Explanation of California's SB 447 and its Implications

Explanation of California's SB 447 and its Implications

California was one of a handful of states that did not allow plaintiffs to sue for pain and suffering damages in wrongful death cases. Injury victims can sue for these non-economic damages, but if they die before their case goes to court, these rights do not extend to families suing on behalf of their loved ones.

Unfortunately, this led to some defendants using tactics to delay trials long enough for the victim to pass away to reduce their financial liability.

Corporations have taken advantage of existing laws, and this has only worsened during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Fortunately, California introduced new legislation this year to expand the rights of wrongful death plaintiffs and counteract the advantages previously given to defendants. California’s SB 447 allows families to recover non-economic damages for the wrongful death of their loved one.

What is CA SB 447?

California Senate Bill 447 is a proposed law introduced by California State Senator John Laird and sponsored by the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC). This bill amends Section 377.34 of the Code of Civil Procedures and victims’ civil actions in court. SB 447 expands the rights plaintiffs have to sue for damages in wrongful death cases. Previously, victims in California could only sue for economic damages related to wrongful death cases.

With this bill, victims are now eligible to seek and recover non-economic damages. These additional damages include pain, suffering, and disfigurement. SB 447 expands these rights to victims’ families who pass away before their case is heard in court. This legislation is a way to stop others from taking advantage of the existing California law who were delaying court proceedings in hopes the victim would die, and they wouldn’t have to pay as much in damages.

California’s SB 447 permits those who filed cases before January 1, 2022, where the plaintiff died before their case reached trial, to preserve their right to non-economic damages. This bill allows for the recovery of non-economic damages in all wrongful death cases filed between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026. It’s not clear at this time if the rights granted in CA SB 447 will be permanent.

SB 447 status

Senate Bill 447 was first introduced by State Senator Laird in early 2021. The text and amendments of the bill were finalized on August 30 and passed by the CA Senate and Assembly in early September. Governor Gavin Newsom signed this bill into California law on October 1, 2021, and it goes into effect on the first day of 2022.

SB 447 has a sunset clause, meaning it is currently not a permanent law in California. Unless the California state legislature enacts a bill or amendment to SB 447 extending its life, the rights given in this bill will expire on January 1, 2026.

Who Benefits from SB 447?

The families and loved ones of deceased victims benefit from SB 447 being signed into law. If a victim dies due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts of others, their family can hold the responsible person accountable by filing a wrongful death suit.

Previously they were only allowed to seek economic damages to cover the financial loss of their loved one. With the new law in place, families can sue and recover damages for the pain, suffering, or disfiguration of their loved one caused by the defendant.

SB 447 especially benefits cases where the deceased victim is elderly, a minor, or a stay-at-home parent. In these instances, the person is not employed, and economic damages such as lost wages or future earnings were not previously recoverable. Any damages awarded in these cases were minimal and did not reflect the harm perpetrated on their loved one.

Now, these families can seek non-economic damages if their case was entered into court before 2022 or between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026.

Wrongful death cases are brought by the immediate dependents and beneficiaries of people who die from accidental or intentional acts of negligence or recklessness. Laws limit who can file a wrongful death suit on behalf of the victim.

In California, you can file a wrongful death suit if you’re the:

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased victim
  • Surviving children of the victim
  • Surviving grandchildren of the victim when their children are also deceased
  • Inheritor of the descendant’s property through the law, including siblings and parents of the deceased victim

With the passing of SB 447, defendants in wrongful death cases will be held fully accountable for their actions. The expansion of damages awarded in these cases helps families get justice and acts as a further deterrent for the crimes.

SB 447 Doesn’t Apply to All Cases

This bill does not apply to all wrongful death lawsuits. SB 447 does not apply to cases involving elder abuse, which already permits the recovery of financial damages for pain and suffering endured before death. Plaintiffs in these cases can recover up to $250,000 in damages.

The bill does apply to medical malpractice cases, but non-economic damages are capped in these instances. The Medical Injury Compensation Act of 1975 limits the amount of non-economic damages plaintiffs are awarded for pain and suffering. Under the SB 447 legislation, these caps remain in place.

How Berberian Ain LLP Can Help

Insurance companies and large corporations have benefited financially from the existing wrongful death laws. With SB 447, defendants will no longer have the upper hand and are now liable for the non-economic damages in wrongful death cases. If your loved one has died due to someone else’s negligence or intentional acts, hold them accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Berberian Ain LLP can assist you in your case. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys understand the changing laws and will fight for justice on your behalf. We’ll collect the evidence needed so you can recover the damages your family deserves. Contact us today for a free consultation.