Santa Cruz Wrongful Death FAQs

Wrongful deaths can occur in a variety of different ways and unfortunately come in many different forms. Thousands of people are killed each year in auto accidents, crimes, and even from dog bites and worksite injuries. A common thread in many of these incidents is negligence. If a party is directly or in part responsible for the death of another, the negligent party can and will be held liable for damages in a court of law. The process, however, involved in a wrongful death suit can be complicated, difficult, and should not be undertaken alone. The successful attorneys at Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP want to help you with your case and have answered some common questions surrounding wrongful deaths.

What does the basic legal process look like?

After a wrongful death occurs, surviving family and loved ones have several legal options and it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney. The end of a wrongful death case should see the surviving loved ones compensated with damages but there are several avenues of arriving at that conclusion. Compelling the negligent parties to pay damages is often done by filing and serving a lawsuit but can also be accomplished via negotiation. If negotiation does not lead to a fair settlement offer, the parties may go through mediation and arbitration before heading to trial. Proving damages is an essential component to any case and will require the presentation of admissible evidence. Such evidence can include statements, tangible objects from the scene, and expert testimony. The fresher the evidence, the better; it tends to be more accurate. Therefore, although the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident, filing the lawsuit as soon as possible is usually advised.


Who may file a wrongful death lawsuit?

If a party is represented, the attorney will file suit on behalf of his client against the negligent or wrongful parties. California law allows most family members and even some "loved ones" to file the suit. The list includes spouses, children, financial dependents, domestic partners, parents, and step-children among others.


What damages are available in a wrongful death accident?

There are many types of compensatory damages available in a wrongful death claim and the law breaks up these damages into two broad categories: economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages include loss of financial support, loss of gifts or benefits, funeral and burial expenses, and the value of household services the decedent would have provided. Noneconomic aim to compensate for intangible loss and allow survivors to recover for loss of companionship/affection, loss of sexual relations, and loss of training and guidance. In no case may damages include consideration for the surviving family members’ grief/sorrow, the decedent’s pain and suffering, or the poverty/wealth of the family members.

Absent from the list of compensatory damages available in wrongful death cases is medical bills and lost wages. These types of damages are available to surviving family members in a survival action. A survival action is a claim which includes damages the decedent would have been able to recover if still alive. Damages in survival actions also include compensation for pain and suffering and even punitive damages.


What are the legal fees for hiring a wrongful death attorney?

Legal fees vary from one attorney to the next and hourly fee arrangements often require the client to pay an up-front retainer. At Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP, our personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis which means you pay no up-front costs and are not charged the attorney’s fee until you receive compensation. The attorney’s fee is deducted from the settlement or award based on an agreed upon percentage. The contingency fee at Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP is usually 33-40 percent.


Do I need an attorney to file a wrongful death suit?

The short answer is no. Any qualified family member or loved one can file the lawsuit but taking on a wrongful death case without representation is not advised and is certainly something the paying insurance company hopes you do. Our legal system is complex and this is especially true when it comes to wrongful death cases. The law and procedures are tricky and must be carefully followed. Moreover, the claims, compensation, legal arguments, and strategies can vary drastically depending on the unique circumstances of the case. If you choose to tread the legal waters alone, you risk missing lucrative damages claims, or, even worse, failing to present the correct liability theory which could result in a damages award of zero. To ensure your legal rights are not infringed upon and you receive maximum legal compensation, you should retain the services of an experienced wrongful death attorney at Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP. Our experienced Northern California wrongful death attorneys will thoroughly investigate your case, protect your rights, and hold the wrongdoers accountable for the damages and pain caused. We offer free consultations so please contact us today to discuss your case.

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