Wrongful Death Lawyers in Orange County
The Weekend Family Ski Trip
The family was on their way up to Big Bear for a weekend ski trip. It was raining and the Riverside 91 Freeway was wet and slick.
Without warning, a semi tractor trailer truck was traveling too fast on the same wet highway and lost control. Unable to stop, it broadsided the Orange County family of five. The mother and father were killed instantly. The three children seated in the back of the van survived and are now required to spend the rest of their lives taking care of themselves.
The Afternoon Picnic
In another case, an 18 year-old high school track star and his Orange County family decided to cool off and spend a hot summer day at Lake Mission Viejo. While swimming, this young athlete experienced severe cramping and drowned.
The Orange County lifeguard in the tower was not paying attention and failed to observe this young man in distress. Despite members of the general public viewing what was happening, the lifeguard also failed to notice this young man eventually sink below the surface of the lake until he was told by bystanders. Unfortunately, it was too late. Safety experts found the lifeguard at fault for violating about a half dozen safety policies and procedures.
Orange County Wrongful Death Cases
The above Orange County wrongful death cases are real. They accurately depict how unfair California wrongful death cases are and, how quickly they can take place. Tragically, these types of cases happen almost every day.
In fact, most people are not aware of the fact that every five minutes in the United States, there is a wrongful death. This equates to more than 100,000 children, teenagers and adults sustaining untimely deaths each and every year. A majority of the traffic related wrongful deaths involve teenage drivers between the age of 16-21.
Good Orange County wrongful death lawyers bring wrongful death cases to help provide for the long-term support of the surviving family members. In California, a Wrongful Death normally involves a claim against a person or company who is legally responsible for the death of an individual. The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives (legal heirs) as provided by statute.
The death must have been caused, in whole or in part, by the defendant’s conduct. It must be shown that the defendant was negligent or acted with intentional, willful, wanton or reckless conduct. In some limited instances, a party may even be strictly liable for the death of another without the surviving heirs having to show any wrongdoing by the other party.
Who Can File a California Wrongful Death Case?
California’s wrongful death laws permit certain individuals with a designated relationship to the victim to file a wrongful death claim. Although exceptions do exists, in California the following people may bring a claim in court for the wrongful death of a loved one:
The victim’s surviving spouse, children, issue of deceased children, registered domestic partner, dependent putative spouse, dependent stepchildren, dependent minors living in the victim’s household for at least six months, and dependent parents. If there are no heirs as described above, then claimants include those who would be entitled to inherit the victim’s estate under the law of intestate succession: Parents, whether or not they were dependent; if there are none, then siblings or children of deceased siblings; if there are none, then grandparents; if there are none, then children of a deceased spouse. If none of these relatives exist, the next of kin may file a wrongful death suit.
A wrongful death victim’s personal representative can also maintain a wrongful death action on behalf of the individuals listed above. A personal representative is a person appointed by the probate court to handle the wrongful death victim’s assets, or estate.
What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Case and a Survival Action?
In a wrongful death case, which is a separate statutory cause of action in California, the specified heirs are entitled to recover damages on their own behalf for the unique loss they have sustained by reason of the victim’s death. Wrongful death damages are not part of the victims estate.
Another important distinction is the statute of limitations period, which in a survival action runs for two years from the date of the injury, or for six months after death, whichever is later. An action for wrongful death, in contrast, must be brought within two years from the date of death. A wrongful death action may be joined and tried together with a survivor action when both actions arose out of the same wrongful act.
What Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
Available damages, depending on the evidence, may include economic damages such as financial support the decedent would have contributed to the family during the lifetime of the decedent or the plaintiff; 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.
Non-economic damages include may include a loss of decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support; a loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations and the loss of decedent’s training and guidance.
In a survival action, the cause of action “survives” the death of the person and passes to the person’s successor in interest, who could be a surviving family member or the personal representative of the estate. Damages recoverable are limited to the loss or damage that the decedent sustained or incurred before death, including any penalties or punitive damages that the decedent would have been entitled to recover.
This includes damages personal to the decedent, such as medical expenses, and lost wages. However, a jury is not permitted to consider the grief, sorrow or mental anguish of the heirs, the poverty or wealth of the heirs, or the wrongful death victim’s pain and suffering.
In some cases, punitive damages are recoverable in a survival action if the victim survived the accident, however briefly, or if the property of the victim was damaged or lost before death. The only time the elements of survival or property damage are not necessary to obtain punitive damages is when the wrongful death resulted from a homicide for which the defendant has been convicted of a felony. In many cases, the survival action may be joined with the wrongful death claim and litigated at the same time. A loved one who witnessed the death of another may have a separate cause of action for emotional distress.
What is the Standard of Proof in a California Wrongful Death Case?
The standard of proof in the United States is typically preponderance of the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt. Because proving a case beyond a preponderance of the evidence (slight tipping of scales) is usually easier than a criminal prosecution (beyond a reasonable doubt), wrongful death cases are handled in the civil court system. In California, 9 out of 12 jurors must find in favor of the plaintiff.
Are There Any Special Time Limits to Asserting a California Wrongful Death Case?
Yes there are. Time is of the essence in many wrongful death actions. In civil wrongful death cases, most states have a strict statute of limitations which means that court proceedings must be properly commenced within a certain period of time after the incident or the victim’s family or heirs will lose their right to bring claims.
Other time sensitive issues and areas of possible concern involve preserving evidence and identifying defendants, insurance coverage and assets. This normally requires retaining investigators and experts to commence investigations and evaluations as promptly as possible. In fact, our office has a checklist of more than 140 items that we review in every new case that comes in to our office.
For these reasons alone, most personal injury victims need to understand that hiring an experienced wrongful death lawyer should not be delayed.
Can a Person Who Causes the Death of Another Human Being be Prosecuted for Both Murder in the Criminal Courts and Wrongful Death in the Civil Courts?
The answer is yes. In some instances, a civil and criminal case can both be filed at the same time. People who are charged with the crime of murder are many times also sued in the civil courts for wrongful death.
In these cases, we work with the District Attorney’s Office to coordinate their prosecution of the crime with our handling of the civil wrongful death case.
From a Lawyers Perspective, What Does it Take to Be a Good Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Well, first of all it takes many years and many cases to “learn” how to properly handle and persuasively argue a wrongful death case. Wrongful death cases can be difficult to litigate and the available damages are not always provable through the use of experts, formulas or statistics.
The skill of a lawyer can make or break your wrongful death case. Most victims are not aware of the fact that the amount of compensation you may be entitled to receive is many times related to the ability of the lawyer working on the file.
Only after many years of settling and trying cases is a lawyer able to learn the best way to convince an insurance company, judge or jury to award the maximum amount of damages you are entitled to. When it’s all said and done, the final recovery is normally related to your lawyers persuasion and trial skills.
Make sure to use the information found in this book to find and interview your lawyer. Ask the “9 Questions” found in an earlier chapter to help make sure you’re meeting with the right wrongful death attorney.
What Are The Steps in a Wrongful Death Case?
When you or a family member is involved in a wrongful death, it’s extremely important to act quickly and make smart decisions from the very beginning of your case.
In many instances, heirs of wrongful death victims need and seek out professional counseling to help with their very emotional loss. If you don’t have a health care professional you can turn to for help, most experienced wrongful death lawyers can recommend a good professional in your area who is not only well respected, but also someone who will agree to see you on a lien basis. What this means is that you will not have to pay your medical bills until after your case is concluded.
Investigation and Protecting Evidence
When it comes to investigating the incident that caused the wrongful death, it’s important to keep in mind that evidence can be difficult to locate as time passes.
Objects get moved or removed from the accident scene. Skid marks wash away with rain and other evidence such as broken asphalt, walls, and buildings get repaired or replaced. Damage to vehicles may get repaired before being photographed and the memories of defendants and witnesses fade over time (or after being coached by the other side). In some cases these people simply “disappear.”
To avoid having this happen to you, photographs and video should be taken and all evidence preserved. Investigators should be used to talk to and record the statements of the people involved in your incident and to interview all witnesses.
In most cases, experts in areas such as accident reconstruction or bio-mechanical engineering should be retained and used to review the facts and help establish liability, force of impact, and damages in your case.
Wrongful Death Claim and Lawsuit Filing Deadlines
In almost every case, you only have a certain period of time to file a claim or lawsuit. If you fail to properly file or serve the required legal documents in a timely fashion, you will forever lose your legal right to pursue a claim or case against the responsible party.
The requirements and time period you have to file a claim against a governmental entity such as a city, county or state is different than when dealing with a private party or company in a slip and fall or automobile, motorcycle, or large truck accident case. Medical malpractice cases also have their own unique requirements and limited time periods to take action.
Legal documents called claims, pleadings, and motions are normally prepared and file with the court to protect your rights and maximize your chances of obtaining a full and complete settlement or verdict. Settlement demand packages are also sometimes necessary to attempt settlement of a case before the need for a lawsuit becomes necessary. Mediation, arbitration and trials are all used to obtain a final decision (called a verdict or judgment if trial is necessary) in a wrongful death case.
Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Case?
When it comes to recovering damages in most wrongful death cases, experienced lawyers look to the responsible party’s liability insurance company. If the person who caused the wrongful death was employed with a company at the time he or she caused the harm and, was in the scope and course of employment, we may also pursue a claim against the employer company based upon a legal theory of respondent superior (the employer is liable for the wrongful conduct of its employees while on the job).
Other theories of liability may also be reviewed and pursued which might include a dangerous or defective product claim against the manufacturer or a maker of one of the vehicles parts or components (defective brakes, tires, unsafe/exploding gas tank design…). As you can imagine, each case is different.
If the wrongful death was caused by an automobile collision and the other party has insufficient insurance or no insurance at all, you may be entitled to bring an uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist claim available against your own insurance company. In these circumstances, we will also use experts to undertake an asset background check to see whether or not there is any real property, bank accounts, home equity, or other significant assets to cover your losses. In many cases where the other party was either uninsured or insufficiently insured, we’ve been able to use these techniques to get payment on a large judgment against the other side.
The bottom line is that when it comes to resolving a California wrongful death case, no settlement should take place and no settlement releases should be signed until you have full and complete answers to all of the above questions and issues.
Several Orange County Wrongful Death Cases We’ve Helped Families With…
Get Your Orange County Wrongful Death Questions Answered Today!
Since 1986, we’ve truly enjoyed helping people, not big corporations and insurance companies. Our daily focus involves protecting the injured, the wronged, and the voiceless, not large businesses that routinely trample, abuse, and exploit the rights of the less fortunate.
Wrongful death and personal injury is what we do– and we do it well!
Our drive and motivation has always been devoted to leveling the playing field for our clients and families against the self-serving goals of corporate greed and higher corporate profits.
We truly look forward to answering any questions you may have about your Orange County wrongful death case. Please do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give us a call or visit our web site for more help and information.
More About How and Why We Can Help You with Your Orange County Wrongful Death Case…
The nationally recognized Orange County based firm of Jackson & Wilson, has been helping victims of personal injury and wrongful death since 1986. Both Lisa and Mitch have received the top “AV” rating for ability and ethics by Martindale-Hubbell and their firm is listed in the prestigious Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. They are also proud to be multiple time members of the Million Dollar Advocates Club with membership limited to only those lawyers who have achieved a settlement or verdict of $1,000,000 or more.
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Orange County Wrongful Death Resources (all at our web site and blog):
More about Orange County, California…
Orange County is a county in the U.S. state of California and our county seat is Santa Ana. According to the census, Orange County is the second most populous county in California, behind Los Angeles County and ahead of San Diego County.
Orange County is famous for its tourism, as the home of such attractions as Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as several beaches along its more than 40 miles of coastline. It is also known for its affluence and political conservatism.
Orange County also became well known for being the largest US county ever to have gone bankrupt, when in 1994, longtime treasurer Robert Citron’s investment strategies left the county with inadequate capital to allow for any raise in interest rates for its trading positions.
Whereas most population centers in the United States tend to be identified by a major city, there is no defined urban center in Orange County. It is mostly suburban, except for some traditionally urban areas at the centers of the older cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange, Huntington Beach, and Fullerton. There are also several edge city-style developments such as South Coast Metro and Newport Center.
Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in Orange County; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city incorporated in Orange County, in 1870 when the region was still part of neighboring Los Angeles County.
These cities include the incorporated cities of Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.
Unincorporated communities include Coto de Caza, Cowan Heights, El Modena, Emerald Bay, Foothill Ranch, Ladera Ranch, Lemon Heights, Midway City, Modjeska Canyon, North Tustin, Orange Park Acres, Rancho Mission Viejo, Red Hill, Rossmoor
Silverado Canyon, Sunset Beach, Trabuco Canyon.
More about the Orange County Superior Court…
The Orange County Superior Court of California is a superior court with general jurisdiction to hear and decide any civil or criminal action which is not specially designated to be heard in some other court or before a government agency. As mandated by the California Constitution, each of the 58 counties in California has a superior court.
The locations of the Orange County Superior Court are as follows:
Central Justice Center
700 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
909 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Civil Complex Center
751 West Santa Ana Blvd
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Orange County Men’s Jail
550 N Flower St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Harbor Justice Center
Laguna Hills Facility
23141 Moulton Parkway
Laguna Hills, CA 92653-1206
Harbor Justice Center
Newport Beach Facility
4601 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, CA 92660-2595
Lamoreaux Justice Center
341 The City Drive South
Orange, CA 92868-3205
North Justice Center
1275 North Berkeley Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92832-1258
West Justice Center
8141 13th Street
Westminster, CA 92683-4593
The Orange County superior court is the lowest level of state court in California holding general jurisdiction on civil and criminal matters. Above it (and the other Superior Courts around the State of California) are the six California Courts of Appeal, each with appellate jurisdiction over the superior courts within their districts, and the Supreme Court of California.
As of 2007, the Superior Courts of California consisted of over 1,500 judges, and make up the largest part of California’s judicial system, which is in turn one of the largest court systems in the United States.
Superior court judges are elected by each county’s voters to six-year terms. California attorneys are allowed to run against sitting superior court judges at their retention elections, and have occasionally succeeded in doing so. Vacancies in the superior courts are filled by appointments made by the Governor.
Helping Orange County Wrongful Death Victims Since 1986…
Jackson & Wilson, Inc. (Since 1986)
231671 Mill Creek Drive, Suite 150
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Tel No. 949-855-8751