Wrongful Death Claims: How Do You Place Value On A Life

Los Angeles Wrongful Death Attorney

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person may experience, even more so if the cause of death is because of someone’s negligence. This means the loss was unexpected and was something that wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances.

If you’ve lost a loved one this way, you’re likely left with a lot of emotional pain and financial burden. While there’s no tangible way to ease the former, the latter can be solved by filing for a wrongful death claim.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

Before you call a wrongful death lawyer in Los Angeles, you must first identify if the death of your loved one qualifies as wrongful death.

According to legal publishing site NOLO, you can file for a wrongful death claim when a person dies because of the wrongful act of another person or entity. A wrongful death case is a civil action lawsuit against a defendant with the aim of seeking monetary recompense for damages. A defendant may not be penalized with incarceration, unlike criminal cases where defendants serve probation or prison time.

In California, only certain people are allowed to file for a claim. Under the Chapter 4, Article 6 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure, the “decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” are the ones allowed to file for a wrongful death claim and receive compensation for their loved one’s death.

A wrongful death claim should be filed within two years of your loved one’s death, as it is the time limit stated in the statute of limitations in California.

How Do You Calculate a Wrongful Death Settlement?

Placing a monetary value on someone’s life is not only difficult, but it can also be considered unethical. Fortunately, the money you’ll receive for a wrongful death claim isn’t based on the decedent’s life per se, but on the monetary value of their contributions and the expenses to cover their death. Typically, this is divided into two categories, which are economic and non-economic damages.

Among the factors that fall under the economic damages and contributes in determining the amount of a settlement are:

  • The deceased’s age at the time of their death
  • The deceased’s earning capacity
  • The deceased’s income at the time of their death
  • The deceased’s state of health
  • The deceased’s educational attainment and other training
  • The age and circumstances of the deceased’s dependents
  • The medical bills incurred during the deceased’s hospitalization
  • The deceased’s funeral expenses
  • The value of the lost benefits from the deceased, such as insurance and pension

Meanwhile, the non-economic damages that are evaluated for a wrongful death claim may include:

  • The subjective value of the deceased’s life as perceived by a judge or jury
  • The loss of love, companionship, affection, support, protection, or comfort that the deceased’s loved ones suffer from

The value of all these claims cannot be based on estimates or guesswork. Instead, each must be supported by objective evidence, such as paperwork and the expertise of forensic economists.

The Value of Legal Help in Wrongful Death Claims

One of the smartest things to do if your loved one died a wrongful death is to seek legal help. Fortunately, wrongful death attorneys from Haffner Law are fully equipped to represent you. We can help you get the compensation you deserve for your loved one’s death.

Get in touch with us today at 1-844-HAFFNER (423-3637).

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Wrongful Death And The Nominal Defendant

Wrongful Death Lawyer Los Angeles

When someone is killed due to the wrongful conduct of another, this is typically called a wrongful death and gives rise to a particular cause of action of the same name.  In California, each of the heirs of the deceased have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit (called a ‘survival action’) against the person (or persons) who committed the wrongful acts.  (Code of Civ. Procedure, § 377.60.) If you are in the unfortunate position of having a loved one pass away Haffner Law can help.


Even if other ‘heirs’ (generally speaking: spouses, brothers/sisters, children) do not want to file a lawsuit, you can still hold bad actors responsible for the death of a beloved family member.  As filing a lawsuit is a significant decision it is a good idea to talk it over with your family, but in the end, it is your decision whether to file a lawsuit over your loss of a loved one.  If any other known heirs do not want to participate in the lawsuit, then those heirs should become what is called a nominal defendant.  (See Watkins v. Nutting (1941) 17 Cal.2d 490, 498 [as long as the heirs are somehow made a party to the lawsuit, the defendant does not have grounds to object to the procedure in which the heirs were joined].)


Calling the heirs that do not want to participate in a wrongful death lawsuit “nominal defendants” is a bit of a misnomer.  Indeed, a nominal defendant is “in reality and in legal effect” a plaintiff.  (Ferraro v. Camarlinghi (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 509, 556, as modified on denial of reh’g (Apr. 24, 2008) [internal citations omitted]; see Watkins, supra, at p. 498.)


The procedural device for allowing a party to bring in a nominal defendant is Code of Civil Procedure section 382.  “The statute’s purpose is to protect the active parties to a lawsuit by effecting the involuntary joinder of a recalcitrant plaintiff.  This ensures that the party so joined will be bound by any resulting adjudication.”  (Ferraro, supra, at p. 536 [emphasis in original].)  As California’s wrongful death statute gives all heirs the right to bring the lawsuit, each of the known heirs should be made a part of the lawsuit so that all parties and the jury know of each heir’s existence and relationship to deceased family member.  (Watkins, supra, at p. 499.)  Generally speaking, a nominal defendant cannot subsequently sue the wrongdoer because of the ‘one action rule’ – a wrongful death cause of action must be brought in a single lawsuit.  (Romero v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 211, 216; Smith v. Premier Alliance Ins. Co. (1995) 41 Cal.App.4th 691, 697 [a defendant cannot be subjected to another lawsuit by an omitted heir of whom the defendant had no knowledge].)  Thus, while there are exceptions (e.g., unknown heir, lack of proper service on nominal defendant), once all heirs are made nominal defendants the wrongful death lawsuit would be complete and precluded from being later asserted.


The crux of being able to appropriately make an heir a nominal defendant is whether that heir is known to either the plaintiff(s) or the defendant(s).  (See Smith, supra, at p. 697; Romero, supra, at pp. 217-219.)  Should a known heir (or heirs) be omitted from a lawsuit, the plaintiff(s) would be liable to the omitted heir(s) for any damages that resulted.  (Watkins, supra, at p. 499; Romero, supra, at p. 217.)  However, if the defendant(s) had knowledge of any heirs that were not made a part of the wrongful death lawsuit, then the defendant(s) would have waived the ‘one action rule’; meaning that those unnamed heirs may be able to bring a separate wrongful death lawsuit.  (Smith, supra, at p. 697; Romero, supra, at pp. 217-219.)  Further, even where the heirs are named as nominal defendants, the actual defendants have an obligation to ensure that those nominal defendants were properly made a part of the lawsuit; failing to do so may waive the ‘one action rule.’  (Romero, supra, at p. 219 [holding a separate wrongful death lawsuit was allowed as the defendant failed to ensure that the previously-named nominal defendant was properly served with process].)

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Autopsies In A Wrongful Death Case

wrongful death lawyer in los angeles

After the fatal accident of a loved one, the family of the deceased has a right to sue the at-fault party for compensation. Before the surviving family can win a wrongful death case, however, they need to prove that the individual responsible actually caused the death.

This is where an autopsy can help. Although this surgical procedure isn’t legally required when pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, it can help strengthen your case.

The Process behind an Autopsy

The procedure starts with an external examination of the body. Qualified pathologists measure and record the height and weight of the corpse. They also note and describe any identifying marks, such as scars and tattoos. The scope of an autopsy may range from the evaluation of one organ to a highly comprehensive and extensive examination.

When it comes to examining the internal parts, pathologists make standard and appropriate incisions and inspect every inch of the abdominal cavity, ribcage, neck, and organs. They may also weigh, measure, or further dissect the internal organs.

Pathologists conclude the autopsy by closing the incisions made during the procedure — with or without the internal organs, depending on the need for further investigation, research or diagnostic purposes.

The Importance of an Autopsy

Plaintiffs looking to prevail over a wrongful death case need to prove a direct line of causation between the death of the decedent and the defendant’s actions or failure to act. The evidence obtained in the autopsy offer proof of the cause of death. If an individual, for instance, sustained an injury in a vehicular accident but died months or weeks after the incident, an autopsy helps determine whether the cause of death was something the person later developed or was a direct result of the incident.

Another good reason to have an autopsy done is it gives more definite evidence on the cause of death than a death certificate does. If you are alleging that the death was due to the result of wrongdoing or negligence, it is good to have more specific information.

Going Ahead with the Autopsy

Having an autopsy performed can be a highly emotional decision for many individuals. Some may object because of religious or moral grounds. Grieving parties may also choose not to have the surgical procedure done during their time of confusion and sadness. If you do decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit, having an autopsy report can be highly valuable when it comes to proving your case.

Apart from the autopsy report, you need a trustworthy wrongful death attorney in Long Beach to help you file a wrongful death lawsuit. Get the legal assistance you need with the help of Haffner Law. We make sure to hold the negligent party financially responsible for the death of your loved one.

Get in touch with us today for a free consultation.

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Seeking Justice For Your Loved One’s Wrongful Death: 3 Vital Steps

Wrongful death lawyer los angeles

The death of a loved one is always difficult to bear; but a wrongful death caused by another person may evoke more grief, confusion, and anger. You will want to seek justice for your loved one and against the person who caused their death. The best way to do it is by filing a case against the responsible party and by seeking the reparations provided by the law.

Here are the steps you should take to handle wrongful deaths.

Consult a Wrongful Death Attorney

Before anything else, seek the counsel of a wrongful death lawyer in Long Beach. You will first discuss the details leading to your loved one’s death, how much you should receive for the financial and emotional loss incurred, and the steps you can take to provide a strong argument in court.

While money can never bring back a loved one, seeking financial compensation is a safe and just option. If your loved one shared in your household expenses, your family could be set back because of the loss of income – not to mention, the financial implications of the funeral and burial of your deceased loved one. So, seeking financial compensation not only serves justice, somehow, but also provides a financial security blanket for your future.

File Your Case before the Statute of Limitations

Personal injury cases in California have a statute of limitations, which is the amount of time a person has to file a case after the crime has happened. Like other personal injury cases, you have two years from your loved one’s death to file a case. Should you miss the deadline, you and anyone else who can file for your loved one’s wrongful death forfeit the right to do so.

Prepare Your Case

You need to prepare your case with your attorney. Once you have presented your case in court, it will be up to the judge and jury to decide your case. A good wrongful death lawyer is someone who can provide a strong case with the right evidence to back up your claims. They should also be experienced enough to provide a convincing argument on the compensation amount you believe you deserve.

Justice and Compensation for Your Loss

When the judge and jury decide that your loved one’s death was, in fact, a wrongful one, they will ensure that justice is served. While this will not bring your loved one back, this can help ease the grief of your loss and secure your finances after your loved one’s passing.

In California, once the jurors believe that a person deserves to be compensated for a wrongful death, they have to decide the compensation amount in two parts, economic and non-economic losses.

Your economic losses include the financial support, gifts, benefits, and household services your loved one would have provided you, as well as the funeral and burial expenses. The non-economic damages include the loss of their love, companionship, protection, enjoyment of sexual relations, and guidance.

Going through the period following the wrongful death of a loved one can prove to be a difficult time for anyone. However, there is still a way to seek justice and come to terms with the loss and with the person or persons who caused it. To help ensure you get the right outcome in your case, you need the assistance of a qualified and experienced lawyer who will see that you get the justice and compensation you deserve.

Haffner Law has the experienced to help you with wrongful death cases. They recognize that people who suffer through an ordeal caused by others need to be fairly compensated for their injuries or loss.

Call us today at 1-844-HAFFNER to review your case. If you want to learn more about our areas of practice, click here.

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