Having a loved one pass away can be a terrible experience. Having a loved one die because of the criminal or negligent acts of another person is downright atrocious. In most cases you will want them to pay in criminal court, where their life is exchanged for the life that they so cruelly took from you and your family. But there are instances where justice could not be found in the halls of criminal courts (see the O.J. Simpson Trial and related civil wrongful death case). You still want justice for your loved one, but where can you turn since they cannot again be tried for the same crime?
A San Diego wrongful death lawyer will be able to help you bring civil charges against the person responsible for the death of your relative. They can help you find some sort of justice within the framework of the law if the criminal case against your family member’s killer does not go as you would have hoped.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a legal claim against a person that can be found under the definition of the law in your state or region to be liable (held responsible) for the death of another human. It is a civil action made by close relatives of the deceased. Who classifies as a “close relative” is strictly defined by the laws of your particular state or region and can sometimes include the decedent’s estate.
Wrongful death cases are particularly important because they help close a hole in the civil code that would hold an offending party responsible for activities that resulted in injury, but not those that resulted in the death of an individual. Let’s look at an example of how wrongful death law has closed this hole:
A construction worker, Jim, is operating a heavy piece of machinery is a precarious position. They can do this because there is a safety mechanism in place that keeps them from being injured while performing their task.
A co-worker, thinking they are performing an funny prank, disables the safety equipment. Jim is injured and is able to file a claim in civil court against his co-worker for his injuries.
But what if Jim had died? Dead persons cannot bring civil suits against others. So the wrongful death statues help close this hole and allow Jim’s family to make claims against Jim’s co-worker for the wrongful death.
Another important characteristic of wrongful death civil cases is that the standard of proof is different from that of a criminal trial. As we all know from watching crime show dramas on TV, a person must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is fairly strict standard of evidence through which juries in our legal system must analyze a case.
Wrongful death cases must submit to the preponderance of evidence burden of proof. What this means is that it must be more probable that the argument be true than it not be true. So a lawyer must prove that the death of an individual was simply probably the result of the defendants actions in a civil wrongful death case. As cam see, this is a much looser standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a criminal case.
San Diego Wrongful Death Law
In San Diego, California only a select group of individuals can file a wrongfu ldeath claim on behalf of their loved one. The law that describes who can bring a claim is Code Civ. Proc., § 377.60. Here is the text of that code:
377.60. A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession. (b) Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, "putative spouse" means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid. (c) A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent's death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent's household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor's support. (d) This section applies to any cause of action arising on or after January 1, 1993. (e) The addition of this section by Chapter 178 of the Statutes of 1992 was not intended to adversely affect the standing of any party having standing under prior law, and the standing of parties governed by that version of this section as added by Chapter 178 of the Statutes of 1992 shall be the same as specified herein as amended by Chapter 563 of the Statutes of 1996. (f) (1) For the purpose of this section, "domestic partner" means a person who, at the time of the decedent's death, was the domestic partner of the decedent in a registered domestic partnership established in accordance with subdivision (b) of Section 297 of the Family Code. (2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), for a death occurring prior to January 1, 2002, a person may maintain a cause of action pursuant to this section as a domestic partner of the decedent by establishing the factors listed in paragraphs (1) to (6), inclusive, of subdivision (b) of Section 297 of the Family Code, as it read pursuant to Section 3 of Chapter 893 of the Statutes of 2001, prior to its becoming inoperative on January 1, 2005. (3) The amendments made to this subdivision during the 2003-04 Regular Session of the Legislature are not intended to revive any cause of action that has been fully and finally adjudicated by the courts, or that has been settled, or as to which the applicable limitations period has run.
As you can see, under California law (and therefore San Diego as well) there are several different people who could hire a San Diego wrongful death lawyer to try a case on the behalf of a decedent. They are:
- A spouse or domestic partner of the deceased
- The children of the deceased
- The children of a deceased child of the deceased
- The beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate
- A dependent of the deceased (includes individuals who “thought” they were married to someone when they really weren’t)
- A minor who was living with the deceased for at least 180 days and received at least 50% of their support from the deceased
This is a long list of people who can file a claim on behalf of their dead loved one.
Another important thing to know about wrongful death claims in California is that you have one year to bring action against the person at fault, according to Cal Code Civ Proc § 340. This one year limit appears to be a little flexible in the sense that it does not always mean “one year after the decedent dies.” If, for example, you had no reason to suspect a wrongful death in the passing away of your spouse, partner or parent but then you were later to discover reason to suspect a wrongful death – your one year window to bring action against them begins.
If you have any questions whether or not your have a grounds for a wrongful death claim you need to contact a San Diego lawyer for more information. You should not construe any information contained within this article as legal advice – it is simply one lay person’s understanding of the law and is purely an effort to make information about this type of case available to those parties interested in learning more about it. If you wish to seek legal council I recommend you take notice of the content below.
San Diego Lawyers Specializing in Wrongful Death Claims
Estey and Bomberger, LLP - Personal injury lawyers who take on wrongful death claims. They also offer free consultations and work on a contingency basis.
Here is a video produced by this law firm:
Hallen Law Firm - C. Bradley Hallen has over 25 years of experience in personal injury and wrongful death cases, and we all know how important experience is in finding a San Diego county lawyer.
The Gomez Law Firm - This firm claims to have won the largest wrongful death settlement in California history, receiving $106 million for damages. I’m not sure what percentage of the settlement went to the plaintiffs in this case, but I’m sure that the Gomez Law Firm was rewarded nicely for their efforts.
Here is yet another video made by a wrongful death lawyer in San Diego:
Be sure that you are comfortable with pursuing this course of legal action before hiring a San Diego wrongful death attorney. The process can be grueling and extremely painful, especially if the case does not go as planned. But be assured, in the end all wrongs will be made right and all those who deserve to pay will pay.