Wrongful Death Claims in California- Who Can File a Lawsuit and Receive Benefits?


Accidents are one of the leading causes of death in California.

If someone you love was killed in an accident, you might be wondering about wrongful death claims and what benefits you might be entitled to.

Keep reading to learn more about wrongful death claims in California including who can file a lawsuit and what you can recover. 

What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of another person’s legal fault. This is usually because the other person or entity was negligent and this negligence resulted in someone’s death.

Wrongful deaths most commonly occur as a result of:

  • Negligence based accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Intentional acts and crimes

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits. This means that the court awards financial compensation to the decedent’s survivors rather than doling out punishment in the form of prison time, probation, or other penalties.

It is possible for criminal charges to be brought against a defendant and a civil suit also be filed by the family of the deceased. However, these will be two separate trials.

In criminal cases, the defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, the judge or jury only has to find the defendant legally liable by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower bar and the plaintiff must only prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant was responsible for the death in question.

To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the decedent, that the defendant breached that duty of care, and that the defendant’s actions or inactions directly resulted in the death. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

Wrongful death cases arise from a variety of different circumstances. Generally, the circumstances involved would have allowed the decedent the right to file a personal injury claim if they had survived. Because they were killed as a result of the negligence, the right to sue for damages is passed on to the survivors.

Common examples of wrongful death cases include:

  • Auto accidents
  • Slips and falls
  • Workplace accidents
  • Defective or faulty products
  • Dog bites
  • Toxic torts
  • Assault and battery
  • Medical malpractice
  • Drowning

Who Can File Wrongful Death Claims?

In California, the following people are legally allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court:

  • The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the decedent
  • The surviving children of the decedent
  • The surviving grandchildren of a deceased child of the decedent

In the event that the decedent has no surviving descendants, then a lawsuit may be brought by anyone who is entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession. This can include the parents and siblings of the decedent. Other parties may also bring a lawsuit if they can prove that they were finally dependent on the decedent.

This might include:

  • A putative spouse of the decedent (someone who mistakenly believed they were lawfully married to the deceased)
  • Children of a putative spouse of the decedent
  • Parents of the decedent
  • Stepchildren of the decedent
  • Legal guardians of the decedent if the parents are deceased

What Benefits Can I Receive?

If you are eligible to file a lawsuit for wrongful death in California, you may be able to recover wrongful death compensation. These benefits are called damages under the law. There are two categories of damages that can be awarded in wrongful death claims – economic and noneconomic.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are easier to understand because they are things you can easily put a price tag on. These damages are easily calculated and can include:

  • Final expenses such as funeral and burial costs
  • Financial support the decedent would have contributed including lost wages
  • Loss of gifts or other financial benefits that the decedent would have provided
  • The dollar value of household services the decedent would have provided 

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages can be more challenging to prove because they can’t easily be assigned a dollar value. These damages include: 

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium 
  • Loss of guidance from the decedent
  • Loss of moral support, affection, care, love, companionship, comfort, society, assistance, and protection from the decedent

In California, there is no universal cap on the amount of damages you can recover. However, if your wrongful death claim involves medical malpractice, your damages will be subject to the state’s statutory limit for medical malpractice claims. 

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

You only have a certain amount of time to file a wrongful death suit.

Each state has its own laws for when a lawsuit must be filed. This time limit is called the statute of limitations. In California, the statute of limitations is two years. This means that you must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of your loved one’s death.

If you don’t file a lawsuit within this time period, you will most likely lose your right to file a claim at all. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to work with a wrongful death lawyer.

Wrongful death attorneys in California are experts in local law and will make sure you don’t miss any important deadlines that could affect your case. 

You Need a Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one was killed as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit and receive benefits. But you need a wrongful death attorney on your side.

We are here to answer all of your questions about wrongful death claims in California.

Click here to contact us today and schedule a free case evaluation to learn more about your rights. 

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