A Difficult Calculation: California Wrongful Death Lawyer on Damages Following the Death of a Child

As a San Jose wrongful death law firm, we see people as they are struggling through some of the hardest days of their lives. Perhaps the hardest of all losses is when a parent is left to grieve the unexpected loss of a child. No amount of money can truly compensate people facing this tragic situation, a truth that makes the calculation of wrongful death damages following the death of a child one of a civil court’s most difficult tasks.

Settlement Reached in Death of 14 Year-Old Girl Hit on the Way to School bikeghost.jpg

As reported by The San Jose Mercury News, the family of a 14 year old girl who lost her life in a traffic accident in 2012 has settled a wrongful death claim arising from the tragedy. On November 26, 2012 at around 8:30 A.M., Leyla Beban was headed to Woodside High School where she was in her freshman year. She made a right turn from Jefferson Avenue onto Alameda de las Pulgas and was hit by a pickup truck that was also turning right. Responders took Leyla, who was wearing a helmet, to Stanford Hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. The truck driver stayed at the scene of the collision and cooperated with authorities.

Leyla’s family filed a wrongful death claim, noting they were disappointed with the police investigation and wanted to set the record straight. This week’s news report indicated the claim has settled but that the terms were confidential. Her family has also created a non-profit, the Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation, that awards scholarships/prizes to young writers following writing competitions and helps bring writing classes to underserved communities.

The Wrongful Death Statute and Parental Claims
California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 creates a claim for wrongful death based on a death caused by another person’s neglectful or wrongful acts. The statute lays out the specific people, typically close relatives and dependents, who are entitled to bring wrongful death claims. In most cases, a parent can bring a wrongful death claim if the deceased did not have children or if the parent was financially dependent on their offspring. A two year statute of limitations period applies to wrongful death claims.

Wrongful Death Damages and the Loss of a Minor Child
It is always difficult to discuss damages in wrongful death claims. We know that there is no amount of money that can equal, or even come close to equaling, the value of your lost loved one. When the deceased is a child or teen, it is even harder to wrap one’s mind around assigning a monetary value to the loss.

Generally speaking, the intent of wrongful death damages to compensate the claimant for the loss of monetary and emotional support (including future support). Damages for pain and suffering are not permitted. One of the most useful guides to how these rules apply to the death of a minor is California Jury Instruction 3922, language that a judge would read to a jury that is ruling on such a case. Available damages fall into two categories. Economic damages include: 1) The amount of financial support the child would have provided to the parent during the expected lifespan of the child or family member (whichever is shorter); 2) The value of gifts/benefits the child would have provided; 3) The value of household services that the minor child would have provided (again, based on expected lifespans); and 4) Funeral and burial expenses. Non-economic damages are based on the loss of love, care, companionship, protection, and similar intangibles. Juries are asked to use their judgment in assigning a dollar value to these intangibles over the expected life of the child or claimant, whichever would have been expected to be shorter.

Often expert witnesses provide guidance on life expectancies. Wrongful death damages do not include money for pain and suffering, either that of the claimant or that experienced by the child before death. The costs of raising and educating the child are deducted from the amount of damages owed.

Our Services and Our Promise
No money can bring back a lost child or any lost loved one. Civil damages can, however, help address some of life’s realities. Monetary compensation can help alleviate financial concerns following a loss. Wrongful death verdicts and financial damages also help hold the person at fault accountable for their actions and provide the grieving family with a sense of justice.

The Brod Law Firm has wrongful death law offices in San Jose, Santa Rosa, Oakland, and San Francisco. We promise to always treat you with kindness and respect while we work to help you recover compensation for the loss of your child or other loved one. We will always remember that you have suffered a very real loss and we will treat you as a person, not a case number. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
Keeping Kids Safe and Advocating for the Smallest of Car Crash Victims
Oakland Wrongful Death Attorney Comments on Tragic Morning on Bay Area Highways

(Photo by Roy Sinai)