Sometimes, even cases that are factually very different from your own can still be very helpful and instructive. For example, it might seem like a wrongful death case stemming from a house fire has little in common with a vehicle or pedestrian accident case, but that isn’t necessarily true. One recent California wrongful death case contained important information about a certain type of statutory case settlement offers, which occur in many types of injury lawsuits, and how they work when there are multiple plaintiffs (which can also happen with some frequency in vehicle accident cases). Whether your personal injury case involves just you and one defendant, or it involves multiple parties, make sure that you are equipped for all possible litigation scenarios by retaining experienced injury counsel for your case.
A recent case from Los Angeles County involved the use of these statutory settlement offers. The case arose out of a tragic accident in Southern California. A house fire in Hacienda Heights left one man, Juan, seriously burned but killed his wife, Virginia, and his three-year-old son. The rented home that the family shared allegedly had no working smoke detectors, which led to a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the two dead victims.
In wrongful death lawsuits like this, the deceased person’s legal heirs have what’s called legal “standing” to sue (which means that the law gives them the right to bring an action). In this case, the boy was the biological child of Juan and another woman, which meant that the boy and Virginia had two different sets of legal heirs (although Juan was part of both groups). Each set sued the owners of the house in the wrongful death action.
The plaintiffs made an offer to settle the case in accordance with Section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure. That law says that, if you (as a plaintiff in a lawsuit) make a qualifying offer that the other side rejects, and the judgment you receive from the court at the end of the trial exceeds the amount you offered in settlement, you are entitled to recover certain costs, expert witness fees, and attorneys’ fees. An award under Section 998 (which is on top of your damages award) can be substantial.
The plaintiffs in this wrongful death case made a joint 998 offer of $1.5 million. The defense turned it down. At the trial’s end, the jury awarded the woman’s heirs $2.25 million and the boy’s heirs $357,000. Obviously, $2.6 million is well in excess of $1.5 million, which meant that the plaintiffs were entitled to a 998 award. In this case, that sum was $424,000.
The defense tried to challenge the settlement offer as invalid, but the courts sided with the heirs. A single, unallocated settlement amount made as part of a joint settlement offer isn’t always valid. However, in a case in which one plaintiff alone receives more than the sum total of the joint settlement offer, it is clear that the plaintiffs’ outcome at trial exceeded the settlement offer, which is the law’s fundamental trigger for an award of costs. Virginia’s heirs alone received a judgment of $2.25 million, which was one and one-half times the joint settlement offer. Under existing California law, that meant the offer was valid.
As you navigate the civil justice system, it helps to have experienced counsel by your side at every step of the way. Whether you are making offers to settle or presenting your case at trial, skilled attorneys can make all of the difference in your case. The diligent San Mateo wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos have been helping injured clients for many years pursue the compensation they deserve. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.
More Blog Posts:
Northern California Plaintiffs Recover Both Jury Award and Benefit of Settlement Offer, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 21, 2017
Southern California Jury Hands Down $26M Verdict in Case of Teen’s Wrongful Death Aboard Sightseeing Bus, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, published Jan. 4, 2017