COVID-19 and Wrongful Death Claims in Los Angeles
Covid-19 & Wrongful Death
The pandemic came on strong and left the entire nation reeling, and far too many people died as a result. While many of these tragic deaths were unavoidable, others were not. If you lost a loved one to COVID-19 as a result of someone else’s negligence, the tragic nature of the death is intensified, and you may be eligible for compensation via a COVID-19 death claim. If you find yourself in this difficult situation, do not wait to reach out to an experienced Los Angeles COVID-19 death lawyer.
Defining Wrongful Death in California
No two wrongful death claims are ever identical, but there are basics that apply to all such cases, and understanding these basics can help. In California, family members of the person who dies (the decedent) or the decedent’s estate can sue for losses (or legal damages) when the wrongful act of someone else or of an entity causes the victim in question to die. Wrongful death cases often go hand in hand with survival causes of action, which are brought on behalf of the decedent’s estate in pursuit of compensation for the losses they experienced prior to succumbing to their injuries (or illness in the case of COIVID-19) that ultimately proved fatal.
Who May File?
In California, the following family members or their representatives have what is known as standing to file wrongful death claims:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
- The decedent’s children
- The decedent’s grandchildren (if their children are no longer living)
- Other minor children of the decedent, such as stepchildren, who were dependent on them for at least 50 percent of their financial support
- Anyone else who, under the state’s laws on intestate succession, would be entitled to the decedent’s property
When Can a Person or Entity Be Found Liable for Someone’s Death?
A person or entity can be deemed liable for someone else’s death any time someone loses their life as a direct result of the party’s negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional act (including violent crimes). When a crime is the cause, it’s possible for the defendant to be found liable in a wrongful death claim even if they were acquitted in the criminal case for the crime in question.
What Damages Can Be Sought?
Wrongful death claims in California are meant to compensate the decedent’s surviving heirs for the overall value of the support they would have reasonably expected to receive had their loved one lived to their life expectancy. The losses sought can include both economic and non-economic losses. The economic losses include all the following:
- The financial support that the decedent would have contributed to the family over the course of their lifetime had they survived
- The loss of benefits or gifts the survivors could have reasonably expected to receive had the decedent survived
- The reasonable value of the household services the decedent would have provided had they survived
- The decedent’s funeral and burial costs
The non-economic damages available include:
- The loss of the decedent’s society and companionship
- The loss of the decedent’s affection, moral support, and protection
- The loss of the decedent’s training and guidance (in a parental capacity)
- The loss of intimacy with the decedent (in a spousal capacity)
In 2020, the law changed, and survivors can now seek compensation for the pain and suffering, disfigurement, or both that decedents experienced prior to succumbing to their injuries.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
In California, you have a limited amount of time to file a wrongful death lawsuit, which is called the statute of limitations. In this state, you have two years from the date your loved one dies (not from the date they were injured – if they are different dates) to file a wrongful death claim.
Covid in California
WHO Declares Global Health Emergency
On January 6, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID had become a global health emergency. On that date, 170 people had lost their lives to COVID, and nearly 8,000 more people (mostly in China) had already been infected with the disease.
The Third COVID-19 Case in the Nation
In late January of 2020, a man who had returned to Orange County from the epicenter of the COVID outbreak, Wuhan, China, was the third person in the nation to test positive for COVID-19.
The First COVID-19 Death in the United States
In early March, the death of an older man in Placer County who had recently returned from a cruise that landed in – among other places – Mexico was ruled a COVID death, making it one of only a handful of cases along the West Coast. The man’s death prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency in California, and soon after, stay-at-home orders went into effect. In late April, testing revealed that a February 6 death in Santa Clara, California, had actually been the first COVID-19 death in the nation.
COVID Declared a Pandemic
WHO declared COVID a global pandemic on March 11, and on March 13, the federal government declared a national emergency. On March 19, California issued a statewide shelter-in-place requirement, and on March 22, President Trump declared California a major disaster. The danger associated with COVID-19 was very real and very difficult to ignore at this stage.
If you have lost a loved one to COVID-19 as a result of an employer, company, corporation, school, or any other entity’s negligence, you may have the right to pursue compensation for your losses through a wrongful death claim. While these cases are legally challenging, they are also important. The loss of your loved one has drastically altered the course of your family’s future, and the loss was preventable. Had it not been for the defendant’s negligence – or worse – the tragedy you are experiencing could have been avoided. While no wrongful death case and no amount of compensation can ever right the immense wrong you have suffered or bring your loved one back to you, it can provide you with the means necessary for you and your family to make the difficult journey toward healing.
COVID-19 and the Law
The pandemic was unprecedented, and as such, the law and COVID are intersecting in real-time. An important example of COVID-19 and wrongful death claims in Los Angeles is See’s Candies, Inc. v. Ek. A California appellate court ruled in this case that a See’s Candies’ employee – who contracted COVID-19 along with other employees on the job due to inadequate precautions and lack of social distancing requirements – has the right to pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of her husband. The husband, who was not an employee of See’s, contracted COVID from his wife and ultimately succumbed to the illness.
The appellate court’s ruling does not mean that the woman’s case will ultimately prevail, but it does allow the case to proceed and highlights the law’s interest in exploring liability as it relates to COVID-19. The candy company’s argument is that the third-party nature of the case (the person who died did not work for them and was, therefore, injured collaterally) should stop it from proceeding, but the argument was rejected. The upshot of the court’s ruling is that if the injuries of the third party (the employee’s husband) are independent (logically and legally) of the employee’s injuries and were caused by the employer’s negligence, there is no legal bar stopping the third party from suing the employer, an important ruling for COVID death claims.
California’s COVID-19 Statistics
The COVID-19 statistics in California (reported by The New York Times and updated daily) include:
Who Is Entitled to Benefits From COVID-Related Wrongful Death Claims?
If your loved one (the decedent) died from COVID-19 as a result of someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to pursue benefits with a wrongful death claim brought on behalf of your loved one if any of the following apply:
- You are the decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner.
- You are a child of the decedent.
- You are a grandchild of the decedent (if their children are no longer living).
- You are another category of minor child of the decedent (such as a stepchild) who received at least 50 percent of your support from them.
- You are anyone else whom California’s intestate succession laws entitle to the decedent’s property.
If you find yourself in this difficult situation, an experienced Los Angeles COVID death lawyer can help.
How We Can Help You
You have suffered immense losses as a result of someone else’s negligence, and the path toward healing is arduous. With a COVID death claim, you can seek the compensation you and your family need to move forward, and while this compensation can’t change the tragic facts of your case, it can provide you with the resources necessary to focus on your recovery.
The Mission Tortilla Case
An important case that highlights the significance of COVID-19 death claims is the Mission Tortilla case (as reported by the Los Angeles Daily News). The case hinges around two Mission Foods employees who tested positive for COVID and died. An official with the Public Health Department shared, “Businesses have a corporate and moral and social responsibility to their employees and their employees’ families to provide a safe work environment. People’s health, people’s livelihoods are at stake.”
One of the men who died, Jose Roberto Alvarez, was a 67-year-old maintenance worker whose wife and a daughter also contracted COVID-19 but later recovered. Mission Foods is, according to ABC7.com, accused of concealing information that may have led to this man’s death. After Alvarez’s death, Mission Foods reported that another employee had also died of the virus. The crux of the matter is that the tortilla giant knew about a COVID outbreak in the plant but concealed it from workers like Alvarez (who had both diabetes and high blood pressure), who were at very high risk.
The Public Health Department at the time required companies to notify it when at least three employees tested positive, but Mission (and two other companies) each had more than 40 confirmed cases by the time public health inspectors shut them down. This lapse on the part of Mission Foods endangered many employees, and at least two men are dead because of it.