Every state has specific laws regarding the distribution of a wrongful death settlement, which generally includes reparations for losses including funeral and burial costs, hospital and medical bills incurred, loss of household support, loss of consortium, loss of future financial support, loss of household services, loss of love, society and companionship, and loss of guidance for minor children. Under California Civil Code §377.60, heirs are not able to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death claim.
California wrongful death statutes stipulate who is entitled to make a claim against the decedent’s estate, allowing the surviving spouse, domestic partner (if the partnership was registered), dependent parents, children and dependent minors to recover for the untimely death of a family member.
As is the case in many other states, wrongful deaths in California may give rise to only one civil action. This means that all relatives and domestic partners who may be entitled to compensation must bring the wrongful death jointly, as one group. Because of this legal requirement, there are often questions about how the courts distribute a wrongful death settlement among multiple heirs.
How is the wrongful death settlement divided?
In California, it is largely up to the family members and heirs filing the wrongful death claim to agree upon how much each party should receive out of the settlement proceeds. In a perfect world, claimants will agree to split the monies evenly, or to allocate larger amounts to those who will suffer most from the death, or who are the most disadvantaged financially.
However, there are some cases where claimants want more than their “fair share,” thus depriving children or other remaining family of adequate proceeds from the verdict or settlement. If the family members cannot come to a consensus about how the monies will be distributed, the court will be tasked with dividing the damages, looking at the financial needs and future losses of each claimant. As an example, a surviving widower may suffer lost financial support, while dependent children under the age of 18 may have greater economic needs for education and support compared to older siblings.
At trial, a California jury will assess the nature of each surviving relative’s damages and losses and attempt to distribute the award as fairly as possible. In situations where the decedent’s insurance policy is limited, the funds would be allocated in proportion to the settlement monies.
Some families turn to mediation or binding arbitration to hear each heir’s claim, and make a binding decision regarding how the estate monies will be divided.
If there is no agreement as to the proportional shares of a wrongful death settlement, it is important to speak with a qualified attorney to determine the best strategy.
Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer
If your family has lost a loved one and you need the compassionate assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles, please contact The Salamati Law Firm for a free consultation. Though no amount of money can bring back a family member or loved one, effective legal representation can help ensure that proper compensation is procured, reducing the financial burdens of such a traumatic loss.
Sean Salamati represents clients throughout Southern California. To arrange a free no-obligation case review, please call today.
Additional Wrongful Death Resources:
- California Legislature, Wrongful Death [377.60 – 377.62] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=377.60.&lawCode=CCP
- FindLaw, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60 http://codes.findlaw.com/ca/code-of-civil-procedure/ccp-sect-377-60.html
- Justia, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)3921. Wrongful Death (Death of an Adult) https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/docs/caci/3900/3921.html