How to Prove Fault in a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

With at least 250,000 medical related deaths each year, medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the US. Known as medical malpractice, this is only one type of a California wrongful death lawsuit that can be pursued.
But every wrongful death claim have four elements in common that they must be proven in order to win your case.
If you believe that your loved one died at the hands of a negligent party, you might have a wrongful death claim. But for your claim to be successful in courts, the four elements of wrongful death must be successfully demonstrated.
While nobody can tell you how much your case is worth, we can tell you that if these elements aren’t present, the case won’t move forward. Read on to decide if you have a case worth pursuing.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death refers to deaths in which another person’s negligence, recklessness, neglect, omission, or willful actions were the cause of death.
A wrongful death civil lawsuit is when the immediate family or the heirs of that person exercise their right to seeks compensation for the death of their loved ones. They’re most often pursued by the parents, spouses, and children of the person who died.
Before wrongful death and survivor statutes were added to state legislatures, families weren’t able to collect compensation on behalf of their deceased loved one. The laws stated that only the injured party had the right to make a legal claim. But today, wrongful death is part of the law in all 50 states.
Through a wrongful death suit, families can claim damages for lost financial support, funeral expenses, and even the pain and suffering of the victim. The specific damages that they can seek are dependent on the state and the context of the case in questions.

The Four Wrongful Death Elements

But in all states and context, a successful wrongful death lawsuit must have four elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. The responsibility for proving these wrongful death elements falls on the plaintiff and their legal representative.


To have a California wrongful death lawsuit, a death has to have been caused by someone else. Either in whole or in part. You must demonstrate how that other person caused the death through their recklessness, carelessness, or negligence. But just proving negligence isn’t enough for a successful case.
In order for a defending party to be found negligent, they have to have owed a duty of care to the deceased. There is no clear definition of duty of care, and ultimately, the judge will decide whether a duty of care existed. In coming to this decision, they’ll weight factors such as:

  • Potential public policy consequences for similar cases
  • Whether the harm was predictable/foreseeable, and to what extent
  • How closely related the act and the harm are
  • The moral blame of the defendant
  • The degree of certainty that harm occurred

In most cases, the duty of care comes down to whether the defendant has either a moral or legal obligation to ensure the safety of another person. But this can be applied in many ways.
For example, a doctor has a duty of care to their patients in terms of maintaining their help. But a driver has a duty of care to other drivers in terms of behaving safely on the road. If someone is driving recklessly and causes an auto accident that results in death, that can qualify.

Breach of Duty

If a judge determines that a duty of care existed between the defendant and the decedent, then the next step is to demonstrate how that duty was breached.
The plaintiff must show evidence proving that the defendant’s negligence or recklessness led to them not fulfilling their duty. If a plaintiff is successful in convincing the judge and jury that their version of the events is more than 50% likely to be true, they’ll have proven the breach of duty.


But it’s not enough to have a duty of care that was breached to prove that a death was wrongful. The third wrongful death element is proving causation.
That means, demonstrating how that breach of duty directly caused the person’s death. This can be difficult to prove depending on the circumstances of the case.


Finally, the plaintiff has to show that damages were incurred as a result of the wrongful death. In a wrongful death suit, it can be assumed that the death itself was the damage. But it may also include quantifiable damages in terms of:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Funeral and burial costs;
  • Loss of financial support;
  • Loss of potential earning;
  • Loss of protection, guidance, and inheritance.

On top of those damages, plaintiffs can also claim the pain and suffering of the victim before death.

How to Proceed With a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The laws surrounding wrongful death differ by state. States will have different regulations regarding who can file the civil claim. There is also a statute of limitations on a California wrongful death lawsuit.
For these reasons, and to determine if you meet the requirements needed for a wrongful death case, you should talk to the Sweet Lawyers. They’ll listen to your story, ask you questions to determine if your claim is valid, answer any questions you might have, and explain what the legal process looks like.
But most importantly, they can help you establish the four wrongful death elements you need for the case to be successful. Reputable lawyers have access to police reports, witnesses, and physical evidence that you might not know about and that can strengthen your case.
Let us help you determine if you have all the elements for a successful case. Contact us for a free case evaluation today.


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