The unexpected loss of someone you love is one of the most devastating events any family can experience. When your loved one’s life was cut short due to a preventable act of carelessness, the scale of the tragedy becomes truly overwhelming.
While nothing in the world can bring this person back, our San Jose wrongful death lawyers can help you get justice in the civil court system. Under California law, you may have the right to seek compensation for your emotional and financial damages by filing a wrongful death claim against the individual or business responsible.
Wrongful death cases require an attorney with a high level of compassion and empathy and the skills to help you navigate a complicated legal process. If you’ve lost a close relative due to negligence, the San Jose personal injury lawyers at Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos can provide the clear, honest, effective legal representation you need during these challenging times.
An Experienced Team of San Jose Wrongful Death Attorneys
At Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, we’re on a mission to provide our wrongful death clients with the same caliber of legal services that insurance companies and large companies access.
We know that clients that pursue a wrongful death case will often struggle with the idea of placing a monetary value on the life of someone they lost because of negligence. However, recovering compensation is critical for helping families cover the financial expenses associated with their loved one’s death and move forward after a heartbreaking experience.
Filing a wrongful death claim can be a very grueling process with a lot of setbacks and uncertainty. Our wrongful death attorneys can make your family gets a fair shake by investigating what happened, establishing the at-fault party’s negligence, and building a persuasive case for the extent of your damages.
Understanding the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Action
Filing a wrongful death claim is a civil process that allows the victim’s family to hold wrongdoers financially responsible for the economic and non-economic damages of losing their loved one. California also provides a second type of claim called a survival action, which is specifically for scenarios where the victim did not immediately die from their injuries.
Wrongful death claims and survival actions are often used interchangeably because they’re typically consolidated into just one lawsuit. However, some important differences between these two types of claims can affect the legal process.
Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are designed to compensate for the harms suffered by close relatives of the deceased as a result of the at-fault party’s negligence, such as funeral costs, loss of financial support, and loss of companionship.
Like most states, California restricts who can pursue this kind of action to immediate family members and dependents of the deceased, including their spouse, domestic partner, children, or parents. In certain situations, grandparents, siblings, and other close relatives would also be eligible to file for compensation. It’s also important to note that punitive damages cannot be pursued under a wrongful death claim.
A survival action pursues compensation for the damages the victim sustained in the period after getting injured and before their resulting death. That means filing this type of claim is not available in cases of negligent acts that caused instantaneous death. One rule of thumb is that filing a survival action is appropriate whenever, if they hadn’t passed away from their injuries, the victim would have been able to file a personal injury claim against the business or individual that hurt them.
Essentially, the survival action allows a representative from the deceased person’s estate to recover the compensation the victim would have been entitled to pursue, such as lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical expenses. Survival actions also allow families to seek punitive damages for situations where the at-fault party’s negligence was egregious.
The Requirements for Proving Wrongful Death
California’s personal injury laws specify that businesses and individuals can only be held liable for injuries they cause due to actions that are illegal, irresponsible, or otherwise unreasonably dangerous. However, there’s no requirement to prove that the defendant intended to kill the victim.
It only needs to be shown that the defendant was careless, reckless, or explicitly negligent and that this was the direct cause of the deceased’s fatal injuries. An experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to prepare your case to reach the threshold for establishing liability, which includes four elements:
The at-fault party owed their victim a duty of care
Duty of care describes a legal responsibility to avoid causing injury and respect laws surrounding public safety, especially if you have a relationship that requires trust. For example, drivers have the responsibility to follow traffic rules for the sake of everyone else, manufacturers owe consumers safe products, employers have to ensure safe working conditions for employees, and medical professionals have to meet specific standards of care to treat patients.
The at-fault party breached this duty with negligent behavior
To win a wrongful death or survival action claim, the victim’s family has to establish how the defendant’s negligence caused the victim’s preventable injuries. This is often the hardest element to meet because liability in California depends on more than just causing your injuries.
Liability occurs if the at-fault party didn’t take reasonable steps to prevent harming your loved one. Some scenarios can include an inattentive motorist that causes a collision by ignoring another vehicle’s right-of-way, a medical professional that causes deadly complications by deviating from the standard protocol, or a property owner that causes a tragic fire by violating fire safety codes.
The at-fault party’s negligence directly caused the victim’s injuries
Wrongful death claims have to prove the direct link between the at-fault party’s actions and the victim’s injuries. A skilled wrongful death lawyer can establish causation by using evidence such as photos or videos, witness statements, medical records, and the testimony of experts.
The at-fault party’s negligence resulted in quantifiable damages
A wrongful death attorney will examine your claim and evaluate all your family’s damages from the death of a loved one. This process includes calculating all the direct economic damages and intangible costs like loss of support.
The Damages That May be Available in a Wrongful Death Claim
At Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, we’re highly sensitive to the difficulties of placing a monetary value on the tragically lost life. While the legal process cannot restore your spouse, child, sibling, or parent, it can hopefully alleviate the massive financial burden that often comes with the untimely death of a close relative. In general, there are two types of damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit: economic (also known as special) damages and non-economic (also known as general) damages.
Economic damages are the fixed, measurable costs and expenses associated with your loved one’s death, such as:
- Wages and income: Losing a breadwinner will have significant, long-term financial consequences. Families can recover a percentage of the earnings the deceased would have contributed until retirement, based on a projection that considers factors like their age, employment history, salary potential, and medical history.
- Medical costs: A survival action claim can seek compensation for the hospital bills, ambulance service costs, and other medical expenses that were incurred due to the injuries resulting in the victim’s death.
- Funeral and burial costs: These necessary expenses will often put a significant financial strain on surviving family members.
Non-economic damages seek to compensate for emotional and psychological harms that are difficult to quantify but still a significant consequence of the at-fault party’s wrongful act.
California recognizes intangible damages such as:
- For a survival action, the physical and mental pain your relative suffered during the time between being injured and dying.
- The mental and emotional distress experienced by grieving family members
- Loss of the deceased relative’s companionship, guidance, and protection
- Loss of the parent-child relationship
- Loss of consortium
Overall, the amount that you can recover depends on the damages your loved one suffered before passing away from their injuries. Cases will also have different dimensions depending on the relationship between the deceased and the claimants who are pursuing legal action. For example, a spouse may seek compensation for the loss of their partner’s future income, while a child may seek compensation for lost parental guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Filing a Wrongful Death Claim In San Jose
When should I contact a wrongful death attorney?
It’s hard to think about taking legal action while grieving the loss of a close family member, especially when they died under tragic circumstances. However, you should reach out to an experienced attorney as soon as you can because wrongful death lawsuits are complicated, and there’s a limited amount of time to file.
For wrongful death claims, the statute of limitation is two years from the day your family member passed away. Claimants pursuing a survival action have either two years from when their loved one was injured or six months from their death, whichever happens later. If you don’t begin the legal process before this deadline, your family will have forfeited their rights to pursue compensation.
How much does it cost to hire a wrongful death attorney?
In most cases, families filing a wrongful death lawsuit won’t have to pay a retainer upfront or be billed hourly for legal services. Instead, they enter into what’s called a contingency fee agreement, which entitles their lawyer to receive a fixed percentage of the compensation that gets recovered. This amount will typically range between 33 to 40 percent, depending on the case’s complexity and whether it goes to trial.
What should I look for when hiring a wrongful death lawyer?
Not all law firms will have the resources or skills to litigate a wrongful death lawsuit. The stakes are very high for both sides, and the damages pursued tend to be substantial. That means your family should hire an attorney that has solid experience handling wrongful death cases and a consistent track record of success. Make sure you ask any prospective attorney questions about their prior cases and how they would approach the specifics of your claim.
How Our San Jose Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help You
When you’re preparing to file a claim against a business or individual who caused the death of a loved one, choosing the right lawyer is essential. At Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, representing families in wrongful death cases is some of the most important and meaningful work that we do.
Whether your loved one died due to a distracted driver, negligent nursing home employees, or a dangerous product defect, our team will work tirelessly to investigate the facts and build a persuasive case for damages. We’re also highly skilled at negotiating with insurance companies notorious for using a wide range of tactics to undermine valid wrongful death claims.
Contact us at (650) 345-8484 for your free consultation and learn more about how we can help your family achieve justice.