The death of a loved one is one of the most tragic and difficult experiences in a person’s life. Those left behind are often faced with many challenges while they grieve for the person they have lost. In some situations, the loss can feel even more painful when it is caused by the carelessness of another. After the death, family members may have questions about their legal rights and what they should do. These questions may include:
- Who will pay for the funeral?
- Which family members can file a lawsuit for the death of a loved one?
- Who is responsible for this tragedy?
- Will the person responsible go to jail?
- How does the law compensate family members when a loved one has died?
- Should I deal directly with the person that caused the harm or the insurance company?
- How long will the process take?
- Why choose Brown & Gessell to represent you in the San Joaquin Valley?
The attorneys at Brown & Gessell have the answers to these questions and have the expertise to make sure you are treated fairly after the death of loved one. The attorneys have handled dozens of wrongful death cases that have settled for millions of dollars. It is likely that the person who caused the death of your family member will have an attorney representing his interests. It is important that you have someone on your side who is looking out for you and your family. Call us now at (209) 430-5480.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Who will pay for the funeral?
If the death of a loved one is caused by the negligence of another, the negligent person will be responsible for the cost of funeral and burial and all other related expenses. In most situations, however, this payment is not made until the conclusion of the case which could be months or even years from the date of death. There are community and government programs that can assist also in the payment of funeral expenses if the family members of the decedent do not have the resources to pay for a funeral. In addition, in some cases, the attorney handling the case may be able to advance payment of the funeral and burial expenses pending resolution of the case.
Which family members can file a lawsuit for the death of a loved one?
There are very specific laws that outline who can bring a lawsuit against a negligent person for the death of a loved one. The eligible family members fall into two categories. First, the surviving spouse, domestic partner and children are always eligible to bring a lawsuit for the death of a loved one. If there is no surviving spouse, domestic partner or children, it would then fall to the individual or individuals that would be legally entitled to the property of the decedent in there was no will (intestate succession). Second, other individuals that may have been financially dependent on the decedent may also participate in the lawsuit. These family members include the parents, stepchildren, and minors living in the household of the decedent. These rules are complicated and contain exceptions and exclusions. This is one of the reasons it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected.
Who is responsible for this tragedy?
One of the most crucial questions to answer after the death of a loved one is “who is responsible”? After the incident that caused the death, various government organizations such as the highway patrol, local police or CalOSHA may participate in the investigation. In addition, your attorney will do an independent investigation to determine the facts of the incident and establish who is responsible. In some cases, this analysis may be very complex and may involve looking into whether a defective product, subsequent medical treatment or a prior physical condition caused or contributed to the death. In addition, it is essential to find out whether the person responsible for the death was working at the time of the incident and whether the employer may be responsible to pay for some of the harm. In the end, each and every person or organization whose negligence was a substantial factor in causing or contributing to the death of a loved one will be held responsible.
Will the person responsible go to jail?
The punishment that a responsible person will receive for causing the death of another is a very complicated question. Each incident resulting in the wrongful death of another is divided into two separate parts: the civil case and the criminal case. The civil case is handled by a private personal injury attorney like the attorneys at Brown & Gessell and deals only with financial compensation for the harm caused by the negligent person. The criminal case is handled by the local district attorney’s office and deals with the criminal punishment that should be imposed for violations of the penal code. The charges brought by the district attorney’s office against the person that caused the death will depend on many factors which include whether the death was caused by an intentional or negligent act, whether alcohol or drugs was a factor in causing the death and whether the person who caused the death has prior criminal convictions. In most cases of wrongful death, the person responsible does not receive significant time incarcerated unless the act that caused the death was intentional or there was alcohol involved. It is more common for a negligent person to receive little or no time in jail and an order to perform community service.
How does the law compensate family members when a loved one has died?
There are two categories of compensation that family members may receive for the death of a loved one caused by the negligence of another. These two categories are called economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include the funeral and burial expenses, the lost financial support that the decedent would have provided to the family, the value of the household services that the decedent would have provided to the family and any medical bills incurred before the person passed away. Non-economic damages include the loss of the love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support and guidance that the decedent would have provided to his family members. Compensation for this type of loss depends on many factors including the age of the family member and decedent and the closeness of the relationship between the family member and decedent. Even though difficult or almost impossible to quantify, a skilled personal injury attorney can help a jury understand the value of the loss of a member of the family. While this will not bring the family member back, it can help those left behind deal with the financial burdens caused by the death and potentially prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Should I deal directly with the person that caused the harm or the insurance company?
No. The insurance company has only one goal: to keep its money. It does this by limiting the amount of money it has to pay to people injured by the negligence of its clients. The insurance company has hired professional adjusters and defense attorneys to help it accomplish this goal. You should not talk directly to the person that caused the death of your loved one or the insurance company or sign anything from the insurance company until you have consulted with an attorney. To protect yourself and ensure that you are treated fairly, it is important that you have someone on your side that has experience both in the legal field and in dealing with insurance companies. By hiring an attorney to assist you with your case, you can focus on getting better and leave the complex process of personal injury litigation to an expert.
How long will the process take?
This is a very difficult question to answer because the duration of a particular case depends on many different variables. The average case takes between six months and one year to resolve. Smaller, less complex cases can resolve in as little as three months while complex cases that go to trial can take as long as three or four years. Some of the variables that may affect the length of a case are: the extent of the injuries, how long a victim takes to recover from the injuries, the amount of insurance available and which insurance company is handling the claim.
Why choose Brown & Gessell to represent you in the San Joaquin Valley?
Brown & Gessell is located in Stockton, the County Seat of San Joaquin County, and central to the San Joaquin Valley. The partners at Brown & Gessell are uniquely qualified to handle your case here in Stockton because they are intimately familiar with the City of Stockton, its courts, its judges and staff, the local attorneys and with the people that will make up the jury who may hear and decide your case. Douglas A. Gessell was raised in San Joaquin County, and Steven L. Brown has raised his family for the last 20 years in the County. Mr. Gessell has attended school and church in Stockton and has worked for the Stockton Unified School District as well as several local businesses. He has been representing accident victims in Stockton for the past 12 years. Mr. Brown is the past President and a member of the Board of Directors of the San Joaquin County Bar Association and a past member of the American Inn of Courts. Prior to representing injured individuals, he represented hospitals and doctors throughout the Central Valley. Their familiarity with the streets, highways, waterways, courts, hospitals and neighborhoods allows them very personal insight into the area where your case arose. Start your case with an advantage.