Since COVID-19 became a public health threat in the United States, experts have stressed that older Americans are among those at greatest risk. Specifically, those age 65 or older with underlying health issues are vulnerable to potentially lethal effects of the coronavirus.
Sadly, related fears about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in facilities housing frail and elderly Americans have been realized. To date, more than 1,000 residents of California nursing homes have succumbed to COVID-19. For grieving relatives, this begs an important question. Can I pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home where my loved one died from COVID-19?
The legal definition of wrongful death in California
In California, wrongful death is legally defined as a situation in which:
- Improper conduct or negligence
- Perpetrated by an individual or entity
- Causes another person’s death
In the context of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, this means you could have a viable case if your loved one died because nursing home administration or staff:
- Failed to identify the presence of COVID-19 in the facility
- Failed to take appropriate measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the facility
- Failed to follow official health and safety protocols to protect residents and staff
- Failed to provide adequate equipment to protect residents and staff
Which family members can make wrongful death claims?
Under California law the ability to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit is limited to certain family members. Basically, you can do so if you were married to or in a domestic partnership with the person who passed away. You can also do so as a child of the person who died.
With that said, there are exceptions. For example, the law allows “anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” to bring this sort of claim in certain circumstances. This is only allowed if the deceased did not have a surviving spouse, partner or children. In absence of any such survivors, the deceased’s parents or siblings can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
Certain survivors who can prove they were financially reliant upon the person who passed away can also pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. These include a “putative spouse,” or someone who married the deceased in good faith even though the marriage was actually invalid; the son(s) or daughter(s) of a putative spouse; stepchildren; and the deceased’s parents.
What type of compensation is available?As always, the compensation you may receive depends on the specifics of the case. Successful plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits generally receive compensation for:
- Funeral costs and related expenses
- Medical expenses associated with the deceased person’s last illness or injury
- Loss of future financial support
- Non-economic losses such as love, community, attention, affection, moral support, advice and so on
The deadline for initiating a wrongful death claim
In ordinary circumstances, the statute of limitations, or deadline for filing a wrongful death suit in California is two years from the date of the person in question’s death. Failure to meet this deadline may result in the loss of the ability file the lawsuit at all.
Another consideration in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many nursing homes are actively seeking protection from liability. In other words, they are trying to escape legal responsibility for COVID-19 deaths.
If your loved one was in a nursing home and you suspect negligence contributed to their death from COVID-19, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. The attorneys at the Law Office of Parag L. Amin, P.C. are here for you. You can reach us online or by phone at (213) 293-7881 to schedule a consultation.