No one wants to receive that call, the one telling you that someone close to you has been in a fatal accident. Although the sheer emotional grief can be overwhelming enough on its own, if someone else is responsible for your loved one’s death, you might find the news even more difficult to accept.
Filing a wrongful death claim
Wrongful death claims are handled in a civil capacity, rather than in a criminal court. However, if someone committed a crime that took your loved one’s life, the evidence from the criminal case may be used in a civil wrongful death claim. For a wrongful death claim to proceed, certain factors must be present. Those basic factors are:
- Surviving family: To proceed with a wrongful death claim, there must be surviving family members, such as a spouse, child or parent.
- Liability: It will be necessary to prove that the other party is culpable for the accident, whether for his or her negligent driving actions or other wrongful actions.
- Damages: A wrongful death claim should show the extent to which the death has an impact on your life. There may be monetary damages and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, to consider.
Seeking advice from an attorney with regard to these and all other aspects of the case can help you decide how to proceed. Although you, as a close family member, may be the one pursuing a wrongful death claim, a representative of the estate may be the one who files the claim on your behalf.
To learn more about these matters, please see our overview of wrongful death claims in California.
How are damages calculated in a wrongful death lawsuit?
As we have noted many times before on this blog, when a negligent driver injures another person, the injured can make a claim to recover their damages through a personal injury lawsuit. The damages in these cases can include the injured party’s medical expenses and lost wages from the time her or she was unable to return to work, as well as less tangible damages such as pain and suffering.
In cases involving a fatal car accident, these issues are somewhat different. Family members of the victim my file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent driver who caused their loved one’s death.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the damages are those suffered by the victim’s immediate family. California provides that family members may recover two types of damages, economic and noneconomic.
Economic damages include funeral expenses, the loss of income and gifts the victim would have provided over the course of a remaining lifetime, and other monetary losses. Noneconomic damages include less tangible losses, such as the loss of the loved one’s companionship.
Many people are uncomfortable with these concepts. Certainly, no amount of money can take the place of a loved one. Still, the sudden loss of a loved one has very real effects on family members, and they deserve compensation when their damages are the result of another person’s negligence.
These cases are emotionally sensitive and legally difficult. It’s important for families to seek out help from an attorney with experience in personal injury and wrongful death.
Professionals Who Can Help You Build a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you recently suffered injuries due to the negligent or intentionally destructive actions of another party, you could have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. In some such cases, liability is immediately clear and obvious to everyone involved. In other cases, liability is a more uncertain issue. Even a straightforward personal injury claim can become a complex legal matter. Your case may evolve significantly from the time of your filing until it concludes.
Many personal injury cases require input from professional experts in various disciplines. These professionals provide the court with objective, professional interpretations of the facts of the case. If you are preparing a personal injury lawsuit, it’s vital to know which professionals may have a strong bearing on your case and how they can help you strengthen your claim.
If you suffered physical or psychological injury due to another party’s negligence, you would need treatment from appropriate medical providers. They will provide you with reports of their treatments and findings, and these reports will be invaluable to a future lawsuit. Additionally, some medical professionals may act as expert witnesses in your case to clarify certain aspects of your claim. For example, if you claim your injury has left you permanently disabled but the defendant’s attorney disputes that claim, a medical professional may be able to provide the court with a professional explanation as to why you meet the threshold for disability.
Medical professionals acting as expert witnesses typically do not have patient-doctor relationships with the clients involved in the cases in which they testify. Many expert witnesses are retired professionals who offer their experience and professional credentials to support active cases. They can explain the extent of a plaintiff’s disability, the severity of the pain they likely experienced from their experience, and potential future complications they are likely to encounter. Mental health treatment professionals may also testify as to the severity of a plaintiff’s claimed psychological trauma from the event in question.
Some personal injury cases involve objects like vehicles, structures, and other physical variables that require professional interpretation. Engineers can explain the physical forces at work in certain situations to provide clarity on elements of a personal injury case. For example, in a product liability lawsuit for a defective product, an engineer may analyze the product in question and help a plaintiff prove that the product is indeed defective in its intended purpose.
In some cases, an engineer may testify as to the forces at work in a car accident or the physics behind a car’s reaction to a collision, such as failure of an airbag to properly inflate in a head-on crash.
Many personal injury claims involve economic damages, such as lost profits, damaged reputation, and business-related losses. A forensic accountant may assist in a civil claim if there is any need to uncover a paper trail to prove economic harm has occurred. These professionals are experts at accounting and bookkeeping, and their job is to locate financial inconsistencies, uncover hidden assets, and assist with the research side of litigation.
Consulting vs. Testifying Experts
Many potential experts may weigh in on your personal injury case, but they may do so in one of two capacities. A consulting expert does just that, provides a consulting reference to an attorney building a personal injury case. This type of expert does not testify in court or formally participate in legal proceedings, but they provide professional insights into complex questions concerning specific issues within a case. The information they provide helps attorneys form stronger arguments on their client’s behalf.
Testifying experts, as the name suggests, testify in court and provide the court with their professional assessment of a specific angle of the case. These testifying expert witnesses must not only have the professional credentials necessary to provide the required insight into the case but must also possess the ability to convey their interpretations effectively to the court.
The differences between these two types of expert witnesses are more important than they may seem due to the Discovery rule for personal injury litigation. If an expert witness is testifying in the case, their testimony and statements provided to one attorney must be shared with the opposing legal team to satisfy the requirements of Discovery. A consulting expert’s insight is not subject to Discovery.
Building the Strongest Case Possible
Your personal injury attorney may inform you that several experts will participate in your case to some degree. However, your case may only require input from a professional expert about one specific issue. Whatever the case may be, building the strongest possible claim starts with choosing the right attorney. At Easton & Easton, our team has put more than 100 combined years of personal injury experience to work over more than 30 years of practicing in Southern California, and we can help with your personal injury case. Contact us today to learn more about what our firm can do for you.