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Is an Auto Accident Death a Wrongful Death Case in California?

Every day in the United States, more than 90 people die in car accidents. The fact is that, even though driving seems harmless, it’s actually a pretty dangerous activity.

There are a number of reasons why the accident rates for driving are so high. People are distracted by their cell phones and other devices while behind the wheel. There may be road hazards, such as potholes or large objects that fell off of other cars or came from construction sites. People speed and drive aggressively; and others drink or do drugs and then get into their vehicles.

While other factors out of our control, such as bad weather, can cause someone to die while on the road, many times, other people cause accidents. This could include drivers, a person who is not paying attention while crossing the street or a construction site worker who forgot to put up a traffic sign, for example.  Activity or objects spilling into the roadway, or roadway defects, can be the cause.

When one person’s actions directly cause someone else’s death, this is what we describe as wrongful death. It doesn’t matter whether that person’s actions were intentional or unintentional in the eyes of the law. Either way, it would still be classified as a wrongful death.

The Guidelines for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If a loved one was killed in an auto accident, or any other type of accident, you will want to consider a wrongful death lawsuit and pursue both economic and non-economic damages.

For instance, compensation is due for your loved one’s medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as to cover any wages lost.  The losses are many times overwhelming and can include:  the loss of your loved one’s support (financial and emotional), affection, care, and comfort.

There are though, strict time limits to bring such a case in California. Also, only heirs (and others specifically enumerated pursuant to statute) can start the wrongful death lawsuit. This could include spouses, domestic partners, children, grandchildren, other children who are minors and dependent upon the deceased person for at least 50% of their financial support and potentially others.  This may need to be explored with a wrongful death attorney.

One has to prove that another person’s actions directly resulted in your loved one’s death. This means they were at fault. You also have to prove the economic and non-economic damages that occurred because of your loved one’s death.

Perhaps your loved one wasn’t even in another car. Maybe he or she was a pedestrian or riding a bike in the bike lane and taking all necessary precautions. Then, a driver struck and killed them because they were negligent in some way or as a result of another’s negligence. The police report is important as well as information from witnesses to strengthen your case; however, police reports are not always accurate or the final say.

The Process for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

We need to gather any police and medical records from the accident, insurance claims, photos, statements from witnesses and any other evidence that may be available.  You will need to check with your loved one’s insurance company. This would apply even if the person who killed your loved one was uninsured or underinsured. A claim will need to be filed with the responsible person’s insurance company or a lawsuit filed against the person.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, more than one person may be liable for the accident and your loved one’s death. For instance, let’s say a drunk teenager struck and killed your family member. The teenager came from a bar that served alcohol to minors without asking for ID first. The bar might be held responsible in this case as well, or the accident was caused by a series of acts by multiple parties.

If your loved one was driving, and the seatbelt malfunctioned or the airbag didn’t go off properly, you could also hold your vehicle manufacturer responsible. If a large object fell off of a construction site and caused a driver to swerve and hit your loved one’s vehicle, then you could go after the company that owns the construction site, too. Sometimes you won’t know what chain of events led to the accident occurring, which is why a full investigation is necessary in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Why Hire a Wrongful Death Car Accident Attorney?

Since there are so many different factors involved in an auto accident wrongful death lawsuit, you should hire an experienced wrongful death car accident attorney to help you get the compensation and justice you deserve.

You shouldn’t have to deal with complicated lawsuits, shady insurance companies and people who may want to settle with you for way less than you deserve.

You are in a very vulnerable time, and you don’t want to be left in the dust. You’re in mourning, and you should be able to focus on self-care and navigating your life without your loved one — not trying to figure out how a lawsuit should proceed.

The right car accident attorney will ensure that you are protected and able to move on with your life in the best way possible during this very difficult time. They know what kind of evidence they need to succeed with your case, what is going to help – such as depositions, investigation, and experts – and who to hold responsible for the accident. They will do everything in their power to make sure you get the support you need.

When you’re ready to pursue your wrongful death claim, call the car accident attorneys at Heiting & Irwin at 951-682-6400, or contact our office online to schedule a free consultation. We can get you the compensation and justice you deserve in your wrongful death case. We are happy to discuss your concerns by phone or remotely.  You need not leave the safety and security of your home to insure that your rights are protected.

James Heiting

The only past President of the State Bar of California ever elected from the Inland Empire, James Heiting handles civil litigation matters throughout California, recovering over $400 million for clients, dealing with wrongful death, serious injury, professional malpractice and transportation accidents. Also past President of Riverside’s County Bar, his firm has served the Inland Empire for over 30 years. View Attorney James Otto Heiting's Attorney Bio Here.

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