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Wrongful Death

Bakersfield Wrongful Death Lawyers

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Losing a loved one to a workplace injury or accident is a tragedy, especially when the death could have been prevented. If your spouse or loved one was the main financial provider for your family, you may be wondering what your options are. This is why you should consider contacting a Bakersfield wrongful death lawyer for a free consultation. You may be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits. Our attorneys may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against a third party that was liable for your loved one's death. 

At Berry, Smith & Bartell, we are dedicated to providing legal advice and representation to those who have been injured or lost loved ones in workplace accidents. Partners Jaime L. Smith and Timothy D. Bartell are ready to assist surviving family members in pursuing the wrongful death compensation they deserve for the losses they have suffered. They also hold professional memberships with the California Applicants’ Attorney Association, which has been advocating for California workers since 1966.

Schedule a free, no obligation consultation with one of our qualified Bakersfield workers' compensation lawyers to review your case and determine your legal options. We understand the pain that you are going through and will fight to recover fair compensation on your behalf. We charge no upfront fees of any kind because we work on contingency – we get paid only if you do.

Contact us today at 1-800-848-6288 or fill out our Free Case Evaluation form.

California Workers' Compensation Death Benefits

Workers’ compensation is designed to provide financial benefits to an employee who is injured or killed in a workplace accident. This includes compensation to his or her dependents if the worker gets killed.

However, the workers' compensation system also protects employers from getting sued for any work-related injuries or deaths even if the employer was careless or contributed to a dangerous work environment. Workers and their family members give up their right to sue their loved one’s employer for additional intangible losses related to loss of quality of life or loss of partnership.

Employers are still protected from lawsuits even if they violated safety protocols established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This is because workers' compensation is a no-fault system. Victims or their loved ones are entitled to benefits if the injury occurred during the regular course of the employee's job, no matter who was at fault. Benefits could include payment for medical expenses and wage replacement for temporary and partial disabilities. 

Who is Entitled to Death Benefits?

You could be entitled to death benefits if you were totally or partially dependent on the deceased employee for financial support at the time of the accident. Total or partial dependents could include:

  • Spouses/domestic partners
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings
  • Aunts
  • Uncles
  • Nieces and nephews

Under the law, certain family members automatically qualify as total dependents of the employee:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Adult children physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to earn a living
  • Spouses who earned $30,000 or less in the 12 months before the employee’s death

How Much Are Basic Death Benefits?

If you fall into any of the categories listed above, a workers’ compensation insurance company may have to pay for reasonable burial expenses and provide you (and all other dependents) with death benefits.

California workers’ compensation death benefits include:

  • Up to $5,000 in burial expenses for injuries before January 1, 2013
  • Up to $10,000 in burial expenses for injuries on or after January 1, 2013
  • Between $250,000 and $320,000 in death benefits, depending on the number of total dependents

These are the benefit amounts based on the number of eligible dependents:

  • If one total dependent is involved, $250,000 will be paid
  • If two total dependents are involved, $290,000 will be paid and split evenly
  • If three or more total dependents are involved, $320,000 will be paid and split evenly

Partial dependents can also receive death benefits if there are no total dependents or if only one total dependent is involved.

A skilled Bakersfield wrongful death attorney can help determine the full value of your claim.

How Are Death Benefits Paid Out?

Death benefits are typically paid in installments and paid at the same rate as the deceased employee’s temporary disability rate, but not less than $224 per week. The temporary disability rate is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly earnings.

However, minor children will continue to receive benefits at the temporary disability rate until the youngest child reaches 18 years of age. For example, if the employee’s temporary disability rate was $900 a week, and he had a spouse and five-year-old child, both the spouse and child will receive $900 a week until the total reaches $290,000. This means it will take about seven years and the child will only be 12 years old. The child can still receive benefits for another six years at $900 a week until he or she turns 18.

How Can I File a Claim for Death Benefits?

You have one year from the date of your loved one’s death to file for death benefits. The employer's workers' compensation insurance company will conduct a detailed investigation of your claim to examine the cause of your loved one’s injury and death.

The claims administrator is required by law to make a decision on your claim within a reasonable amount of time. If you do not receive a denial letter within 90 days of filing your claim, you can assume your claim has been approved.

However, your loved one’s employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company may allege that your loved one's death was not caused by a work-related accident. They may use this as reason to deny your claim and avoid paying out death benefits. If this happens, our lawyers can help you appeal the denial, guiding you through each step of the process.

You do not have to go through the complex workers' compensation process on your own following your loved one’s death. If you need assistance filing a claim or appealing a denial, our Bakersfield wrongful death lawyers at Berry, Smith & Bartell have the knowledge and legal experience to assist you and fight for your best interests.

Contact our office today by calling 1-800-848-6288 to get started on your claim.

Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Surviving family members cannot sue the employer over a workplace accident. However, surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit if their loved one’s death was caused by a third party.

To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove that your loved one died on the job due to a third party's negligence. Third parties who may be held liable can include:

  • General contractors or subcontractors who failed to provide a safe work environment
  • Manufacturers who produced and sold defective or poorly designed products
  • Drivers who caused motor vehicle collisions while drunk or distracted
  • Criminal suspects who caused violent assaults on others performing work duties

You must have also suffered harm as a result of your loved one’s death. This can be in the form of damages such as lost wages or lost earning capacity and/or intangible losses such as loss of quality of life, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.

Compensation for intangible losses is what makes wrongful death claims different than workers’ compensation claims. A wrongful death lawyer in Bakersfield can determine if you are eligible to file a lawsuit on your loved one’s behalf and help you hold any negligent third parties accountable.

Who Is Eligible to File a Third-Party Lawsuit?

In California, only certain people are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These include the deceased employee’s surviving spouse, domestic partner or children. If there is no surviving person, then a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by anyone entitled to the deceased employee’s property or estate. This can include a deceased employee’s parents or siblings depending on who was living with him or her at the time of death. 

Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Claim

For surviving family members, the damages available in a wrongful death claim can include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical and hospital bills incurred before the loved one's death
  • Lost income, including potential income that would have been earned
  • Loss of services, care, assistance and other benefits once provided
  • Other damages such as pain and suffering

Our Bakersfield wrongful death attorneys can work to help you receive the full value of your claim.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

A statute of limitations requires lawsuits to be brought within a certain period of time. In California, you must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years from the date of your loved one’s death. If you fail to file by this deadline, you will lose the right to do so.

However, an important exception to this statute is the discovery rule. This applies in cases where it would not have been expected for a reasonable person to know there were grounds for a lawsuit. For example, maybe a reasonable person would not have realized a third party was involved in the workplace death. However, once you know there are grounds for a lawsuit, you must file a lawsuit within one year.

A Bakersfield wrongful death lawyer can help you understand this and other exceptions to the statute of limitations. We can also guide you through the entire legal process, advocating for your best interest.

Complete a Free Case Evaluation form today.

Contact a Bakersfield Wrongful Death Lawyer for Help

Have you lost a loved one due to a workplace injury or accident?

Our licensed wrongful death attorneys in Bakersfield can help you recover workers’ compensation death benefits and evaluate whether a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate.

We can discuss the specifics of your case during a free, no obligation legal consultation. If you decide to move forward, we can investigate how the death happened and assist you in recovering compensation for your losses and expenses.

If you are worried about attorney fees, our firm works on a contingency fees basis which means there are no upfront costs. Contact us today to see how we may be able to help you during this difficult time.

For a free case evaluation with Berry, Smith & Bartell, a Professional Law Corporation call 1-800-848-6288 today!

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