California may be joining the majority of the country by making pain and suffering damages available in wrongful death cases. Under current law, pain and suffering is only available in personal injury cases. Senator Laird introduced Senate Bill 447 in February 2021, which would allow the survivor of a deceased plaintiff to recover damages for the pain and suffering of the deceased. The senator premised the need for this change on COVID delaying the courts and preventing trials, and to that end amended the original proposal so that it would apply only where the pain and suffering accrued before January 1, 2026.

Although Senator Laird had originally asserted the need for this change because COVID 19 was depriving some plaintiffs of their day in court, supporters of the bill have voiced more general concerns, such as the notion that the current law allows defendants to “get away with” paying less damages simply because the plaintiff dies before trial, and deprives the victim’s family of the additional compensation. Supporters of the bill include the Consumer Attorneys of California, the Consumer Federation of California, and various unions. Opponents include the California Defense Counsel, California Justice Association, California Medical Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, and associations of health facilities and assisted living facilities.

If this bill is passed, it will make wrongful death cases more expensive to settle. No matter whether the death had anything to do with the underlying suit.

The bill has been sent to the Assembly to weigh in on this change.