There's a degree of risk inherent to driving or riding in a motor vehicle. After all, you're traveling at high speeds in a machine built of metal, fiberglass and actual glass. Small mistakes can result in a vehicle hitting yours, a vehicle flipping over or even a vehicle suddenly leaving the road, often with tragic results.
There are many different causes of collisions. Sometimes, inclement weather affects both visibility and traction. Other times, a driver is at higher risk due to impairment by drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, it's exhaustion that leaves a driver vulnerable to oversight or mistakes at the wheel. Distraction, in the form of both mobile phones and other passengers, can also cause a crash. For those who lose a loved one, the cause is less important than the fact that the crash was preventable.
California protects survivors by allowing wrongful death lawsuits
In order to protect dependent family members and hold those who cause deadly crashes accountable, California law allows for wrongful death lawsuits. Under state law, wrongful death includes any death caused by neglect or a wrongful act by another person.
The law does limit who can file such a claim: In general, it includes a surviving spouse, child, grandchildren born to deceased children and any other persons who could receive the deceased's property in an intestate estate (an estate without a will).
Wrongful death lawsuits allow you to seek compensation for your losses
The kinds of compensation surviving family members can seek will vary based on the specifics of their situation. However, the damages often include funeral and burial costs, medical expenses incurred prior to death and lost income that the deceased would have earned in the future.
Family members can also seek financial compensation for the value of services around the home performed by the deceased, loss of financial support and loss of love, affection and guidance. In order to successfully seek this kind of compensation, however, family members must file their lawsuit within two years of the date of death.
You can pursue a suit even if there is no criminal conviction
You may think that if the county prosecutor declined to file criminal charges that you won't have a chance to win in civil court. That simply isn't the case. Criminal trials have a higher standard for evidence, which must be beyond a reasonable doubt. The same evidence that wouldn't result in a conviction could be sufficient to win a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
For families denied the justice that comes from the criminal conviction of the person who caused a loved one's death, civil lawsuits may be the only legal means of seeking justice. Winning a wrongful death lawsuit can help offset the costs your family incurred due to the accident while also holding the other driver accountable for the tragedy that resulted.