Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Pursuing any type of civil claim on your own is tremendously challenging, especially when you and your family are likely still reeling from the sudden loss of a loved one. Hiring a Folsom fatal car accident attorney offers you and your family peace of mind knowing that your case is in capable hands while you take time to mourn and readjust your lives. At the Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC, we understand how devastating it can be to lose a loved one unexpectedly and the frustration and confusion that follows when such a death occurs due to the negligence of another party. We work closely with our clients to understand their cases in the greatest level of detail possible to provide them with comprehensive legal representation.
When you do not have legal counsel for a wrongful death claim you risk settling for much less than you and your family could recover with proper legal representation. Our team can help you gather the documentation and material evidence you will need to secure a successful result with a wrongful death claim. When necessary, our firm can connect with expert witnesses who can assist in proving negligence in your wrongful death claim. The average person with no formal legal experience will likely overlook some channels of compensation. Our experts know how to secure expert witness testimony that may be crucial in securing a positive result in your claim.
The reliable legal counsel of a Folsom fatal car accident attorney on your side provides a much better chance of success. Wrongful death cases are some of the most challenging civil cases a person can experience. The Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC can provide the legal advice and support you need to navigate this difficult situation as efficiently as possible.
How Fatal Injuries Happen From Car Accidents
Car accidents have consistently ranked among the highest causes of accidental deaths and injuries in the United States for many years. Any car accident has the potential to cause severe injuries, but those injuries can turn fatal unexpectedly. Additionally, there are some factors that can significantly increase the risk of fatality in an accident:
- Drivers who operate their vehicles under the influence of alcohol are more likely to speed, drive erratically, and cause fatal accidents. Impaired drivers experience diminished reflexes and hampered judgment. Where a sober driver may have been able to avoid an accident or at least maneuver to mitigate the damage from an accident, an impaired driver likely will not have the same ability.
- Car accidents that occur at high speeds are more likely to cause severe injuries that can prove fatal. Generally, the higher the speeds of the vehicles involved in an accident, the more likely the drivers and passengers are to experience severe injuries.
- Distracted driving is another leading cause of fatal car accidents in California. When drivers fail to pay appropriate attention to the road, they are more likely to miss the opportunity to avoid a serious accident.
- Environmental factors, such as night driving or low visibility, can also increase the likelihood of severe or fatal injuries resulting from a crash. Drivers must use extra caution in dangerous driving conditions.
These are just a few examples of factors that can significantly increase the chance of fatality in a car accident. It is vital for victims of such accidents to understand that death is not always immediate for the victim of a serious accident. Knowing what to expect when your loved one does not have a positive prognosis for recovery is crucial.
Some car accidents that result in severe injuries do not immediately result in fatality. Despite the best efforts of attending physicians, the victim of the accident may eventually succumb to their injuries. For example, a brain injury can prove fatal without immediate medical intervention. In these cases, the resulting legal claim will likely include compensation for the medical expenses incurred. This can include the treatment of the victim’s injuries, their hospital stay until their death, and the pain and suffering incurred between the accident and death.
Establishing Liability After a Fatal Vehicle Accident
After a fatal car accident, you may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court if the death was a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongful conduct. Negligence is generally proven by showing the defendant’s duty of care, a breach of duty, causation, and actual damages. A breach of duty may occur in a wide variety of ways. A driver who runs a red light, texts while driving, or engages in aggressive driving behaviors likely has breached the duty to use reasonable care while driving.
When a driver fails to follow the California Vehicle Code, there may be negligence per se. This is negligence as a matter of law, which applies when a driver fails to follow a safety law, the failure is the cause of harm to a victim, the victim is in the class of people whom the law is designed to protect, and the harm is the type that is intended to be prevented by the law. In cases in which a court applies negligence per se, the focus is likely to be damages because liability is already established.
Either your loved one’s estate or their survivors may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Under CCP section 337.60, only certain family members are considered survivors who are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These are a spouse, domestic partner, or child, or anyone who is entitled to the victim’s property through the law of intestacy.
Your civil lawsuit will be distinct from any criminal charges that may be brought, but it is possible that the criminal case could affect the civil case. You have only two years from the date of your loved one’s death to bring your claim, so it is important to contact a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. If you do not bring a lawsuit within that period, you may lose your right to recover compensation.
What to Expect in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Once you file your wrongful death claim with the Folsom court, the court will, in turn, serve the defendant named in your case and provide them with the opportunity to respond. The majority of civil claims, including personal injury claims and wrongful death claims, settle outside of court. It is generally in the best interests of both the plaintiff and the defendant to settle the issue as soon as possible. Doing so ensures expediency in the plaintiff’s recovery of their damages and allows the defendant to put the issue behind them as soon as possible. Settlement negotiation will not work if the defendant denies liability. The defendant may insist on a trial to prove their innocence if they are unable to immediately produce airtight exculpatory evidence.
Since a wrongful death claim carries more legal weight than a standard personal injury claim, the chance of the issue going to trial is relatively higher, especially when a defendant believes they are not liable for the death in question. Settlement negotiation provides the two parties the chance to reach a private agreement, but this only works if the defendant acknowledges liability for the death.
In the event the defendant denies liability for the death in question, or if they acknowledge liability but disagree with the damages the plaintiff seeks, the case may then move to active litigation. This is a lengthy and expensive process for both parties. The two parties’ respective legal teams will exchange evidence in a discovery process and conduct depositions before moving to the trial phase.
During trial, the two sides will have the opportunity to offer testimony, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. Depending on the nature of the death in question, the civil proceedings for wrongful death may run in tandem with another civil case or a criminal case against the same defendant. For example, if the defendant intentionally killed the victim in question, it is very likely that while they face a wrongful death claim from the victim’s family, the state will have a criminal case in progress against the defendant. A fatal car accident in Folsom may not only lead to a wrongful death claim against the defendant but also a vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide charge from the state depending on the nature of the defendant’s behavior. It is also possible for a defendant facing a wrongful death action to also face felony conviction for DUI if they were under the influence at the time of the fatal accident in question.
Damages and Compensation From Successful Wrongful Death Claims
Damages that you may be able to recover as a survivor include the loss of love, guidance, and support, as well as the value of household services that were accomplished by the victim while alive and the loss of financial support. The estate typically recovers medical expenses, funeral expenses, and lost income. However, if you were the person to pay for medical expenses or funeral expenses, you may recover compensation for them.
Your attorney can help you determine which damages in your claim apply to the deceased’s estate. Also, your attorney can assess which damages go to you and what goes to the other surviving loved ones of the decedent. These determinations are important for several reasons, including the potential tax obligations associated with the deceased’s estate. Damages paid to the estate typically include burial and funeral expenses, lost income the deceased was likely to earn in the future had they survived, and the cost of medical treatment for their final injury. Additionally, if the deceased held assets that will no longer appreciate in value due to their death, it may be possible to claim these lost earnings as well. Unfortunately, California law does not allow the family to claim compensation for any pain and suffering the deceased experienced from their injuries prior to their death.
Other damages, such as the family’s loss of affection, care, and support from the deceased, go to the survivors as noneconomic damages. If the victim survived for some time after the car accident in question but eventually succumbed to their injuries, the family may file a survival action on behalf of their deceased loved one. This type of claim functions as a personal injury claim filed on behalf of the deceased. It is not uncommon for claimants facing wrongful death cases to file both a wrongful death action and a survival action depending on the circumstances of the death in question.
Enlist a Folsom, CA Wrongful Death Lawyer
A wrongful death due to driver negligence is a tragic and difficult experience for any family. It is natural to feel uncertain and frustrated about the legal proceedings you and your family must navigate to secure an acceptable recovery for the resulting losses. A Folsom fatal car accident attorney is your best resource and asset to navigate this incredibly challenging situation and to ensure your family receives an appropriate recovery. While economic damages may not replace your lost loved one, a successful wrongful death claim can make adjusting to your new reality a bit easier.
Attorney Travis G. Black is a knowledgeable and compassionate advocate for families of people killed in fatal car accidents. Having previously worked in the insurance industry, he uses his insights to help families. You should consult our California personal injury lawyers about the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit if you have lost your loved one to a careless driver. From our Folsom office, we offer perceptive legal counsel in personal injury claims. Contact us online or call Black & DePaoli at 916-962-2896 for a free consultation with a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer.