Wrongful Death Attorney
The Law Offices of Sterns & Walker represent families of airplane and other disasters in wrongful death actions against airlines, manufacturers, or other responsible parties.
Since wrongful death statutes are created by state law, the laws tend to differ somewhat from state to state. For example, in California, damages for the pain and suffering of the decedent are not recoverable, whereas in other states such damages are recoverable. Where more than one state or country is involved, the court will determine with a choice of law analysis which state law applies.
In California, persons who may bring a wrongful death action are, in order of priority:
- The surviving spouse, children, and dependent parents
- Those who would be entitled to inherit under the laws of intestate succession (Parents, siblings, children of siblings, grandparents, children of a deceased spouse, etc.)
- Next of kin
As in a regular personal injury lawsuit, compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to direct expenses suffered by the family for the wrongful death, such as:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of future financial support the deceased would likely have provided
- Loss of gifts or other benefits the person would have given
- The reasonable value of household services the person would have provided
Non-economic damages are those which do not come with a definite dollar amount, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. In the wrongful death context, non-economic damages typically involve "loss of society," which includes companionship, guidance, care comfort, affection, and in the case of the loss of a spouse, enjoyment of sexual relations.
This type of case should be distinguished from a survivor action, which is undertaken when a plaintiff survives an accident which would provide the basis for a lawsuit, but dies before a settlement or judgment is reached. In that case, a representative of the estate can continue the suit for the benefit if the decedent's heirs. Since the lawsuit in this instant is personal to the victim, the damages remain the usual compensatory damages that the injured person suffered, as opposed to the harm caused to the family members or representatives who are physically bringing the suit. Punitive damages can be recovered if they could have been available to the decedent.
Death on the High Seas
For maritime deaths occurring outside U.S. territorial waters, including aircraft that crash into the sea, the Federal statute, Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), preempts and supersedes all state remedies. This statute spells out the beneficiaries (who must sue through a court-appointed Personal Representative): spouse, children, parents; and the measure of damages: "pecuniary" (or economic) loss, and in the case of "commercial" crashes (such as TWA 800 or Air France 447), additional damages for loss of care, comfort and companionship.
For representation in a wrongful death action arising out of an aviation accident at home or abroad, contact the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker today.
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