Wrongful Death word represented by wooden letter tiles

Necessary Elements in a Wrongful Death Claim

Law Offices of Steven Zwick Feb. 6, 2024

Is there any true compensation for the loss of a life? The legal system believes there can be in the form of wrongful death claims. These claims help to provide some semblance of justice to grieving parties. Understanding its necessary elements is the first step towards seeking the retribution you deserve.  

At the Law Offices of Steven Zwick, we're no strangers to the emotional toll a wrongful death claim can take on those left behind. When a loved one's life is tragically cut short due to the irresponsible actions of another, it's only natural to want to seek justice. A wrongful death claim can be instrumental in this process, and we are here to help you understand how to go through the process.

Building Your Wrongful Death Claim

First, it's important to grasp what a wrongful death claim entails. This legal action arises when a person's death is caused by another party's negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. It aims to provide compensation to the surviving family members for the losses they've endured due to their loved one's untimely death. 

Your claim needs to follow a narrative that proves the responsible party's fault. To do this, the following elements need to be present:

1. Establishing Duty of Care

The term "duty of care" refers to the legal responsibility or obligation one party has to avoid causing harm to another. In a wrongful death claim, it implies that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased individual. This could be as simple as the duty of a driver to operate their vehicle safely to avoid causing harm to others, or as complex as a medical professional's obligation to provide competent care to their patients

Other examples include:

  • Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace for their employees.

  • Product manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure their goods are not defective or dangerously designed

  • Property owners have a duty to maintain safe conditions on their premises to prevent accidents or injuries.

Establishing a breach of this duty of care is a crucial aspect of a wrongful death claim, as it demonstrates that the defendant's actions—or lack thereof—directly led to the loss of life. 

2. Proving Breach of Duty

Once the duty of care is established, the next step is to prove that there was a breach of that duty. This breach occurs when the defendant fails to meet the standard of care expected in their role or situation. The standard of care is the behavior or actions expected of a reasonable person in similar circumstances. 

Evidence demonstrating this breach might include video surveillance, eyewitness testimonies, accident reports, or expert testimony explaining how the standard of care was not met. For example, in a car accident case, if the driver was texting while driving, it would constitute a breach of their duty to drive safely.  

If it's a medical malpractice case, expert testimony might be needed to illustrate how a competent medical professional in similar circumstances would not have made the same errors leading to death. In essence, to prove a breach of duty, one must demonstrate that the defendant's actions deviated from what a reasonable and prudent person would have done under the same or similar circumstances. 

3. Demonstrating Causation

It's not enough to show that the defendant breached their duty; you must also prove that this breach directly led to your loved one's death. This is known as causation. For instance, if your loved one was killed in a car accident, you'd need to establish that the defendant's reckless driving was the cause of the accident. 

4. Quantifying Damages

The final essential element in a wrongful death claim is the calculation or quantification of damages. These are the financial losses incurred as a result of the death. This can be a complicated process and generally includes the financial support the deceased would have provided if they hadn't died prematurely.  

There are several types of damages that can be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit, including: 

  • Economic Damages: These are quantifiable monetary losses. Economic damages can include lost wages or benefits the deceased would have earned, funeral and burial expenses, and the loss of the deceased's services, care, or assistance. 

  • Non-Economic Damages: These are more subjective and include emotional distress, pain, and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, and the diminished quality of life experienced by the surviving family members.  

  • Punitive Damages: Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not designed to compensate the family for their loss. Instead, they're intended to punish the defendant for their reckless or negligent behavior and deter similar conduct in the future.  

These damages are not simply arbitrary numbers. They require careful calculation based on a variety of aspects such as the deceased's earning capacity, life expectancy, health condition prior to the incident, and the family's reliance on the deceased's income or services.  

Trust Us With Your Wrongful Death Claim

Choosing the right legal representation when pursuing a wrongful death claim is critical. At our law firm, we're proud to say we've successfully handled numerous wrongful death cases, always prioritizing the rights and needs of our clients. Our attorneys are well-versed in the laws governing wrongful death claims and have an in-depth understanding of how to navigate these complex cases effectively. We're committed to offering compassionate legal representation, ensuring we understand your unique situation and tailor our approach accordingly. 

We'll fight relentlessly for you and your loved ones. Plus, we provide comprehensive support throughout the entire legal process, taking care of everything from evidence collection to negotiations with insurance companies. 

If you've lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, know that you don't have to go through this alone. Contact us at the Law Offices of Steven Zwick today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can assist you in pursuing a wrongful death claim. We serve people throughout Southern California — including Orange County, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Rancho Santa Margarita, Laguna Hills, and Aliso Viejo. That's why we're here to help.