The average settlement for a wrongful death claim in California can vary between only a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000. Every case is unique and every victim is different. This makes it impossible to say what an “average” settlement is because there is no “average” wrongful death case. However, some factors will generally increase or decrease the settlement amount.
What is a California wrongful death claim?
In the state of California, a wrongful death action is a type of personal injury claim. It allows the victim’s surviving family members to pursue compensation for the losses that they have suffered by the victim’s death.
These damages include an amount of money that reflects the:
- financial support that the victim would have contributed to the plaintiffs, had they not passed away,
- burial expenses,
- funeral expenses,
- the value of the household services that the decedent would have provided,
- loss of consortium,
- loss of companionship,
- loss of love suffered by the victim’s surviving spouse or domestic partner, and
- loss of moral support suffered by the victim’s loved ones and children.
A wrongful death suit is a type of personal injury case that is allowed by California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 CCP.
Survival actions are often filed alongside wrongful death claims in California. These are lawsuits that aim to compensate the victim’s estate for losses that the victim would have recovered, had he or she survived the wrongful and fatal act. These claims are governed by California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30 CCP.
The types of damages that are recoverable in a survival action include the victim’s:
Note that, under California law, neither wrongful death nor survival actions can recover compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering.1
Together, wrongful death claims and survival actions can recover the compensation that the victim and his or her loved ones deserve. This can amount to several hundreds of thousands of dollars. A wrongful death attorney can provide a case evaluation and help the victim’s loved ones navigate this complicated legal field.
What are some factors that influence the average wrongful death settlement?
Because every victim is unique and the amount of compensation that they are entitled to recover will depend on their particular circumstances, it is impossible to estimate what is an “average” wrongful death settlement. However, there are some factors that will likely increase or decrease the jury’s perceived value of the case. This will influence the settlement offer.
Some factors that can increase the settlement include:
- the victim was young at the time of his or her death,
- the victim was a part of a large family, with numerous children or other legal dependents,
- the age of the victim’s children or dependents,
- the spouse of the victim was financially reliant on the victim,
- the value of the gifts or inheritances that the victim’s loved ones were likely to expect,
- the circumstances of the victim’s death,
- the victim was an important member of his or her community, and
- the victim had an upright and strong moral character.2
Some factors that can decrease the amount of a wrongful death settlement include:
- the victim was relatively old or retired,
- there are few or no close family relations and no spouse,
- the victim’s relative isolation from the community,
- the victim contributed to the tragedy, like if the deceased person were partially at fault for a fatal car accident, and
- the victim had a criminal background.3
Juries are not supposed to take the following factors into account when issuing a wrongful death verdict:
- the grief, sorrow, or mental anguish of the victim or loved one,
- the deceased’s pain and suffering, or
- the poverty or wealth of the victim or his or her loved one.4
However, many of the factors that must be considered when issuing a verdict are integrally related to the factors that cannot be considered. This can make it difficult to predict the value of a verdict for a wrongful death case. This can make it hard to estimate the value of a settlement that is offered to avoid a verdict.
Plaintiffs stand to benefit by being legally represented by a skilled personal injury attorney.
Are there any damage caps in California?
With one exception, California does not cap the amount of damages that victims can recover in cases that fall under California’s wrongful death law. This means that the victim’s estate and loved ones can recover the full amount of compensation that they deserve.
The only exception in California is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for wrongful death claims that stem from medical malpractice. If the deceased person died because of a doctor’s negligence, then only up to $250,000 can be recovered for his or her:
- physical pain,
- mental anguish,
- emotional suffering and distress, and
- loss of consortium.
However, because neither wrongful death nor survival actions can recover damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement, this damage cap tends not to influence the outcome of a case.
Are wrongful death lawsuits paid in structured settlements or a lump sum?
When insurance companies make a settlement offer on a wrongful death claim, it can come in the form of a lump sum or a structured settlement.
A lump sum offer is more common. The plaintiffs in the case would receive the settlement all at once, often in a single check. This can be helpful if there are already a lot of expenses to pay.
A structured settlement stretches the payment out over a set period of time. Once the payment terms of a structured settlement have been agreed to, they cannot be changed. The victim’s spouse and loved ones often use structured settlements to defray the long-term loss of household earnings.
Would I owe taxes after settling a personal injury or wrongful death case?
Generally, the value of a wrongful death settlement is not taxable. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) excludes money received for personal injuries or sickness from a recipient’s gross income. This includes wrongful death settlements.5
However, if the recipient of the settlement has previously deducted the deceased victim’s medical expenses from the accident, they cannot deduct them, again.
A California wrongful death lawyer from a local law firm can provide the legal advice necessary to recover the full financial compensation that you deserve, while abiding by relevant tax laws.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.34 CCP.
- See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) No. 3921.
- 26 CFR 1.104-1.