How Much Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement?


Calculating an average wrongful death settlement will not inform you of the potential outcome of your case. Each case is unique, and settlements depend on the specific circumstances and facts of the wrongful death. 

The best option for learning about the possible value of your family’s wrongful death case is to talk to a skilled wrongful death attorney. Many provide confidential case reviews for families who lost loved ones in negligence accidents. 

What Factors Play a Role in a Wrongful Death Settlement Value?

The average wrongful death settlement in California will vary widely depending on several factors, including the specific details of the case, the financial losses incurred, and the non-economic damages suffered. 

Crucial factors that influence the settlement amount include:

  • Economic Damages: These are quantifiable financial losses such as medical bills, funeral costs, lost wages, and loss of future earnings.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These cover intangible losses like loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance, and other similar losses.
  • Punitive Damages: In cases involving a felony criminal act, courts sometimes award punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior.
  • Insurance Coverage: The payout limits of insurance coverage available could significantly affect the settlement amount.
  • Liability and Evidence: The strength of the evidence against the liable party will likely influence the settlement. Clear liability and strong evidence lead to higher settlements.
  • Legal Representation: Experienced wrongful death attorneys often negotiate higher settlements due to their knowledge of similar cases, skills, and reputation.

Understanding the Recoverable Damages in a California Wrongful Death Case

In a California wrongful death case, the family of the deceased typically seeks several types of damages. These damages compensate for both economic and non-economic losses resulting from the death of a loved one. Here are the key categories of recoverable damages:

Economic Damages

Some examples of economic damages common in wrongful death cases include: 

  • The cost of medical care for the victim’s injuries before death
  • Reasonable costs for the funeral and burial
  • The income the victim would have provided to the family, including future earnings and benefits
  • The value of household services the victim previously provided, such as childcare, cooking, and home maintenance

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are more difficult to define but could include: 

  • Compensation for the loss of care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support
  • Compensation for the loss of sexual relations and companionship awarded to surviving spouses
  • Compensation for the loss of training, guidance, and education the victim would have provided to their children

Additional Considerations

Depending on the circumstances, other types of damages might include: 

  • Punitive Damages: In cases where the death resulted from a felony act, the judge or jury could award punitive damages to penalize the defendant and deter similar conduct. Punitive damages are rare in California wrongful death cases.
  • Survival Actions: The victim’s estate will pursue a survival action to recover damages the deceased would have claimed if they had survived. There is some overlap with the recoverable damages in the wrongful death case, so attorneys generally pursue them simultaneously. The primary recoverable damages include the pain and suffering the victim experienced before death and the lost income during the period between the injury and death. As you can imagine, these actions are vital in cases where the victim lived for weeks or months but later died from their injuries.

Eligible Claimants for a Wrongful Death Settlement

Only certain family members file a wrongful death claim under California law. This could include:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The surviving children

If there is no surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children, then the victim’s parents or siblings could file a claim. Others who were financially dependent on the victim could participate in this process, as well. 

Most plaintiffs in California wrongful death actions are spouses, children, or parents.

However, an experienced wrongful death attorney will help you: 

  • Identify the correct party to file the action
  • Explain the damages applicable to your case
  • Ensure you pursue all potential claims

Does My Family Have a Viable Wrongful Death Case?

Any type of accident or incident that will support a personal injury lawsuit will also support a wrongful death action. When a victim dies from their injuries, the family will fight for justice by seeking compensation from the at-fault party.

This is possible in cases that include: 

  • Auto accidents caused by negligent driving, drunk driving, or defective vehicle parts
  • Medical malpractice, including errors in diagnosis, treatment, or care
  • Workplace accidents, often in the construction sector 
  • Product liability, including when defective or dangerous products cause fatal injuries
  • Criminal actions, including assault, battery, or other violent crimes resulting in death

Steps to Determine Viability of a Wrongful Death Case

  • Confidential Consultation: A case review with an experienced wrongful death attorney will allow the law firm to consider the specifics of your situation and advise on the viability of your case.
  • Investigation: The attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to collect evidence supporting the allegations, including medical records, accident reports, video, witness statements, and expert testimony.
  • Statute of Limitations: Your lawyer will ensure you file a lawsuit within the time limits set by California law. In California, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is generally two years from the victim’s death.

If you suspect that someone else’s negligence or wrongful act caused your loved one’s death, seek legal advice as soon as possible. A skilled wrongful death lawyer will explain your rights, evaluate the merits of your case, and pursue the compensation you deserve.

How Do Wrongful Death Cases Work in California?

A California wrongful death lawyer will guide you and your family through the claims process by providing guidance and advice, handling legal paperwork, and advocating on your behalf.

Here’s how this process typically works: 

1. Initial Consultation

During your free, confidential case review, your lawyer will assess the details of your case, including the circumstances surrounding the death, such as the cause, responsible parties, and potential damages. They will also explain the legal process, your rights, and what to expect moving forward. You can ask questions, too. 

2. Investigation

As soon as you hire an attorney to handle your case, they will gather all relevant evidence, such as medical records, accident reports, witness statements, and expert opinions. They will likely visit the accident scene, review video footage, and reconstruct the events leading to your loved one’s death.

Lastly, they will consult various experts—medical, forensic, and economic—to strengthen the claim and demand for fair compensation.

3. Establishing Liability

In the foreground, a wooden gavel rests on a thick, leather-bound book with a red and gold cover. Next to the gavel, there is a set of golden scales of justice. The overall setting conveys a sense of authority, law, and order.

To hold the accused party responsible, your attorney will establish the four elements of negligence using the evidence they collected.

These elements are: 

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of Duty
  • Causation
  • Harm

4. Filing the Claim

Your lawyer will demand fair compensation from the insurance carrier or draft and file a wrongful death lawsuit. Either of these requires the preparation of paperwork and careful detailing of the allegations and claims. If they decide not to file a lawsuit right away, they might do so later if settlement negotiations are ineffective.

5. Negotiation or Litigation

Your lawyer will engage in settlement negotiations with the at-fault party’s insurance company or legal team. This back-and-forth process could result in an agreement on a fair settlement amount. Sometimes, mediation could facilitate a settlement agreement without going to trial.

In other cases, litigation is necessary. This requires your lawyer to navigate the process as set out by the civil court system.

This includes:

  • Conducting discovery, including exchanging information and evidence with the defendant’s legal team
  • Handling pre-trial motions to resolve legal issues and set the parameters for the trial
  • Preparing for trial by organizing evidence, preparing witnesses, and developing a compelling argument
  • Representing you in court, presenting your case to the judge and jury, cross-examining witnesses, and advocating for your rights

6. Resolution

You can generally win a wrongful death payout for your family in two ways. If your lawyer reaches a settlement, they will review the terms with you, ensuring it is fair and adequate. Alternatively, the case could go to trial, and the jury will issue a verdict.

Your wrongful death lawyer will navigate the claims process by leveraging their knowledge and experience to recover fair compensation for your family. They will handle the legal case, allowing you to focus on grieving and healing. 

Can I Handle My Family’s Wrongful Death Case Without an Attorney?

You do not have to hire a lawyer to handle your family’s case. However, most find it much easier to win their case and recover maximum compensation with the help of an attorney.

Filing a wrongful death case without a lawyer can be challenging for several reasons:

  • Legal Complexity: Wrongful death cases involve intricate legal procedures and statutes that are difficult to navigate without education and experience.
  • Burden of Proof: Establishing negligence and causation requires gathering and presenting substantial evidence, which is time-consuming, costly, and difficult for individuals.
  • Statutory Deadlines: Missing critical deadlines, such as the statute of limitations, will result in losing the right to recover fair compensation.
  • Negotiation Skills: Insurance companies and defense attorneys are experienced in negotiating settlements and may take advantage of individuals lacking legal representation.
  • Emotional Strain: Managing a legal case while grieving is often overwhelming, potentially affecting your ability to handle the claim effectively.

Hiring a lawyer to navigate your family’s California wrongful death case maximizes the chances of a successful outcome.

How Does Hiring an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Help the Case?

Hiring an attorney to handle your wrongful death case provides many benefits that extend beyond the navigation of the claims process. Here are some advantages:

A lawyer shaking hand with the client at his office.

Wrongful death cases involve legal principles and statutes that an experienced attorney can navigate effectively. Your lawyer is well-versed in the procedural requirements, ensuring they submit all filings correctly and on time.

Emotional Relief and Focus on Healing

Handling a wrongful death case is often emotionally overwhelming. Your attorney will manage the legal case, allowing you to focus on grieving and healing. They will help you make rational decisions during an emotionally charged time.

Strategic Planning and Case Management

Your attorney will develop a legal strategy based on the specifics of your case, maximizing the chances of a successful outcome. They manage all aspects of the case, from investigation to resolution, allowing you to focus on your family’s well-being throughout this process. 

Financial Considerations

Wrongful death attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis. They only get paid if you win the case. This reduces financial risk and makes legal representation accessible to all families. 

Access to Resources

Law firms have the resources to conduct thorough investigations that might be beyond the reach of an individual. Attorneys can also access a network of experts—medical professionals, accident reconstruction specialists, and economists—to strengthen your case.

Courtroom Experience

If your case goes to trial, an experienced attorney will effectively represent you in court. This will require presenting your case persuasively to the judge and jury, cross-examining witnesses, and challenging the defense’s arguments.

Negotiation Skills

Attorneys have extensive experience negotiating with major insurance companies and defense attorneys. Often, they settle these cases without needing to litigate the case. When necessary, they could use alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration, which helps resolve cases more quickly and amicably.

Long-Term Advocacy and Support

Your attorney will provide legal support throughout your case. This could include helping with probate questions, dealing with estate matters, handling a survival action, and managing your wrongful death case. They will advocate for your family’s best interests both during and after the case.

Hiring a results-driven attorney on your side could significantly increase the strength of your wrongful death case, alleviate your emotional burden, and improve the likelihood of a full financial recovery. 

Get a Free, Confidential Case Review With Our Team

Our relentless personal injury lawyers will help you aggressively pursue the compensation your family deserves after the loss of your loved one. We know how to get results. Learn more during your confidential case review with our powerhouse team from Wilshire Law Firm. Call (213) 335-2402 or use our online contact form to connect with us today.

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By submitting this form, you agree to receive telephone calls and text messages at anytime, which include hours outside of business hours (8:00 a.m. PST - 9:00 p.m. PST). This is so that we may reach you as soon as possible in order to consult on your potential case. By providing a telephone number and submitting this form you are consenting to be contacted by SMS text message. Message & data rates may apply. You can reply STOP to opt-out of further messaging. You can STOP messaging by sending STOP and get more help by sending HELP. Privacy Policy