When there is an injury at work, people normally turn to workers’ comp for assistance. In cases of extreme injury, this may not be enough to help, and people must turn to personal injury suits for compensation. This is especially true if an employer was in egregious violation of safety protocols.
What happens, then, if a worker is killed on the job? In that case, the path is quite the same. Many workers’ comp benefits include death compensation for families, especially in high-risk jobs. Again, these benefits may not be enough, and an employer could be guilty of creating a dangerous environment. In situations like these, it may be necessary to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Explained
Personal injury lawsuits are designed to compensate an injured party for someone else’s negligence. A simple example is a slip and fall case. A retail store’s staff fails to keep walkways clear; someone falls and hurts themselves; and that person sues the business.
Wrongful death is simply another form of personal injury lawsuit. The only difference is that the injured party did not survive. Instead, the surviving loved ones are compensated for their loss. Beyond that, the basic principles are the same.
When suing an employer for wrongful death, negligence is only one potential claim. The employer could also be guilty of overtly, intentionally ignoring safety standards. In such a case, it may be necessary to directly sue for their illegal, harmful actions. Winning the suit involves proving that the willfully harmful action took place, rather than proving negligence. If the defendant loses, they will not face criminal penalties such as jail, but they could be ordered to pay a larger amount of damages.
Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death suits are about compensating the plaintiff for their troubles. The compensation you receive is directly related to the damage you sustained. This is why compensation is often called “damages.” Here are some damages you could receive in a wrongful death suit.
Workers are not usually killed instantly on the job. Most of the time, they receive medical treatment before passing. Any expenses related to this treatment can be reimbursed in a wrongful death suit.
Burying a loved one is expensive, regardless of the method you choose. Since your loved one was killed by a mismanaged work site, you should not be expected to carry the burden of this expense.
Pain and Suffering
The sudden loss of a loved one is a shock to the system. As we learn more about psychology, we understand that there are very real physical reactions to intense emotional strain. People can be hospitalized for a mental health crisis, a bad physical reaction, or both. These people will likely require regular mental health treatment, which includes expensive sessions and medication. Such emotional trauma can last a lifetime, permanently altering one’s mental state. Pain and suffering damages are available to help compensate for your trauma and ease the burden of your loss.
Loss of Support
Close familial relationships support us in many ways. Sometimes, you have a relative that always gives you sage advice, making life easier. Family also supports you in tangible, practical ways. Parents and married couples share duties in housework, child-rearing, budgeting, and so on. The sudden loss of such loved ones can have a direct, dramatic impact on your quality of life. Wrongful death suits can provide a financial cushion, making it easier for people to adjust.
Loss of Financial Support
Of course, death also affects real-world, economic demands. The passing of a spouse can put a family in a financial tailspin. Other loved ones can be similarly affected. The deceased could have, for instance, supported their parents, a disabled sibling, and so on. In a wrongful death lawsuit, you can be directly compensated for this loss of income. You could even be reimbursed for potential earnings if the deceased was poised to make more money.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
California has a broad allowance for who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. First, the decedent’s close relatives can file. This includes a spouse or domestic partner. Children of the deceased can sue, as can grandchildren.
Next, anyone in the deceased’s chain of intestate succession can sue. It’s a complicated process. When someone dies, their property can be distributed among a chain of relatives. Anyone in that chain who would directly benefit has the right to file for wrongful death.
Finally, anyone who was financially dependent on the deceased can file. This includes stepchildren, parents, legal guardians, and so forth.
Suing an Individual or a Company
It may be difficult to decide who to hold liable, the manager, the specific branch of a franchise, or the entire company. Determining who is responsible is highly dependent on the details of the event.
Suing the Manager
The manager responsible for unsafe conditions represents the entire company. The organization could, however, fight back or even disavow its connection to the individual. It’s important to investigate exactly what happened and who created the unsafe conditions. If the manager had, for example, overtly broken or ignored company policy, the company can blame them completely. In that case, it may be appropriate to sue the individual rather than the company.
However, the individual may not have the means to pay if they lose the case. This makes them “litigation proof.” A company’s insurance policy includes protection against lawsuits. When a company loses a trial, its insurance usually covers at least part of the overall damages. It may take some legal maneuvering, but it may be possible to still bypass the individual and sue the company directly, even if that person is clearly the sole, negligent party.
Suing the Company
During discovery, your attorney will investigate the history of the company and its overall safety policy. Some companies have safety violations written directly into their bylaws. Unsafe practices are a part of their standard operating procedure. If this is the case, you have solid grounds to take the fight directly to the organization.
Sometimes, however, the history of the company tells you more than their bylaws do. Perhaps their procedures are written correctly, with all necessary safety protocols in place. Closer inspection, however, reveals that among its many branches and franchises, there are common safety violations. This indicates that the culture of the company encourages cutting corners and allowing for hazardous conditions. In that case, there are grounds to go after the company itself, rather than a manager.
If you’ve lost a loved one in a work-related accident, contact us for a free consultation. We can review your case and help you decide if a wrongful death lawsuit is the best course of action. You can reach us online or call us at (714) 909-2609.