What damages can an heir claim in a wrongful death suit?
The courts have allowed a great deal of leeway to juries and judges who are tasked with making an award to plaintiffs in a wrongful death suit. There are certainly many quantifiable numbers which could be evidenced in such a claim: the costs of medical/burial expenses, lost income for a dependent and so forth. But beyond this, the courts have not sought to impose limitations on wrongful death recoveries, except those that might be barred by the vehicle code and possible “cost of maintenance and rearing” offsets in the wrongful death of a child.
That said under most circumstances, the survivor in a wrongful death suit cannot make a claim for damages as if they were stepping into the shoes of the deceased. For example, if the deceased was an elder then under most circumstances, the heir could not make an elder abuse claim even if such a claim was viable had the decedent survived; the exception is if the plaintiff can prove “reckless, oppressive, fraudulent, or malicious conduct” on the part of defendants. The survivor is also not ordinarily entitled to recover the pain and suffering or disfigurement of the deceased victim. Generally, wrongful death claims are a completely different set of rules that supersede whatever recovery the deceased may have had if they had survived the event which caused their death.
66 Cal. Jur. 3d Wrongful Death § 105
66 Cal. Jur. 3d Wrongful Death § 112
West’s Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 377.34
West’s Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 377.61