Everything You Need to Know About the Wrongful Death Statute

wrongful death statute

Studies show that medical errors account for more than 250,000 deaths in the United States of America, every single year. Further, more than 38,000 people die in road accidents and more than 4,000 people die due to workplace injuries. 

Preventable injuries are unfortunately one of the leading causes of death in the USA and bring about a different kind of pain to the loved ones of the deceased. If you have lost someone dear to you due to the negligent acts of another, know that wrongful death statutes allow you to claim damages for your losses.

This article explores wrongful death laws as defined in the state of California. 

Let’s start off by taking a look at the definition of wrongful death.

What Is Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim arises when one person dies due to the fault of another party. In this context, a legal fault could refer to either negligence on the part of the defendant or even malice. This statute is laid out in the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, Senate Bill No. 41, Chapter 136.

In a nutshell, to qualify for a wrongful death claim, each of the following elements must be present:

  • The death of a human being
  • Such death must have occurred as the result of another person’s negligence or intent to cause harm
  • There must be some sort of loss suffered by the deceased’s beneficiaries

The burden of proof is much lesser than in the case of a homicide or murder. Hence, it is not uncommon for beneficiaries to file a wrongful death claim against the defendant in the event of a murder or homicide acquittal.

In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt”. However, in order to prove wrongful death, the plaintiff must provide what is known as “a preponderance of the evidence”. This essentially means that it is more likely for the defendant to be guilty than not.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

A claim for wrongful death may be filed in the California civil courts. Under California’s wrongful death statute only the following people may file a wrongful death claim:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased
  • Surviving children
  • Grandchildren of the deceased’s dead child/children

In the absence of any of the above, others who may be entitled to the deceased’s property via intestate succession may file a claim. Further, a putative spouse and their children, the stepchildren of the deceased, the parents of the deceased and in their absence a legal guardian may also file a wrongful death claim if they can establish that they were financial dependents of the deceased.

The Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations refers to the maximum time period during which a party may file a claim against another person for their actions. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in California is two years from the death of the deceased. 

If you recently lost someone to a medical error or another incident that qualifies you for a wrongful death claim, do talk to a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your claim precedes this deadline. However, in the event that you learned about the death or cause of death much later, the court may grant you an exception. Talk to a wrongful death lawyer to learn more about your options. 

Recovery of Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

In general, damages fall under two heads. These include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages address the monetary losses suffered by the beneficiary as a result of the death of the deceased, whereas non-economic damages address more abstract losses. 

Economic damages can include funeral and burial expenses, present and future financial support that would have been provided by the deceased, loss of benefits and the value of other services that would have been provided by the deceased. Non economic damages include the loss of companionship, affection, moral support, enjoyment of intimacy and guidance.

If you think you are entitled to any other type of damages not listed here, talk to a qualified wrongful death attorney to learn more about your options. 

Do note that California’s wrongful death statute does not allow for punitive damages. However, you may be able to claim punitive damages through a survival action. 

Survival Action and the Wrongful Death Statute

Now, a wrongful death claim is often combined with a survival action lawsuit. However, the two are different from each other. While the former is filed by the family members or beneficiaries of the deceased, a survival action is initiated by the heirs of the deceased on behalf of their estate. 

A survival action can include a claim for the injury that caused the death of the deceased. However, it must be established that the deceased lived with those injuries for at least a short duration. 

California’s wrongful death statute allows for family members and beneficiaries of a deceased person to claim damages for monetary and non monetary losses from the person at fault. 

Did you or someone you know recently lose a loved one to someone else’s negligence? If so, you may have a wrongful death claim.

Get in touch with our team to schedule a free, personalized, one on one consultation with the best wrongful death attorneys in California, today. Our team is available 24/7 to give you the expert legal advice you need.

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