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Can you get punitive damages in a wrongful death case?

Losing a family member in an accident can have life-long emotional and financial consequences. The state of California recognizes the rights of those left behind to file claims for economic and non-economic losses against those responsible. Punitive damages are not technically awarded in a wrongful death case unless a narrow exception applies. However, there are situations where the estate of a victim may recover punitive damages under what is known as a survival action.

Salamati Law helps those who have experienced the wrongful loss of a loved one so that they can hold those legally to blame accountable and pursue wrongful damages when the situation permits it.

Wrongful death v. survival action

Wrongful death and survival actions are two types of lawsuits that may be filed against someone who caused, either intentionally or carelessly, the death of another person. The difference between the two is whose claims are asserted.

A wrongful death claim seeks compensation for the loved ones left behind. This can include funeral expenses, the loss of financial and emotional support, loss of companionship, and other things that the deceased person had provided.

A survival action, on the other hand, seeks compensation on behalf of the estate for the losses suffered by the deceased person between the point of the accident and their death. It represents the claims that the decedent would have been allowed to file if not for their death, like the cost of medical treatment and property damage; the claim “survives” the death.

A survival action can include punitive damages but not damages for disfigurement or pain and suffering (unless the action is related to elder abuse). However, there must be evidence that the deceased person survived for some amount of time after the accident (in other words, that death was not instantaneous).

What are punitive damages?

The most common damages awarded in personal injury and wrongful death cases are known as “economic” and “non-economic” damages. These are intended to reimburse the plaintiff for their losses. Punitive damages, however, are not reimbursement; they are awarded to punish egregious behavior and deter others from similar conduct.

Each state has its own laws and court cases limiting when and how punitive damages may be awarded. In wrongful death cases in California, punitive damages can only be awarded when the death was a result of a felony.

In a survival action, punitive damages cannot be awarded unless the deceased person experienced some economic damages. Often the economic loss is based on medical bills but even damage to their clothing just before death can qualify. Speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Los Angeles to determine whether the state laws allow you to file a claim for punitive damages.

Filing a wrongful death or survival action

Only certain people are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit or a survival action. These include the deceased person’s surviving spouse and children, as well as certain other financially dependent family members. A survival action must be filed by the personal representative of the estate.

There is usually an overlap of parties and issues, so it can make sense to file both a wrongful death claim and a survival action in the same lawsuit if both are warranted. However, each type of claim has its own requirements, including differing statutes of limitations. It is important to speak with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the process.

Contact our team of Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers

If you believe that punitive damages may be warranted, call Salamati Law for a free case review. We will take the time to listen to your story and determine all of the claims that you may be entitled to file. If punitive damages are appropriate, we will help you build your strongest case to obtain maximum compensation.

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We are committed to negotiate your case aggressively, strategically and creatively. Personal injury lawsuits are retained on a contingency fee agreement, and plaintiffs will pay no legal fees unless the firm is able to recover damages on your behalf.

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