A Guide to Wrongful Death and Fatality Cases: Some Basics
Standing: The Right to SueWhen someone tragically dies due to the fault of another person, the surviving loves ones MIGHT have the right to sue for wrongful death. One of the first things that has to be sorted out is called "standing." Standing means the right to sue. Not everyone has standing when a loved one dies. Laws governing standing typically say that a surviving spouse and children have the right to sue when someone dies because of the fault of another person. If there is no spouse, then the children alone have standing. If there are no children and no spouse, then the surviving parents have standing. If there are no surviving parents, then the decedent's siblings have standing, and so on. The same laws that govern standing govern intestate succession, which is what happens to someone's property when they die without a will, or "intestate." Since a wrongful death claim is like property under the law, the claim goes to the same person or people who have rights to the decedent's property if they die.
Damages: The Amount to Sue ForThe next step is to determine the correct damages available under the law. In a fatality or wrongful death case, there are two basic categories of damages: economic loss and non-economic loss. In rare cases, punitive damages and attorney's fees might also be available. Economic damages are the amount of money a claimant lost as a result of the death. This is usually lost economic support, expected gifts, medical expenses, burial expenses and the like; whatever can be added with receipts, statements and check stubs. Non-economic damages are to compensate for the human loss: loss of the care, comfort, society and advice of the decedent. These losses cannot be added up with receipts, statements and check stubs. Rather, witnesses will testify about the quality of the relationship between the decedent and the loved ones, and the jury will award what they believe is fair. If the wrongful death resulted from medical malpractice, non-economic damages are limited to $250,000 in California.