An Absentee Parent Can Recover Under California's Wrongful Death Law

An Absentee Parent Can Recover Under California’s Wrongful Death Law

You are the mother of a 35-year-old daughter. She recently died of fatal injuries arising from a Sacramento car accident along Stockton Boulevard. You have been divorced for 10 years, and your ex-spouse hasn’t seen or talked to your daughter since the divorce. You want to know if you can recover monetary compensation for the loss of your daughter, and you have an issue with your ex-spouse also recovering compensation given his prolonged absence from your daughter’s life.

California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 establishes a wrongful death recovery for a surviving parent if the deceased child (adult or minor) is not survived by a spouse, domestic partner, child and/or grandchild. The claim is personal to the surviving parent and allows the surviving parent to recover for the loss of the child’s love, care, comfort, and society as well as for loss of future financial support and funeral/burial costs.

The wrongful death law does not distinguish between loving and engaged parents, on one hand, and absent parents, on the other hand. A parent just needs to qualify as the biological parent and/or a parent-by-adoption. A parent’s absence from his or her child’s life does not disqualify a parent from making a wrongful death claim, but evidence of an embittered and/or absent relationship will affect the amount of damages to be recovered by that parent. After all, how can an absentee parent claim that he or she lost the love, care, comfort, and society of his or her child if that parent had not been communicating with his or her child for several years?

Nevertheless, the above situation is frustrating for the close and engaged parent since the close parent may have to reduce his or her recovery in favor of the absentee parent. In fact, California law requires that all persons entitled to recover for wrongful death are to be joined in an action for wrongful death. As a result, the close parent will typically have to notify the absentee parent so that the absentee parent can also make a wrongful death claim.

Moreover, if a child dies as a result of a car accident, then the per-person limit–not the aggregate limit—of any applicable automobile liability insurance policy applies to all wrongful death claimants, collectively. This means that all the wrongful death claimants share the one-per-person limit. For example, California only requires drivers to carry liability coverage affording policy limits of $15,000.00 per person/$30,000.00 per accident. If the at-fault party only carries $15,000.00 per person, then all wrongful death claimants share $15,000.00 unless other insurance, such as uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and assets are available.

In the above scenario, your daughter was killed in an auto accident. As a result, you will likely have to share the at-fault party’s per-person limits with all others who are entitled to recover for the wrongful death of your daughter, including your ex-spouse who hasn’t seen or communicated with your daughter in years. Thus, you need a good law firm to protect your interests.

At Curtis Legal Group, we protect a client’s interests and look for all means of recovery, insurance or otherwise, to ensure that our clients recover all available compensation.

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