his lifetime and evaluate the value of benefits and pensions.

What is the Statute of Limitations for wrongful death in California?

Most of the time, it is two years from the date of the injury or death. However, if the wrongful death claim is against a public entity or medical malpractice at a county or state hospital, a claim must first be filed within six months. Afterward, additional actions must be taken. 

If health care provider negligence resulted in a death (medical malpractice), the wrongful death claim must be filed either three years from the injury date or one year after the injury is discovered, or with reasonable diligence should have been discovered, whichever occurs first. This can be tricky, so it’s best to consult a medical malpractice attorney personally about time limits.

My son was killed in a motorcycle accident. Even though he was not at fault, the other insurance company said we can't recover for his death because he had no insurance at the time. Is this true?

Normally California Civil Code Section 3333.4 precludes recovery by the driver of a car for pain and suffering damages if the driver did not have insurance at the time of the crash. Insurance carriers often argue that the wrongful death claimants of an uninsured driver or owner are also barred from recovery by the statute. This is incorrect even though many adjusters attempt to mislead on this issue.

Do you pay taxes on wrongful death lawsuits?

No, any lawsuit settlement that is awarded for injury or physical illness is non-taxable. The IRS does not tax any money that is intended to compensate victims for their pain and suffering.

Is a wrongful death lawsuit criminal or civil?

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil suits that fall under the category of personal injury. The only way that surviving family members can recover compensation on behalf of their loved one is to file a civil suit in Sacramento, CA.

Criminal charges may be filed by the district attorney against a person who wrongfully caused another’s death (the defendant). However, even if the defendant is found guilty and convicted in criminal court, the criminal case would not provide any money to the decedent’s family. 

To recover monetary damages, the decedent’s family would need to file a separate wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. The criminal action would intend to punish the defendant, whereas a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the same defendant in civil court would seek monetary damages on behalf of the decedent’s family.

Can heirs sue for punitive damages in a wrongful death claim in California?

The heirs of a person who died due to another person’s negligence can sue for monetary compensation. The damages in a wrongful death matter include such economic damages as lost earnings and loss of future earnings and non-economic damages like loss of companionship.

Punitive damages are a category of monetary damages available in some personal injury lawsuits. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant whose actions were malicious or outrageously negligent. Punitive damages are also intended to serve as a deterrent to prevent future malicious or outrageous actions. Because of their intention, punitive damages are sometimes awarded and separately from the economic and non-economic categories, examples of which are described above.

How much can I recover for a wrongful death claim?

The average settlement for a wrongful death claim is between $500,000 to $1 million. However, it is difficult to determine what your settlement amount will be since the circumstances of each case are different and the damages vary greatly. While some families got $10,000 or less, others have received a six or even seven-figure settlement. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you navigate through the legal process and ensure you receive the maximum compensation for your wrongful death case.

Contact Our Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

If you believe your loved one has died due to the negligence of another, please contact the Law Offices of Edward A. Smith for legal help. Our experienced legal team has recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients. We are committed and ready to fight for full compensation on your behalf. Learn more about your legal options by calling (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly and compassionate advice.

Our firm founder Ed Smith is an active member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 6.16.21]

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