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Fresno Wrongful Death Attorney

The death of a loved one can be a very difficult experience, both emotionally and financially. In addition to the grief and sadness that you may feel, a sudden loss can result in unexpected funeral and burial costs and significant medical expenses. The loss of income, benefits, and other forms of support is also common. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible for a wrongful death lawsuit. In these situations, the attorneys at Freedman Law can represent your case and fight diligently for your family’s best interests. Our wrongful death lawyers in Fresno are dedicated to securing justice on your loved one’s behalf.

How Our Firm Addresses Wrongful Death Cases

  • Our Fresno wrongful death attorneys are dedicated to providing the best possible service to our clients. We are available 24/7 and can have a lawyer available at almost any time to meet with you.
  • For over 20 years, our firm has successfully represented over 10,000 personal injury clients. We understand the intricacies of California wrongful death law and can guide you through each stage of your claim.
  • Our firm has the resources you need to navigate the wrongful death process. We have the largest support staff of any Fresno personal injury law firm in the Central Valley and work with doctors, physical therapists, and other experts who can support your claim.

What Is Wrongful Death?

A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another may be asserted by any of the persons described in the next section, or by the decedent’s personal representative on his behalf [Code of Civ. Proc., §377.60].

Why Do We Need Such a Law?

Because once a person’s death is caused by a civil wrong (a tort), the decedent cannot sue for his own damages. The decedent’s pain and suffering is no longer compensable. The decedent’s past and future loss of earnings are no longer compensable unless a third party would have recovered some benefit from those earnings. So, if the decedent no longer has a cause of action against the wrongdoer, who can sue?

Do You Qualify for a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

If someone else caused an accident, intentionally harmed your loved one, or committed a crime and your loved one died as a result, you could file a wrongful death claim. Your family can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit at the same time as a criminal case over the same incident.

Generally, your loved one’s case qualifies as a wrongful death if he or she could have pursued a personal injury claim against the at-fault party for the same incident. However, it is important to speak with a lawyer to determine if you qualify.

At Freedman Law, our attorneys represent lawsuits involving a wide range of accidents and negligent acts. We often handle wrongful death claims that involve the following types of accidents and injuries.

Who May Recover for the Wrongful Death?

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent if he died without a valid will;
  • Persons dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, “putative spouse” means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.
  • A minor at the time of the decedent’s death, if the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support [Code of Civ. Proc. 377.60].

In order for any of these claimants (plaintiffs) to recover, they must still prove that the wrongful act of the tortfeasor (defendant) was a substantial factor in causing of the wrongful death.

In the event a person entitled to recover for wrongful death damages dies away before a settlement or verdict, your losses cannot be recovered by another family member. A personal injury claim is a personal loss and when someone passes away, their right to pursue a personal injury claim such as a wrongful death claim passes away with them.

How to Prove a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

To secure compensation in a California wrongful death claim, you and your family will need to prove that the at-fault party’s actions are responsible your loved one’s death. You will need to show that the at-fault party was negligent, leading to the final illness or injury.

There are four elements of negligence in a California wrongful death lawsuit.

  • Duty of Care: The at-fault party owed a duty of care to your loved one. This duty will depend on the cause of your loved one’s death. For example, if your case involves a car accident, the at-fault driver has a duty to obey California traffic laws and drive his or her vehicle safely.
  • Breach of Duty: The at-fault party breached his or her duty of care to your loved one in some way. For example, if a driver runs a red light and causes a car accident, he or she breached the duty of care by not stopping at the intersection.
  • Causation: The at-fault party’s breach of duty caused your loved one’s death. There are many pieces of evidence that you can use to prove causation, such as surveillance footage, medical records, witness testimony, and statements from experts.
  • Damages: Your family and your loved one sustained damages due to the at-fault party’s actions. As a result, you are eligible to recover compensation for these losses through a wrongful death settlement. You can use multiple pieces of evidence to establish damages, including medical bills, invoices, correspondence, paystubs, and journal entries.

What Can Be Recovered for the Wrongful Death Claim?

When an individual is injured, they can make a claim for

  • Economic damages,
  • General damages
  • Occasionally, for punitive damages.

General damages for a Plaintiff usually consists of:

  • Compensation for pain,
  • Suffering and loss of enjoyment or quality of life.

These general damages are not available in a wrongful death claim. Common sense would indicate that when you lose a loved one, the biggest element of a plaintiff’s damage is the grief, sorrow and mental anguish suffered as a result of the loss. However, in California the jury is specifically instructed that it cannot compensate for these damages [CACI 3921]. This is also true for any compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering. Therefore, if the decedent was severely burned or became a quadriplegic from the accident and subsequently died from those injuries, no compensation can be awarded for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent before his death [CACI 3921].

Similarly if a person who is entitled to wrongful death damages, themselves pass away before settlement or verdict, their wrongful death claim passes with them. For example, if a mother and father have filed a wrongful death claim for the loss of their minor child, and the mother passes away before the case has settled or reached a verdict, the value of the loss will then only be determined by the loss of the surviving father.

Punitive damages, those designed to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the family or others entitled to recover for the loss, can only be awarded in cases where plaintiffs prove the person or company which caused the death was “guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice” [Civil Code section 3294].

  • “Malice” means conduct that is intended to cause injury such as a battery, or despicable conduct carried out with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of another.
  • “Oppression” means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.
  • “Fraud” means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention of causing injury.

3921. Wrongful Death (Death of an Adult)

  • If you decide that plaintiff has proved his claim against the defendant for the death of decedent, you also must decide how much money will reasonably compensate plaintiff for the death of decedent. This compensation is called “damages.”
  • Plaintiff does not have to prove the exact amount of these damages. However, you must not speculate or guess in awarding damages.
  • The damages claimed by plaintiff fall into two categories called economic damages and noneconomic damages.
  • You will be asked to state the two categories of damages separately on the verdict form.

Plaintiff can claim the following economic damages:

  • The financial support, if any, that decedent would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that decedent had before his death or the life expectancy of plaintiff, whichever is shorter;
  • The loss of gifts or benefits that plaintiff would have expected to receive from decedent;
  • Funeral and burial expenses; and
  • The reasonable value of household services that decedent would have provided.

Your award of any future economic damages must be reduced to present cash value. Plaintiff also claims the following noneconomic damages:

  • The loss of decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; [and]
  • The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations.
  • The loss of decedent’s training and guidance.

No fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages. You must use your judgment to decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence and your common sense. [Your award for noneconomic damages should not be reduced to present cash value.] In determining plaintiff’s loss, do not consider:

  • Plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;
  • Decedent’s pain and suffering; or
  • The poverty or wealth of Plaintiff.

In deciding a person’s life expectancy, you may consider, among other factors, the average life expectancy of a person of that age, as well as that person’s health, habits, activities, lifestyle, and occupation. This information is evidence of how long a person is likely to live but is not conclusive. Some people live longer and others die sooner.

In computing these damages, consider the losses suffered by all plaintiffs and return a verdict of a single amount for all plaintiffs. It will be divided the amount among the plaintiffs. Common sense would indicate that when you lose a loved one, the biggest element of a plaintiff’s damage is the grief, sorrow and mental anguish suffered as a result of the loss.

However, in California the jury is specifically instructed that it cannot compensate for these damages [CACI 3921]. This is also true for any compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering. Therefore, if the decedent was severely burned or became a quadriplegic from the accident and subsequently died from those injuries, no compensation can be awarded for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent before his death [CACI 3921].

Why You Need a Fresno Wrongful Death Lawyer

Navigating a California wrongful death claim can be challenging, especially after losing a loved one. In these situations, an attorney can guide you and your family through the litigation process and handle all aspects of the case on your behalf.

By hiring a Fresno wrongful death lawyer, you gain access to several key benefits, including the following.

  • Sharing Knowledge of the Process: Your attorney will have extensive experience representing clients in wrongful death claims. He or she can leverage his or her legal knowledge, case strategies, expert witnesses, and other resources to craft a compelling case in your favor.
  • Calculating Damages: You may not understand the full value of your claim. Your lawyer can help you identify which damages that you qualify for and accurately calculate your estimated settlement. Armed with this knowledge, you can advocate for the highest possible settlement.
  • Navigating the Court System: Your lawyer will also understand the rules and customs of the Fresno court system. He or she can guide you through each stage of your case, help you prepare for each milestone, and file the required paperwork without errors or delays.
  • Negotiating with Other Parties: During your claim, you may need to negotiate with each party and attempt to reach a settlement. Your attorney will have the negotiation skills that you need to navigate these conversations and will advocate aggressively for your best possible interests.
  • Enabling Healing: Losing a loved one can be a very difficult experience. During this time, your family should focus on healing, not complex litigation. A Fresno wrongful death attorney will handle all aspects of your claim on your behalf.

Speak to a Fresno Wrongful Death Attorney Today

If you lost a loved one due to another person’s wrongful actions, the attorneys at Freedman Law can help. We can represent your family in a wrongful death lawsuit and hold the at-fault party accountable.

Our firm is dedicated to securing justice on your loved one’s behalf and will fight diligently to protect your family’s rights. Contact us online or call today to discuss your legal options with a Fresno wrongful death lawyer.