Wrongful death refers to a loss of life because of someone else’s negligence, wanton disregard, or intent to harm. If someone causes wrongful death in California, the civil courts permit the victim’s surviving family members – typically a spouse or children – to demand compensation from the at-fault party. The burden of proof in a wrongful death claim falls on the plaintiff. The surviving family member must prove that the defendant did in fact cause the loved one’s death through some act of negligence or recklessness.
Negligence is the most common foundation for civil claims. Negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care. Any act (or failure to act) that makes an individual breach his or her duties of care to others is negligence. If negligence causes someone else’s death, it is grounds for a wrongful death claim in California. Any act of carelessness, recklessness, intent to harm, or a wanton disregard for the safety of others could qualify as negligence in a wrongful death claim.
Most fatal accidents involve some act of negligence. Accidents are often preventable with the proper degree of care. Accidents, injuries, and deaths happen when one or more parties fail to fulfill their duties of care, resulting in hazards or safety risks that otherwise would not have existed. Negligence can refer to doing something the individual should not have, such as driving drunk, or not doing something the person should have, such as a surgeon preparing for surgery. Proving negligence will be the claimant’s burden in a wrongful death claim in California.
Four Elements of Proof
Most personal injury and wrongful death claims require four main elements of proof for the plaintiff to obtain compensation from the defendant. Without these four elements, the plaintiff may not have enough evidence against the defendant to prove liability. Holding someone responsible for wrongful death generally takes showing that four specific elements existed.
- Duty of care. The defendant owed the deceased person a duty of care, such as the duty to drive safely or a duty as an employer to protect workers. The defendant’s duties will depend on his or her relationship with the decedent.
- Breach of duty. The defendant breached his or her duties of care to the deceased person. A breach can be an act of negligence, carelessness, or intent to harm. Any action or omission that a reasonably careful party would not have committed may be a breach.
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused the deceased person’s accident, injuries, and death. The decedent must have passed away from an injury or illness that the defendant caused or contributed to through a breach of duty.
- The plaintiff suffered real, compensable damages as a result. The death of a loved one is a significant damage. Related losses could also qualify, such as medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and pain and suffering.
A wrongful death case is one of the most trying types of claims for claimants. Dealing with the unexpected loss of a loved one on top of legal action can be overwhelming. The best way to prove your wrongful death claim is with help from an attorney with experience in this practice area. An attorney can take over your wrongful death case and help you prove the defendant’ negligence and fault while you focus on your family. You can concentrate on important family matters, such as planning a funeral, while your lawyer handles proof of negligence.