Wrongful Death: Recovering Damages for the Loss of a Relative


Under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 377.60 et seq., heirs of a decedent may recover present and future benefits lost due to a relative’s death that was caused by another. Recovery may be obtained against the wrongdoer in a wrongful death action. Losses that are recoverable include 1) the present value of future contributions, 2) the value of any personal service, advice, or training that would have probably been given by the deceased, and 3) the value of the decedent’s society and companionship.

Loss of the decedent’s society and companionship, to the extent that it has pecuniary value, may be recovered by a decedent’s heirs in a wrongful death action. Evidence of loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace, and moral support may be introduced by a relative in a wrongful death action in support of an award for loss of society and companionship. However, a survivor may not recover against a wrongdoer any damages for grief and sorrow due to a relative’s death.

When a wrongdoer causes the death of a father and husband, a wrongful death action may be maintained by the surviving wife and children. Typically, the main element in a wrongful death action by a surviving wife and children is the present value of the deceased’s earnings that he would have contributed to the family during the period of his life expectancy.Gilmore v. Los Angeles Ry. Corp. (1930) 211 C. 192, 197, 295 P. 41. When a surviving wife sues for the wrongful death of her husband, the fact that the surviving wife is going to remarry, or may possibly remarry, is not a basis for reducing her damages.

When a wrongdoer causes the death of a mother and wife, courts have considered the main element to be the value of her service in the home. See Johnson v. Southern Pac. R. Co. (1908) 154 C. 285, 297, 97 P. 520. If the deceased mother and wife was the family’s breadwinner, focus may be placed on the value of the decedent’s earnings.

Children in a wrongful death action may recover the value of loss of advice and services in their training and education. Redfield v. Oakland Consol. Street Ry. Co. (1895) 110 C. 277, 288, 52 P. 822, 1063. Where the child of a person deceased is an adult, however, he must show evidence of dependency or reasonable grounds for expecting some benefit in order to recover.

In cases involving the death of a minor child, the parents of the deceased may seek to recover for the present value of future services and contributions lost, deducting the probable cost of raising the child. See Bond v. United R. of San Francisco (1911) 159 C. 270, 276, 113 P. 366.

Although no monetary recovery can compensate for the loss of a loved one, the wrongful death action provides an avenue of recourse against the person causing the death. If you have lost a close relative due to the wrongful conduct of another, it is advised to consult with an experienced attorney to determine what rights you may have.

Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. This article is not a solicitation.

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes was President of the Philippine American Bar Association for 2005. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive former CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail kureyeslaw@gmail.com; visit at www.kenreyeslaw.com

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