Explaining Wrongful Death Claims

When tragedy occurs and a loved one is suddenly lost, legal action can be the last thing on someone’s mind. Yet when a spouse or child relies on this loved one for financial stability, legal action may be a necessity. If a loved one was killed due to the negligence of another, then the decedent’s surviving spouse and children would be the ones who have the proper standing to receive compensation under California law, Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60. At Drexler, we understand the tragedy that surrounds wrongful death claims and work to make sure that our clients feel safe, educated on the process, and empowered.

Below we will discuss the different types of damages that the decedent’s family could receive, as well as some real-life examples of cases we’ve tried in the past to best explain all that’s encompassed with a wrongful death case.

Types of Damages

Economic Damages

A spouse is generally entitled to an award of the financial support, which he or she would have received from the deceased spouse until the end of the deceased’s normal life expectancy (or the end of the surviving spouse’s normal life expectancy, if it is shorter). The normal life expectancy is based on tables published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Vital Statistics System.

A child who is a minor is generally entitled to an award of lost support until the child reaches adulthood, if able to prove that the decedent would have continued such support, as is the case when they are pursuing a college education, or on the road to becoming self-sufficient. Economic damages also include the value of gifts or benefits the person making the claim would have received from the deceased during the course of the deceased’s normal life expectancy. Funeral and burial expenses are also recoverable as wrongful death damages.

Costs associated with household management are recoverable as economic damages. For example, if the decedent cooked daily meals for the surviving spouse or children, cleaned the house, performed chores or participated in childcare, the value of comparable services can be recovered as wrongful death damages. In cases such as these, it is of utmost importance to find qualified and experienced expert witnesses to substantiate these damages.

Economic damage awards are reduced to “present value,” which is the sum of money that would need to be invested today to produce the same monetary amount which would have been provided by the deceased over his or her expected lifespan.

Non-Economic Damages

In a California wrongful death case, wrongful death damages also include loss of consortium damages, including:

  1. The loss of decedent’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; and
  2. The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations (spouse); or
  3. The loss of decedent’s training and guidance (children).

In determining the value of the afore-mentioned non-economic damages, the jury is not allowed to consider any of the following:

  1. Plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish;
  2. Decedent’s pain and suffering; or
  3. The poverty or wealth of the plaintiff.

How We Used Experts to Maximize Our Client’s Compensation for Stay-at-Home Parent

In wrongful death cases where the person who dies is a homemaker, we have retained forensic-economic experts to further prove the value of the monetary damages suffered by the widowed spouse, damages sometimes referred to as a “death benefit.”  Economists or forensic accounts are qualified to render opinions and formulate dollar evaluations for the replacement costs for such lost services.

In one of the wrongful death cases that we prosecuted, the decedent died from an untreated infection following a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure. She was negligently discharged from the hospital despite signs of an infection and, thereafter, tragically died as a direct result of the infection.

We filed a medical malpractice action and retained a forensic economist who calculated the reasonable value of childcare for the couple’s 3 children and household services provided by the decedent, which he quantified at $750,000.00 over the course of her life expectancy, based on credible economic surveys and publications.  This analysis was instrumental in our success in settling the case for a six figure sum.

The type of resources relied upon by a forensic economist to calculate the value of loss of household services includes the following:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  • the U.S. Federal Reserve,
  • the Congressional Budget Office,
  • National Vital Statistics,
  • and the American Time Use Survey.

The American Time Use Survey (or ATUS) is published by the U.S. Department of Labor, which keeps track of the time people spend on various tasks and academic articles such as one published by Stanford University evaluating the costs of utilizing employment agencies to perform this household work.

Unfortunately, in the tragic event of a death in the family, no amount of money can replace the loss of a loved one. It is vital that an attorney is selected that has the vast experience in these matters so that hopefully the grieving family receives as much as possible in allowable economic damages for the family’s enormous loss.


The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction.  This blog is not intended to, and does not, create an attorney client relationship, an offer of employment or a guarantee of success for clients of The Drexler Law firm.  No information or representation contained in this post should be construed as an offer of employment, guarantee of success or the creation of an attorney client relationship with The Drexler Law firm, nor as legal advice from The Drexler Law Firm or the individual author.  No reader of this post should act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer in the corresponding jurisdiction.  There are time deadlines during which a case must be brought, according to your jurisdiction or state, and failing to abide by the jurisdictional statute of limitation rules can result in your case being time-barred.

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