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Taking legal action in the wake of a fatal motor vehicle accident

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration, during 2012 alone, 2,857 were killed in traffic accidents in the state of California. Fatal motor vehicle accidents often leave family members grief-stricken and with many questions and financial obligations.

The death of a loved is always difficult. However, in cases where the loss of a loved one is unexpected and the result of another driver's negligence, the feelings of grief and loss experienced by family members are almost unbearable. In addition to dealing with their profound loss, family members are often also forced to endure financial hardships that result from a deceased loved one's lost wages, medical expenses and funeral costs.

Obviously nothing can diminish the mental pain and anguish that results from a fatal motor vehicle, however, in some cases surviving family members may choose to take legal action and file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

California's wrongful death statute outlines the legal rules and procedures related to filing such a case in the state. If surviving family members are able to prove that the defendant's misconduct or negligence contributed to a loved one's death, damages may be awarded. 

Damages in wrongful death lawsuits are typically awarded based on financial losses incurred by family members as a direct result of a loved one's death. For example, loss of current and future income, medical expenses, funeral expenses and loss of support and/or parental guidance.

Pursuant to California Civ. Code § 3294(a), when proof exists that a "defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice," punitive damages may also be awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, any legal action to recover punitive damages cannot take place until a defendant has been deemed negligent.

Family members who wish to explore their options regarding filing a wrongful death lawsuit would be wise to discuss their situation with an attorney. 

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview," 2014

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