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How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Divided in California?

Wrongful death claims are appropriate when a family member dies because of the negligence, recklessness, or malicious intent of another person or entity. A wrongful death claim cannot take back the tragedy of losing a loved one, but it can help pay for the mountain of expenses that can arise after an unexpected death. Receiving a wrongful death settlement could compensate dependents for a variety of damages. California has specific laws in place controlling the division of these settlements among family members.

Who Can File?

Only certain parties have the right to file a claim for damages after a wrongful death. Section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedure states that a surviving spouse, domestic partner, and children have the first right to file for wrongful death. If these parties do not exist, anyone the law entitles to the property of the decedent by intestate succession may file. This may include parents, stepchildren, or a putative spouse in some circumstances. People who relied financially on the decedent may also have a right to claim damages in a wrongful death action in limited circumstances.

What Damages Are Available?

A wrongful death claim can result in payment for a variety of losses after a fatal negligence-related accident. A wrongful death settlement can include amounts to cover reasonable funeral and burial expenses, medical costs leading up to death, lost inheritance, lost wages, the decedent’s pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and the family’s mental anguish. The case may also result in punitive damages to punish the defendant for wrongful acts.

According to California law, surviving family members and the decedent’s estate can receive different forms of compensation during a wrongful death claim. Surviving family members may be able to recover for economic and noneconomic losses, while the estate may only recover economic losses that impacted the decedent, such as medical bills. A personal injury lawyer can help your family determine which type of lawsuit your family has the right to file.

Distribution of a Wrongful Death Settlement Among Family Members

Surviving family members have the right to determine how to divide a wrongful death settlement in California. The family members and heirs who filed the claim can work together and agree on how much each person should receive. The surviving spouse and children, for example, may take home the majority of settlement proceeds, while a dependent parent may also receive a share. It is largely up to the surviving family members to distribute a settlement themselves.

If the family cannot agree on settlement distribution, the state of California gives civil courts the authority to distribute wrongful death settlements among eligible family members. It will become the court’s job to assess the situation and decide how to divide the settlement based on the financial needs of each eligible person. The courts will evaluate economic needs such as housing, education, and support in determining who will receive the greatest shares of the settlement amount.

Many families turn to mediation to decide on settlement division. Mediation involves the parties who believe they have a claim to a share of the settlement, along with attorneys (if desired), and an unbiased third-party judge. Mediation is not a court trial, and is often much faster than taking a settlement issue to court. However, if the family still cannot make a binding decision, the matter will fall to the California courts.

When to Speak to an OC Wrongful Death Attorney

Wrongful death is one of the most difficult types of civil claims to undergo as a plaintiff. Hiring an Orange County wrongful death lawyer can make every step of the process easier for you and your family during a hard time – including settlement division. Working with a lawyer can ensure you and your children or other dependents receive the share you require to move forward.