The loss of a loved one is an unparalleled tragedy, particularly when it occurs under preventable circumstances. In California, families who face such losses are not left without recourse. While no financial compensation can fully address the emotional void left behind, understanding and pursuing a wrongful death claim can provide crucial support during such a trying time. 

This article offers a detailed explanation of wrongful death damages in California, aiming to demystify the legal options available to grieving families seeking justice and financial relief. Whether caused by a negligent driver, a defective product, or any other act of carelessness, California law provides mechanisms to address these wrongs and help ease the associated financial burdens. 

Common damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit can include funeral expenses, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and more. Read on to learn more about California’s jury instructions (CACI) and wrongful death damages available in a lawsuit. 

Reach out to us online or call (209) 600-4389 today to schedule a free consultation, either in person or remotely.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of personal injury  claim brought by an accident victim’s surviving loved ones.. Typically, spouses, domestic partners, children, or grandchildren can bring a wrongful death claim.

However, certain other close relatives can also bring a claim if they show they were financially dependent on the accident victim.

A family can pursue a wrongful death claim after an accident caused by another’s negligence, including:

If your loved one died due to another party’s negligence, please contact Silva Injury Law to speak with a California wrongful death lawyer.

Types of California Wrongful Death Damages

When it comes to wrongful death damages in California, there are two main types: economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are those that compensate loved ones for their “actual” losses. This includes the money they could have expected to receive if their loved one hadn’t died, as well as the money they spent due to their loved one’s passing.

Economic damages have an objective element to them, meaning they can be reasonably ascertained by presenting evidence, such as the accident victim’s income, receipts, bills, etc.

Burial and Funeral Expenses

When a family loses a loved one due to wrongful death, they are entitled to recover the costs associated with the funeral and burial.

This compensation covers all necessary expenditures to honor the deceased’s final rites, including:

  • Funeral service fees,
  • Costs for cremation or interment,
  • Expenses for purchasing a casket or urn,
  • Charges related to securing a burial plot, and
  • Costs for a headstone or grave marker.

Funeral-related expenses can be significant, placing a heavy financial burden on grieving families.

Lost Income and Financial Support

Families can also claim compensation for the financial support that the deceased would have provided if they had not passed away prematurely. This support includes the direct income they might have earned and other economic contributions like gifts and benefits that would have been expected to accrue over time.

The calculation of lost financial support considers several factors:

  • The expected lifetime earnings of the deceased, considering their age, health, occupation, and lifestyle.
  • The life expectancy of the support recipient may sometimes be shorter than that of the deceased.

Juries determine these life expectancies using mortality tables and other relevant factors. The awarded sum for future financial support is typically given as a lump sum payment, intended to replicate the value of the lost income and benefits over time. Proper investment of this lump sum is crucial as it is meant to provide sustained financial support equivalent to what the deceased would have contributed.

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages, however, are much more subjective. They seek to compensate family members for the less tangible emotional and psychological harms they suffered due to their loss.

Every accident victim is unique, as is the impact that the loss has on their family. Non-economic damages allow a judge or jury to take these differences into account when determining the appropriate amount of damages.

Loss of Consortium and Companionship

In the context of a California wrongful death lawsuit, one of the most profound non-economic damages families can recover is for loss of consortium. This legal term encompasses a wide range of losses that extend beyond financial metrics, addressing the profound emotional and personal hardships that come with losing a loved one.

Compensation for loss of consortium includes:

  • Loss of love and companionship;
  • Loss of comfort and care provided by the deceased;
  • Loss of assistance and protection in daily life;
  • Loss of affection and moral support;
  • Loss of society, or the benefits of family relationships;
  • Loss of sexual relations with a spouse; and
  • Loss of guidance and training the deceased would have provided. 

These elements reflect the multifaceted impact of a loved one’s death on the surviving family members. Loss of consortium damages are particularly significant because they attempt to quantify the emotional and psychological support the deceased would have continued to provide had they lived.

Are Punitive Damages Available in a California Wrongful Death Claim?

In California wrongful death cases, punitive damages are generally unavailable to claimants. That holds true even when the defendant’s behavior was exceptionally reprehensible. The sole exception to this rule occurs when the wrongful death action arises from a felony homicide.

In such cases, surviving family members can only pursue punitive damages if the defendant has been convicted of felony homicide. It’s important to note, however, that while punitive damages are not recoverable in wrongful death actions, they can be sought through a survival action initiated by the deceased’s estate. 

What Are Recoverable Damages in a Survival Action?

In California, a survival action is distinct from a wrongful death claim in that it allows the deceased’s estate to seek compensation for the injuries and damages the deceased suffered before death. Under California Law, specifically CCP 377.34, representatives of the estate can pursue various damages sustained by the deceased before their passing.

Economic Damages

Economic damages in a survival action can include:

  • Medical expenses incurred for the treatment of the deceased before their death, 
  • Any property damage related to the deceased’s accident, and
  • Lost wages that the deceased could have earned from the time of injury until their death. 

These damages are intended to provide restitution for the financial burdens incurred as a direct result of the injury that eventually led to death.

Noneconomic Damages

Recent legislative changes have significantly expanded the scope of recoverable damages in survival actions. Since January 1, 2022, plaintiffs can now claim noneconomic losses such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of quality of life that the deceased experienced before death. 

It is important to note that this provision is temporary. The current law expires on January 1, 2026, unless extended or permanently adopted by the California Legislature. During this period, all noneconomic damages awarded in survival actions must be reported to the Judicial Council, which monitors these awards and reports findings to the legislature.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages may also be sought in survival actions if the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious, demonstrating a willful and reckless disregard for the safety and rights of others. Punitive damages are often seen in cases where the defendant’s actions were not just negligent but intentionally harmful or grossly negligent.

Caps on Damages

Survival actions involving medical malpractice are still subject to caps on general damages under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). For medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death, the cap on noneconomic damages for 2024 is $550,000. Incremental increases are planned until 2033 to eventually reach $1 million, followed by annual adjustments for inflation.

Contact a California Wrongful Death Attorney for a Free Consultation

If you lost a loved one in a tragic accident, the thought of bringing a lawsuit may feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. At Silva Injury Law, our dedicated team of personal injury and wrongful death lawyers have developed an effective approach to these cases. We focus our efforts on making the process as easy on you and your family as possible while pursuing the compensation that you need to begin the process of moving on with your life.

We have a firm understanding of wrongful death damages in California and do everything possible to identify the full extent of your loss.

To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a compassionate wrongful death lawyer, call (209) 600-4389 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.