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Available Defenses against Wrongful Death Lawsuits

This content about wrongful death claims was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

After the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, family members tend to seek out the reasons why the death may have occurred and if it was due to the fault of someone else, often filing for wrongful death. Unfortunately, some entities are more susceptible to being sued for wrongful death than others, such as healthcare providers. But no matter if you’re a healthcare provider or another entity, you have the right to defend yourself with the help of a wrongful death defense attorney.

What elements must be proven in a wrongful death action?

In a wrongful death suit, a plaintiff must prove that certain things occurred. The elements to be proven are the following: the decedent died, the defendant caused the death by negligence or an intentional act, the decedent has surviving dependents or beneficiaries, and the death has caused monetary losses to said beneficiaries or dependents. If the plaintiff argues that the death was due to negligence, they must also prove other elements such as the duty of care, breach of duty of care, and causation.

What defenses can I raise?

Since wrongful death laws vary from state to state, this will affect what defenses are available to your case. The circumstances of the wrongful death may also determine the defense strategy your wrongful death defense attorney uses. Available defenses may include:

    • No Causation: For a defendant to be held responsible for wrongful death, there must be a connection between the death and the defendant’s actions. Although this cause does not have to be direct, it must be linked in some way to the cause of death. If the plaintiff can’t prove a causal connection between the two, the defendant cannot be held liable.
    • Assumption of Risk: A wrongful death defense attorney may argue that the deceased assumed the risk of the actions that resulted in the death.
  • Self Defense: This defense may only be used if the defendant had reason to believe that they were in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death. 
  • Contributory Negligence: In some states, a defendant may not be held liable if the decedent contributed to their death. In this case, the defendant is not at all held responsible, which means that the plaintiff(s) may not recover any damages.
  • Comparative Negligence: Some states take into account the percentages of responsibility related to the decedent and defendant. This rule allows damages to be reduced according to the percentage of responsibility of the decedent. An example is when a decedent and defendant are found to be 50% at fault for the wrongful act, then the damages will be reduced by that percentage.
  • Statute of Limitations: In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is 2 years. If the plaintiff does not file within that timeframe, they lose all right to sue.

The role of a wrongful death defense attorney

If you are being sued for wrongful death, the wisest decision is to hire a California wrongful death defense attorney. Your attorney will assess the claim, develop a strong defense strategy by determining the best available defenses in your case and discovering the key flaws in the plaintiff’s arguments. Finally, your wrongful death defense attorney will implement said strategy, which can weeks or even more than a year. If it is in the best interest of the defendant to settle, an attorney will expertly steer the case in that direction. However, if the defendant is not responsible, the implementation phase will focus on disputing the plaintiff’s arguments with solid defenses.

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.