WHAT IS WRONGFUL DEATH?
Why do we need such a law?
Because once a person’s death is caused by a civil wrong (a tort), the decedent cannot sue for his own damages. The decedent’s pain and suffering is no longer compensable. The decedent’s past and future loss of earnings are no longer compensable unless a third party would have recovered some benefit from those earnings. So, if the decedent no longer has a cause of action against the wrongdoer, who can sue?
WHO MAY RECOVER FOR THE WRONGFUL DEATH?
WHAT CAN BE RECOVERED FOR THE WRONGFUL DEATH?
When an individual is injured, they can make a claim for
- Economic damages,
- General damages
- Occasionally, for punitive damages.
- Compensation for pain,
- Suffering and loss of enjoyment or quality of life.
This is also true for any compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering. Therefore, if the decedent was severely burned or became a quadriplegic from the accident and subsequently died from those injuries, no compensation can be awarded for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent before his death [CACI 3921]. Similarly if a person who is entitled to wrongful death damages, themselves pass away before settlement or verdict, their wrongful death claim passes with them. For example, if a mother and father have filed a wrongful death claim for the loss of their minor child, and the mother passes away before the case has settled or reached a verdict, the value of the loss will then only be determined by the loss of the surviving father.
Punitive damages, those designed to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the family or others entitled to recover for the loss, can only be awarded in cases where plaintiffs prove the person or company which caused the death was “guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice” [Civil Code section 3294].
3921. Wrongful Death (Death of an Adult)
Plaintiff also claims the following noneconomic damages:
You must use your judgment to decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence and your common sense. [Your award for noneconomic damages should not be reduced to present cash value.]
In determining plaintiff’s loss, do not consider:
In computing these damages, consider the losses suffered by all plaintiffs and return a verdict of a single amount for all plaintiffs. It will be divided the amount among the plaintiffs.
Common sense would indicate that when you lose a loved one, the biggest element of a plaintiff’s damage is the grief, sorrow and mental anguish suffered as a result of the loss. However, in California the jury is specifically instructed that it cannot compensate for these damages [CACI 3921].
This is also true for any compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering. Therefore, if the decedent was severely burned or became a quadriplegic from the accident and subsequently died from those injuries, no compensation can be awarded for the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent before his death [CACI 3921].
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