Earlier this month, two Los Angeles-area teenagers were killed when they were involved in a fatal rollover crash in Tustin. According to early reports, the two 17-year-old boys were in a car with five other passengers. The car, which was only intended to seat five passengers, veered off of the road and struck a cement pole. One teen was announced dead at the scene and another died from his injuries at an area hospital. The other five teens all suffered a variety of non-fatal injuries.
The families of the two deceased teenagers may be thinking about filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the wake of the tragic accident.
Wrongful Death Claims in California
When families lose a loved one unexpectedly, they may be forced to deal with significant emotional and financial issues. California allows family members to file wrongful death lawsuits to recover monetary damages to compensate for these (and other) harms. Wrongful death basically means that another person’s negligence or wrongful conduct caused a fatal accident.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
In order to successfully recover compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit, a family member must prove:
- The defendant had a duty to protect the victim from harm
- The defendant breached with duty in some way, and
- The victim’s death was caused by the defendant’s conduct.
Who Can File Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
In California, only those people who have an established relationship with a victim may file a wrongful death lawsuit. A victim’s spouse, partner, or children have the first right to pursue damages.
If there is no spouse, partner, or child to file a lawsuit, the state permits other parties to pursue damages. Stepchildren, parents, and individuals who can establish that they relied on the victim for financial support are permitted to file wrongful death claims.
What Damages Can Be Recovered From a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits limit the type of damages family members can recover. In most cases, family members will be prohibited from recovering damages that the victim would have been entitled to had they lived. However, those damages can be pursued by the victim’s estate in a survival action.
In a wrongful death claim, family members are permitted to recover damages for:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Value of financial support the victim would have provided
- Value of household services the victim would have provided, and
- Loss of gifts or benefit that the family could have expected to receive from the victim.
Family members may also be entitled to recover compensation for the loss of the victim’s comfort, companionship, care, protection, and moral support.
When Do Families Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Families generally have two years from the date of the fatal accident or their loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim. If you do not file a legal claim for damages before the statute of limitations expires, you will be prohibited from recovering compensation for your loss.
Can a Victim’s Own Negligence Prevent His Family From Recovering Compensation?
Maybe. In California, anyone who contributes to the cause of an accident or injury can be held financially responsible in a lawsuit. This includes victims who sustain an injury in an accident. When a victim dies, the amount of money their family members can recover may be limited.
The fatal Tustin rollover crash involved 7 teenagers. The two victims knew (or should have known) that the car could only safely transport 5 passengers, including the driver. When they got into the overpacked car they put themselves in harm’s way. If they had not been in a car that was over capacity, their injuries may not have been fatal. Since they may have aggravated their injuries, their families may not be able to recover the full extent of any damages they have.
If the boys are considered to be 10 percent at-fault, their families will only be able to recover 90 percent of their damages.
Get Help After a Los Angeles Car Accident
Have you lost a loved one in a Los Angeles car accident? Call the Los Angeles Accident Law Center to learn about your legal options. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand why filing a wrongful death claim can be important and help you navigate the complex legal process. Call us today to request a free consultation. We can help you get the money you deserve after your loved one’s unexpected death.