A brief overview of wrongful death in California

Wrongful death is a term that is mentioned in the media often. As a recent example, the mother of Michael Jackson recently brought a wrongful death lawsuit against a tour promoter. This tour promoter allegedly employed Dr. Conrad Murray for Jackson's medical needs during the tour

Many may remember that Dr. Murray was convicted four years ago for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson by giving him propofol, a drug used in anesthesia, which led to his death. The lawsuit claims, among other things, that the tour promoter was negligent in its investigation of Dr. Murray's background, which caused Jackson's death.

Wrongful death in California

Although the term is mentioned in the media, not everyone knows what a wrongful death lawsuit entails. Such a lawsuit is a civil, not criminal, action to recover monetary damages for a person's death. A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed regardless of whether a criminal action has been filed. Consequently a criminal verdict of guilt or innocence does not affect the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit or its outcome.

A wrongful death occurs when someone else's (a person, corporation or government entity) negligence or neglect causes the death of the decedent. Situations where a wrongful death commonly occurs are motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, and assault or other intentional acts.

Wrongful death lawsuits can only be filed by close family members. Persons entitled to file such a lawsuit are named in the California statutes. In general, spouses, domestic partners and children are the most common family members who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, if there are no family members, a personal representative can be appointed to file the lawsuit.

Under California law, plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits are entitled to recover economic damages such as the funeral or medical bills of the decedent. In addition, damages for the loss of the decedent's income and loss of services the decedent provided are recoverable. A court may also award non-economic damages such as the loss of the decedent's love, society, companionship, care and protection.

In general, the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate family members for the loss of the decedent, not to punish the negligent party. For this reason, punitive damages-damages awarded on top of economic damages that are intended to punish the wrongdoer-are not generally recoverable. However, if the wrongdoer is criminally convicted of a felony for causing the decedent's death, punitive damages may be recovered.

An attorney can help

If you have lost a loved one due to a person's negligent or reckless acts, contact an attorney experienced with wrongful death lawsuits. An attorney can investigate the surrounding circumstances, identify the parties at fault and work to hold them accountable for their actions.