How Damages Are Calculated in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

By Ese OmofomaJune 7, 2023
How damages are calculated in a California wrongful death lawsuit-1

Coping with the profound loss of a loved one is a profoundly distressing event, made even more heart-wrenching when that loss results from the negligence or wrongful actions of another. In such circumstances, survivors have to navigate the personal pain of grief and grapple with the complex, often overwhelming, process of a wrongful death lawsuit.

In the state of California, having a solid grasp of how damages wrongful death lawsuits are calculated can shed a glimmer of light in this otherwise emotionally darkened time.

At the Omofoma Law, we understand the multifaceted layers of anguish such circumstances bring and the confusion often associated with legal proceedings. To ease this burden, we strive to provide clarity and support for our clients during these challenging times. Gain a deeper understanding of how damages are calculated in a wrongful death case according to California law, and give us a call to schedule a free case consultation.

How California Wrongful Death Claims Work

How California wrongful death claims work

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that seeks financial compensation for the survivors of a person who has perished due to the negligent or wrongful actions of another party. This civil lawsuit, it should be noted, is completely distinct from any criminal charges that may also be leveled against the responsible party.

The main goal of the wrongful death claim is not to establish criminal liability but to seek restitution for the survivors left behind, helping them mitigate the financial impact and emotional harm caused by their loss.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

The foundation of a wrongful death lawsuit in California lies in four cardinal elements that must be proved for a claim to be successful:

  • Duty of Care: The first element hinges on demonstrating that the defendant had a legal responsibility, or a "duty of care," towards the deceased individual. This implies that the defendant has a legal duty to act (or desist from acting) in a certain manner to avoid causing harm.
  • Breach of Duty: Once a duty of care has been firmly established, it must be shown that the defendant failed to uphold this obligation. This could involve actions that the defendant undertook or necessary actions they negligently failed to take, which breached their duty of care.
  • Causation: The third element involves establishing a direct link between the defendant's breach of their duty and the death of the victim. Simply put, it must be shown that the defendant's actions (or lack thereof) directly caused the fatal incident.
  • Death of the Victim: Lastly, it must be proven that the victim's death led to quantifiable damages suffered by the surviving family members or the victim's estate. These damages can include both tangible (economic) losses, like lost income or medical expenses, and intangible (non-economic) losses, such as emotional suffering or loss of companionship.

Understanding these elements can make the legal process of a wrongful death claim a bit less daunting. However, at the Omofoma Law, we believe that survivors should be able to focus on grieving and healing during this time. For this reason, our committed team is available to assist you throughout every stage of this difficult process, providing legal expertise and compassionate support when you need it most.

Wrongful Death Damages You Might Be Able to Collect

Wrongful death damages you might be able to collect

In a wrongful death lawsuit, there are two primary categories of damages that claimants might be able to collect: economic and non-economic damages. Both types play a vital role in providing the survivors with much-needed financial relief and some measure of compensation for the profound emotional and personal loss they've suffered.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are designed to compensate for the tangible financial losses that have been directly associated with the victim's death. These are quantifiable and typically have concrete dollar amounts attached to them. The intention here is to mitigate the financial impact of the death on the survivors. Specific types of economic damages may include:

  • Medical Expenses: This encompasses all medical costs incurred during the treatment of the deceased prior to their death. This can include hospital bills, prescription medications, doctor's fees, and other related expenses.
  • Funeral and Burial Costs: End-of-life services can be quite costly. Economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit may encompass the costs associated with the funeral, burial, or cremation and any other associated costs.
  • Loss of Income: If the departed individual was a primary income earner, their loss could significantly impact the financial stability of the survivors. This aspect of economic damages calculates the income the deceased individual would likely have earned had they lived and continued working until retirement.

Non-economic Damages

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages are intended to compensate for the intangible, non-financial impacts of the loss. These damages are inherently subjective and can differ essentially from case to case, depending on the personal circumstances of the survivors. Non-economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit might encompass:

  • Loss of Love and Companionship: This attempts to assign a monetary value to the deep emotional loss suffered by the survivors. The depth and significance of the personal relationship between the claimants and the deceased is taken into consideration.
  • Loss of Guidance: If the deceased is a parent, the children may be compensated for the loss of guidance, nurture, and care that their parent would have provided.
  • Emotional Distress: The emotional trauma and psychological suffering experienced by the survivors can also be factored into the non-economic damages.

Factors Considered in Calculating Damages

Working out the damages in a wrongful death lawsuit is a nuanced process that considers several important factors. Every case is distinct, and the specific circumstances surrounding the death and the relationships between the victim and the claimants all play significant roles in determining the amount of damages that may be awarded.

Victim's Age, Health, and Life Expectancy

Factors such as the person's age, health, and life expectancy at the time of death are central to calculating economic and non-economic damages.

For instance, a younger, healthier individual would be expected to live longer and thus provide more years of financial support, love, and companionship to their loved ones. Hence, the lost income, benefits, and companionship could be significantly higher in such cases. Likewise, if the victim had a severe illness with a shortened life expectancy, this could affect the calculated damages.

Victim's Earning Capacity and Financial Contributions

The income and financial contributions of the victim play a crucial role in determining economic damages. This is not just about the current earnings of the victim but also their future earning potential, promotions, bonuses, and expected career growth.

If the deceased were at the peak of their career or had a promising future with substantial earning potential, the financial loss to the family can be considerable.

Victim's Relationship to the Claimants

The relationship's nature and depth between the victim and the claimants are key considerations when calculating non-economic damages. Close family members, for instance, spouses, children, and sometimes parents, may seek compensation for the loss of love, affection, companionship, guidance, and moral support.

The personal circumstances and the level of dependency of each claimant on the deceased will play a substantial role in determining these damages.

Claimants' Financial Dependency on the Victim

The extent to which the claimants financially depended on the victim can greatly influence the amount of economic damages awarded. To illustrate, if the victim was the family's primary breadwinner, the survivors' financial loss could be substantial. Similarly, if the deceased was financially supporting an elderly parent or paying for a child's education, this would also be taken into account.

Claimants' Emotional and Psychological Suffering

The emotional distress and psychological suffering experienced by the survivors are significant factors in assessing non-economic damages. The profound grief, mental anguish, and psychological trauma suffered due to the sudden loss of a loved one can have long-lasting effects on the survivors' mental health and quality of life.

Expert Testimony and Evidence

The testimony of expert witnesses is crucial in quantifying both economic and non-economic damages. Economists or financial experts can provide detailed analyses and projections of the deceased's future earning capacity, benefits, and financial contributions.

Mental health professionals, including psychologists or psychiatrists, can testify about the emotional and psychological impact of the loss on the survivors.

Limitations and Caps on Damages in California

In California, there are caps on certain types of damages:

  • Economic Damages Caps: There are no caps on economic damages in wrongful death cases.
  • Non-Economic Damages Caps: There are no caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases, but there are caps in related medical malpractice cases.
  • Exceptions to Damages Caps: Certain circumstances can override these caps.
  • Punitive Damages: The objective of punitive damages is to punish the defendant and generally do not have a cap.

In California, the only cap on damages is on medical malpractice cases in a personal injury case, although that cap is poised to increase.

Calculation of Damages in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Calculation of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit

When assessing damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, the process is a complex mix of concrete financial computations and more subjective assessments of non-economic losses.

Given the inherent complexities of this process, the expertise and insight of a dedicated wrongful death lawyer, such as those at the Omofoma Law, can be instrumental in ensuring a comprehensive and fair calculation of the damages.

Quantifying Economic Damages

Economic damages, also referred to as pecuniary losses, primarily constitute the financial contributions the deceased would have made to the surviving individuals had they lived. These typically include lost earnings, medical expenses prior to death, funeral costs, loss of benefits, and loss of future financial contributions.

To calculate these damages, multiple factors are taken into account. The victim's income at the time of death, their earning potential, career trajectory, and future benefits are considered. The victim's life expectancy also plays a vital role, with the assumption being that they would have continued to work and contribute financially up until retirement.

Assessing Non-economic Damages

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages are not tied to tangible financial losses. They aim to compensate for the emotional distress, loss of companionship, guidance, and moral support they went through as a result of the loss of a loved one.

These damages are inherently more subjective and harder to quantify. They depend heavily on the emotional and psychological impact of the death on the survivors. The level of emotional pain and suffering, the loss of companionship, the impact on the quality of life, and the disruption of familial relationships all come into play.

Distribution of Damages Among Claimants

The damages granted in a wrongful death lawsuit are divided among the claimants based on their level of dependency on the deceased and their personal loss.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California

In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is generally two years from the date of death. This means that you have two years from the date the individual passes away to file a wrongful death suit.

Contact Our Skilled California Wrongful Death Lawyers at Omofoma Law for an Initial Consultation

Contact our skilled wrongful death lawyer

If you're navigating a wrongful death lawsuit, you don't have to go through this alone. The skilled attorneys at Omofoma Law are here to provide the compassionate and professional legal support you need. Contact us for an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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