How Can a Minor File a Wrongful Death Claim for a Parent’s Death?
The loss of one’s parents is one of the most tragic events a child can go through. Not only must they deal with a great deal of emotional turmoil, but life will absolutely change. They may have to change homes, live with relatives, and be put in a precarious financial situation. However, if a child lost his or her parents due to an act of negligence, the child may be able to recover compensation in a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In order to file a wrongful death claim in the state of California, the deceased must have died due to someone else’s negligent, reckless, or careless actions. This can include everything from a lazy property owner who did not prevent a carbon monoxide leak in an apartment complex or a drunk driver who hit a pedestrian in a car accident. If negligence did kill someone, then that victim’s surviving family members may be able to pursue a claim for compensation.
But only a select handful of family members can receive compensation for a loved one’s wrongful death. In California, these individuals include the deceased’s:
- Domestic partner
The law requires that the claim follow the order of succession, essentially beginning with the deceased’s spouse or domestic partner. If they were not married at the time of death, then the deceased’s children would have the right to file a claim. Lastly, if the deceased was single and did not have any children, then their parents or siblings could pursue a claim.
But with regard to children, it can become more complicated if they are under the age of 18. Minors are not allowed to pursue legal action in the state of California, including personal injury and wrongful death cases. Instead, they must follow certain legal procedures in order to receive compensation.
Steps to Filing a Claim for a Parent’s Death
When a child loses his only parent or both parents in an accident, the courts will need to assign guardianship. In some cases, the child’s parents may have designated an adult to act as the child’s guardian through a will, but if not, the court will make the decision. If the child has other living relatives, such as adult siblings or grandparents, then the court will likely assign guardianship to them unless there are mitigating factors.
Once guardianship is established, the child’s guardian can act as his representative in a wrongful death claim. They will then want to speak to an experienced California wrongful death attorney to review the claim and ensure that they have a strong case. Wrongful death claims can be complicated and require an in-depth investigation to collect all evidence, calculate damages, and argue for proper compensation in an insurance negotiation or jury trial.
If the claim is settled out of court or the child receives a verdict from a jury, then the money will not be made immediately available to him. For one, wrongful death claims can have multiple recipients, such as the individual who paid for the deceased’s medical bills before death, any liens owed to doctors and hospitals, and family members responsible for their funeral. In addition, the child’s guardian may be awarded some compensation to take care of the child, such as to cover living expenses, but this may be awarded on a case-by-case basis.
The remaining damages that can specifically be awarded to the child include:
- Financial support if the parent had survived
- Household tasks and domestic support
- Love and emotional support
These funds will be set aside for the child in a trust. This is often to the child’s benefit, as these trusts can accrue interest and pay out more money than what was originally awarded. Once the child turns 18, he can officially access the trust.
Wrongful death claims typically have a strict two-year statute of limitations that starts the day the victim died, but that deadline can be extended in cases involving children. The official deadline for a minor to file a wrongful death claim is two years after his or her 18th birthday – essentially the child’s 20th birthday. However, that is not always to the child’s benefit, as these claims can be complicated, and evidence may spoil if you do not act fast.
Instead, if you are the guardian of a child who lost a parent due to someone else’s negligence, you should speak to a California personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. At The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV, our founder is an experienced and nationally recognized trial lawyer who has successfully represented multiple families in wrongful death claims. He can provide the strong legal support your family needs at this difficult time. To discuss your case in a free consultation, call our office at (562) 901-0840 or toll-free at (888) 454-5569.