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What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Losing a loved one is devastating. A preventable death can take a spiritual, emotional and financial toll on a family. While nothing can ever truly make up for such a heartbreaking loss, a civil wrongful death claim allows close family members of the loved one to get accountability and financial support. Below, our San Francisco wrongful death lawyer provides an overview of damages that can be recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Wrongful Death Claim: Economic Damages

As a starting point, plaintiffs in a wrongful death case can recover financial compensation for all actual out-of-pocket economic losses — both past, current and anticipated future costs. Among other things, wrongful death damages in California includes:

  • Unreimbursed medical bills and other related costs;
  • Funeral and burial expenses;
  • The loss of direct financial support, including lost income; and
  • The loss of benefits, including insurance coverage.

Wrongful Death Claim: Non-Economic Damages

One of the things that makes wrongful death cases especially challenging is the family’s damages are, for the most part, non-economic in nature. Psychological and emotional damage is far greater than any medical bill. Under California law, family members can recover wrongful death compensation for:

  • Loss of love;
  • Loss of companionship;
  • Loss of support;
  • Loss of sexual relations; and
  • Loss of training and guidance.

Putting a dollar figure on these types of devastating non-economic losses is extremely challenging. There is no fixed standard or set calculations. Should a wrongful death case go to trial, California law instructs juries to use “evidence” and “common sense” to award a “reasonable” amount.

Notably, general emotional trauma is not a compensable loss. According to the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, juries are explicitly told not to consider the pain and suffering or grief and sorrow of plaintiffs. It is a subtle but important distinction, which impacts how a wrongful death claim should be presented.

Survival Action Claim: Punitive Damages

Punitive damages cannot be recovered through a wrongful death claim in California. The sole exception is in a felony homicide in which the defendant was the party convicted of the crime.

In some cases, punitive damages can be recovered in a survival action claim — which the family may file along with a wrongful death case. Often confused with a wrongful death claim, a survival action claim lets heirs of the estate bring a claim on behalf of the deceased. Punitive damages may be awarded in a survival action claim in California.

Contact Our Bay Area Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

At Bracamontes & Vlasak, our San Francisco wrongful death attorneys are here to help you navigate the claims process. We will protect your rights and interests while you focus on your family. To set up a free, completely confidential consultation, please contact us at (415) 835-6777. With offices in Oakland and San Francisco, we handle wrongful death claims throughout Northern California, including Berkeley, Alameda, San Jose, and Mountain View.

Wrongful Death Attorney