What You Can Do If You Have Lost a Loved One in a Fatal Accident

In the United States in 2008, 37,261 people lost their lives in vehicular accidents. This is one of the most common causes of death for people under the age of 30, and it is also a leading cause of death for those over 30. Over half of these fatal accidents involve the use of alcohol.

Whether a loved one is killed in an alcohol-related car accident, as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle, on a bicycle, or from other vehicle causes, the pain and anguish experienced by the family is the same. They experience emotional and financial loss that nothing can ever repair. The only thing that we, as a society, can do to help the families of these victims is to allow them to recover damages from the person responsible for the death of the loved one.

Rights of Surviving Family Members

Under California law, the surviving family members of a person killed by another’s negligence have the legal right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. California law provides for a number of people to have this right, including the surviving spouse or partner of the deceased, any children or grandchildren as well as step-children, minors who are dependent on the decedent, and parents. In the absence of traditional “family” members, the person with the right to file a wrongful death suit is the individual who would have been the “next of kin” under a probate proceeding due to the person’s death. This may be an aunt, uncle, cousin, or even a friend.

What Is the Purpose of a Wrongful Death Claim?

Money cannot bring back a loved one. However, the law provides for wrongful death claims to be filed to mitigate the financial damage to the family brought about by the loved one’s death.

This means that the law recognizes that loved ones contribute both monetarily and emotionally to a family’s makeup. For example, if a father is killed in a car accident who was the sole breadwinner for the family, it is not just a question of how much the wife and children miss the father. It is also a legal question of how the wife and children can be expected to survive without the income on which they relied for so many years. The wife and children of the victim should not have to suffer because of the actions of one negligent person.

What about cases in which a child is killed? The law recognizes that a child may not have contributed to the family’s income, but also allows us to speculate that had the child lived, he or she would have become a productive member of society and would have contributed to his or her own family’s well-being.

An aged parent who is no longer working can also be the subject of a wrongful death claim. In this case, the law recognizes that even if an elderly family member no longer contributes to the family’s well-being monetarily, they provide other forms of support in terms of counsel, mentoring, and caring for children and others in the family.

Legal Terms of Wrongful Death Suits

A driver who causes another person’s death is negligent under the law. That negligence forms the basis for a wrongful death suit. There is also a statute of limitations on wrongful death that varies according to the age of the decedent and other factors.

Determining liability and statute of limitations is not usually a job for a grieving family. The family may want to engage a personal injury lawyer to help them determine if they have grounds for a lawsuit and how to go about collecting those damages.