Earlier this month, a 21-year-old woman was killed in an early-morning car accident in Long Beach. According to reports, Osvaldo Ramirez-Vazquez was driving eastbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when he lost control of his Lincoln Town Car just before 3 AM and broadsided the woman’s car. Emergency medical professionals rushed the woman to a local hospital, but she did not survive her injuries. Police believe that Ramirez-Vazquez was drunk at the time of the fatal collision.
The woman’s family will now have to grieve an unexpected and tragic loss. Money will not bring the young woman back. However, it might help to ease their pain and the financial burden of the accident. They may consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Ramirez-Vazquez to force him to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
In California, certain family members may have a right to seek compensation if a loved one is killed in an accident. Wrongful death claims can succeed when a person is killed due to the negligent, careless, or wrongful actions of another. Here, the 21-year-old’s spouse or children would have the first opportunity to file a wrongful death claim. If she wasn’t married and/or didn’t have kids, her parents or anyone who was financially-dependent upon her might also share that right.
Money in a wrongful death lawsuit is paid to help surviving family members during a difficult time. Compensation is awarded to help with their struggles. Money can be awarded for:
Wrongful death lawsuits do not allow families to recover money that the victim would have been entitled to, had they survived. Instead, those damages – including lost wages or pain and suffering – can be sought through a survival action.
However, the victim must have survived their injuries for at least a short period fo time after they got hurt. Here, the family could potentially seek damages for pain and suffering the young woman experienced between the time she was injured in the drunk driving accident and when she later passed away at the hospital.
Sometimes the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit will also face criminal charges. Here, Ramirez-Vazquez could be charged with driving under the influence in violation of California state law. In fact, he could be charged with felony DUI since his drunk driving accident caused a death. He has the right to file a request to stay related civil proceedings.
If a stay is granted, Ramirez-Vazquez would have the opportunity to focus on defending himself against criminal charges. If the family of the woman killed in the drunk driving accident decided to file a wrongful death claim, that civil case would be put on hold until the criminal proceedings concluded.
In other words, the civil cause would be paused until the defendant’s criminal case was over. Whenever the criminal matter concluded – meaning the charges were dropped, a plea agreement was negotiated, or the defendant was acquitted or convicted – the civil case could resume.
Most personal injury cases – including wrongful death matters – are based on negligence. In other words, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant was negligent and caused an injury (or death). When a defendant is negligent and breaks the law, plaintiffs might have an easier path toward getting compensation. Why? Negligence per se. Negligence per se means that a defendant is presumed to be negligent because they broke a law that was designed to prevent the kind of harm that resulted.
Here, the young woman’s family could argue that Ramirez-Vazquez is negligent per se because he violated the state’s drunk driving laws. Those laws were enacted to prevent injury-causing and fatal accidents. While a conviction isn’t required, it can certainly help.
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