WRONGFUL DEATH DAMAGES
A “wrongful death” cause of action is a “‘statutory claim that compensates specified heirs of the decedent for losses suffered as a result of a decedent’s death.’ Although each heir has a ‘personal
and separate’ claim, the wrongful death statutes ordinarily require joint litigation of the heirs’ claims in order to prevent a series of suits against the tortfeasor. LAOSD Asbestos Cases (2018) 28 Cal.App.5th 862, 872. See also Code of Civil Procedure, Section 377.60.
There are two categories of damages that a plaintiff can claim when bringing a wrongful death case in California: non-economic damages and economic damages. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 377.61; CACI No. 3921.
Economic damages that may be recovered include things like the financial support and value of household services the decedent would have been able to contribute to family, the loss of gifts or benefits the decedent would have bestowed, and funeral and burial expenses. These types of damages are limited to the present cash value.
Non-economic damages consist of non-monetary losses like the love, companionship, assistance, support, training and guidance that the decedent would have provided. They can even include the loss of enjoyment of sexual relations!
Where there are multiple heirs and thus, multiple potential plaintiffs, it is most expedient for all such individuals to be included in the same lawsuit. The jury may be instructed to determine the total value of losses from the decedent’s contributions, and this amount can then be apportioned amongst the lawful plaintiffs.
It is important to note what is excluded from these categories of damages in a wrongful death case as well. You may be surprised to discover that a plaintiff is unable to recover for the emotional impact of the loss of their loved one in this type of case. Things like grief, sorrow, mental anguish, pain, and suffering are not to be considered by the jury in determining a wrongful death plaintiff’s damages.