By Albert G. Stoll, Jr.
Nothing is more final or more devastating than the unexpected death of a loved one. How much money would a person give up just to have five more minutes with a parent, daughter, or spouse? How much money would a person pay for one last embrace or the opportunity to say good bye?
II. C.C.P. Section 222.5
Before trial it is a good idea to review California Code of Civil Procedure Section 222.5. This section established your right to a liberal and probing examination of prospective jurors:
…Upon completion of the judge’s initial examination, counsel for each party shall have the right to examine, by oral and direct questioning, any of the prospective jurors in order to enable counsel to intelligently exercise both peremptory challenges and challenges for cause. During any examination conducted by counsel for the parties, the trial judge should permit liberal and probing examination calculated to discover bias or prejudice with regard to the circumstances of the particular case. The fact that a topic has been included in the judge’s examination should not preclude additional nonrepetitive or nonduplicative questioning in the same area by counsel.
The scope of the examination conducted by counsel shall be within reasonable limits prescribed by the trial judge in the judge’s sound discretion. In exercising his or her sound discretion as to the form and subject matter of voir dire questions, the trial judge should consider, among other criteria, any unique or complex elements, legal or factual, in the case and the individual responses or conduct of jurors which may evince attitudes inconsistent with suitability to serve as a fair and impartial juror in the particular case. Specific unreasonable or arbitrary time limits shall not be imposed.
The trial judge should permit counsel to conduct voir dire examination without requiring prior submission of the questions unless a particular counsel engages in improper questioning. For purposes of this section, an “improper question” is any question which, as its dominant purpose, attempts to precondition the prospective jurors to a particular result, indoctrinate the jury, or question the prospective jurors concerning the pleadings or the applicable law….
III. Recoverable Damages
When formulating your approach to voir dire in the wrongful death case spend some time and consider the type of damages that you will be requesting. The type of damages available will depend on whether you represent a husband, wife, child, or parent. The types of damages include the following:
- Direct economic loss such as necessities of life and financial contributions which would have been made for the benefit of the survivor;
- Funeral expenses incurred by the decedent’s beneficiaries;
- Loss of personal services, training and advice are compensable; this would include the value of the personal services they would have received from the decedent. A spouse and child may recover for the loss of normal household duties. A child may receive compensation for the loss of the parent’s advice and services in their training and education.
- Loss of society, comfort and protection; from the perspective of a parent, spouse, or child this would include the loss of love companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace or moral support.
IV. Sample Questions: Loss of a child
Why did you have children?
What do your children mean to you?
How have your kids impacted your life?
What types of activities do you enjoy with children?
Has any juror lost a child or loved one?
V. Sample Questions: Loss of a spouse
Why did you get married?
What is it about your spouse that you enjoy the most?
What types of activities do you enjoy together?
How has your spouse made an impact on your career?
What does your spouse do for you that makes your life more enjoyable?
VI. Sample Topics: Loss of a parent
What type of assistance did you receive from your parent(s) when you were a kid?
How did your parent’s moral support affect your childhood?
What impact has your parent’s advice had on your life?
How has your parent’s advice (philosophy) (assistance) impacted your life today?
Before you try your next wrongful death case read some poetry. Meditate about what death means, what it feels like, and how if affects those who are left behind. Change your mind set by reading poetry. Here is a poem about death written after September 11, 2002 by Sharon Xiong of Naperville, IL:
You never would have known
That life would end
Everything gone that you ever own.
On that very day, a prayer you send.
Because you’re trapped
And so alone, like you have been all your days.
Your arms are wrapped
Hoping for the noise to stop ringing.
Why won’t it end now?
You’re in dismay, the structure creaks.
You never knew it’d end this way.
You never experienced love,
Or a family. The future is bleak.
You cry and sob
But it won’t help because they can’t do a thing and either can you.
How sad it had to end this way.
On this day of unexpected deaths.