Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit

The loss of a loved one is a heartbreaking and traumatizing experience. If another person caused the death due to the negligence or misconduct of others, the deceased person’s family members may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California and seek financial compensation.

However, as personal injury lawyers, we’re often asked about who is entitled to recover damages and how the courts divide the settlement money among the surviving family members.

Our blog post today discusses noteworthy details regarding wrongful death lawsuits in California and explains who the beneficiaries are who can file a claim and receive monetary damages.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim filed by close family members of the deceased to hold the negligent or liable parties accountable for their misconduct or carelessness that resulted in a loved one’s death.

Wrongful death cases can arise out of:

  • Automobile, motorcycle, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents due to negligent or drunk driving.
  • Medical malpractice by doctors, nurses, and hospitals.
  • Nursing home abuse or negligence.
  • Work accidents due to unsafe premises, defective equipment, and lack of worker training.
  • Defective products like vehicles, tires, airbags, and household items causing fatal injuries.
  • Slip and fall accidents occurring in public places with wet or slippery floors lacking warnings.

Essentially, if another party caused your family member’s death due to reckless behavior, neglect, or intentional harm, the survivors or anyone financially dependent on the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

In California, survivors have two years (statute of limitations) from the date of death to bring such lawsuits. A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney can help file the case on time and ensure your family gets rightly compensated for its tragic loss.

California Wrongful Death Settlements and Awards

In most cases, wrongful death lawsuits ultimately settle outside court, whereby the defendant’s insurance company negotiates compensation with your attorney. If both sides cannot reach a reasonable settlement, the case goes to trial for a jury to award the damages.

California allows for two different wrongful death claims to compensate the family members of the deceased.

Survival Action

A survival action, brought under California Code of Civil Procedure §377.30, allows the estate (via a personal representative or executor) to claim on behalf of the deceased person for compensation that it would have received had the death not occurred.

It compensates for:

  • The deceased’s final medical and funeral bills.
  • Loss of earnings and financial support between the time of injury and death.
  • Pain and suffering endured by victims between injury and death.
  • Wrongful Death Action

Similarly, a wrongful death lawsuit, under California Code of Civil Procedure §377.60, allows certain family members, like a spouse, children, or parents, to sue directly for their losses from the death.

This lawsuit covers things like the permanent loss of:

  • Future earnings losses.
  • Companionship.
  • Protection.
  • Advice.
  • Services the deceased would have continued providing if alive.

The money from both these actions eventually reaches the surviving family members in proportions determined per the state law.

Who Gets the Money in a California Wrongful Death Case?

California statutes (see above) define who can be eligible beneficiaries in wrongful death actions. Typically, immediate family members who were financially dependent on the deceased person can recover compensation subject to proof and court approval.

The following relations may be entitled to some portion of or the entire settlement amount:

  • Spouse (husband or wife) and children.
  • Domestic or life partner.
  • Parents of the deceased.
  • Siblings.
  • Grandparents.
  • Stepchildren who lived with the deceased’s parents.
  • Putative spouse (a person believed to be married to the deceased).
  • Minor children of the deceased person.
  • Adult children who are financially dependent due to disability.
  • Parents of an adult deceased child only if there is no surviving spouse or children.

Therefore, a surviving spouse will typically inherit first, and surviving children will split the remaining funds equally.

The courts ultimately decide each beneficiary’s share based on what level of financial dependency and support the deceased provided them and how much loss and damage they suffered due to their death.

  • For instance: a stay-at-home spouse suffering substantial financial loss may get a larger share over an adult self-sufficient child with a job.

More On Settlement Money Division in Wrongful Death Cases

California has no standard formula for distributing wrongful death proceeds among entitled beneficiaries. A judge or jury determines what percentage of damages to allocate to each survivor based on the following:

  • The amount of financial support contributed by the deceased before death.
  • Special needs or disabilities of beneficiaries.
  • Survivors suffer the most trauma due to loss of intimacy or companionship.
  • Number of dependents under the deceased’s care and custody.

A higher income-earning deceased supporting more family members typically results in larger settlement payouts.

Some ordinary distribution situations:

  • All beneficiaries split the money equally.
  • The spouse inherits one-half while surviving children divide the remainder equally.
  • One beneficiary solely financially dependent on the deceased receives the total settlement amount.

An experienced California personal injury lawyer thoroughly investigates your unique situation to determine how dependent each family member was on the income, services, companionship, and protection lost due to the death.

What Damages Can the Courts Award in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

In a successful wrongful death case, the court determines how much money to award victims for their economic and noneconomic losses.

Economic Losses

  • The deceased person’s medical and funeral bills.
  • Loss of financial support they would have earned for the family.
  • Loss of benefits like health insurance.
  • Loss of services, maintenance, or management the deceased provided at home.

Noneconomic losses

  • Emotional anguish from losing a loved one
  • Pain and suffering leading up to their death
  • Loss of companionship, comfort, society, consortium
  • Loss of love, care, and guidance the deceased provided

Additionally, if gross negligence or an intentional act like drunk driving or medical malpractice caused the death, the courts can award punitive damages to punish the liable party.

A California personal injury attorney thoroughly calculates both general and special losses suffered by each family member to seek maximum recovery that can help victims rebuild lives shattered by the tragedy.

Why Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer in California

The qualified attorneys at the Pasternack Injury Law Group understand the complex legal process surrounding California wrongful death cases.

They can advise how state laws apply to your unique situation when filing a claim and recovering compensation after losing a loved one.

Specifically, our lawyers can:

  • Conduct thorough investigations to establish the cause of death and identify liable parties.
  • File the lawsuit before the expiration of the statute of limitations.
  • Determine which family members can recover damages according to state law.
  • Calculate the total compensation amount you deserve and aggressively negotiate for it.
  • Deal with insurance companies trying to delay or deny legitimate claims.
  • Represent your best interests in court when insurers don’t offer a suitable settlement.

Don’t let insurance companies take advantage of your vulnerable situation after losing a beloved person.

The Pasternack Injury Law Group offers compassionate guidance and tenacious legal representation to help your family obtain much-needed closure, truth, and the maximum financial recovery permitted under California law.

Call today for a consultation to discuss your potential wrongful death case. The sooner you call, the better for gathering evidence and building a strong claim.

Author Bio

Barry A. Pasternack

Barry Pasternack brings over three decades of legal experience to his role as the founding attorney at Pasternack Injury Law Group. He holds a J.D. from the esteemed California Western School of Law in San Diego, California, and has been a member of the California State Bar since 1988. Located in downtown San Diego, Barry’s practice serves clients throughout the San Diego region, providing comprehensive guidance and representation.

Barry’s commitment to his clients is unwavering, and your initial consultation is always free of charge. You only pay attorney’s fees when he successfully recovers compensation on your behalf. When you choose Barry Pasternack, you’re selecting a skilled legal professional who will tirelessly fight for your rights and work diligently to help you on your path to recovery.

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