California Wrongful Death Laws

Updated: May 23

A definitive guide to California Wrongful Death and what to do after a wrongful death incidents



Wrongful death is a tort case that enables surviving family members to obtain financial compensation for a loved one's death. If a tort or wrongdoing is to blame for an accident that leads to a victim's death, the person who committed the tort will be held liable for damages.

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In California, a wrongful death is described as a legal claim that occurs when someone dies as a result of someone else's (or a group's) negligence. A wrongful death case, if successful, may be able to compensate the family for damages such as burial and funeral costs, as well as bring the answerable party to justice.


A wrongful death lawsuit is not the same as a suicide or murder trial. It isn't even a court case. Instead, it's a lawsuit filed in California's civil courts. It aims to hold a defendant civilly responsible for someone's death rather than criminally.


Whether or not the at-fault party committed a crime, the family may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Following an intentional crime, such as murder, the family will be entitled to file a civil wrongful death suit while the suspect is awaiting a criminal trial. Your relatives will even be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit based on an unintended tort, such as carelessness.


Who Can Sue In A Wrongful Death Case In California?


If you're planning to seek justice for a loved one who died from someone else's negligence, then it is important to know the basics of a wrongful death claim. Only select survivors are allowed to file for a claim in California.


Are you any of the following?

  1. If the deceased is married at the time of death, the spouse or registered domestic partner may file a lawsuit.

  2. If the deceased's children are still alive, they could file a lawsuit. If a child has predeceased, the offspring (grandchildren) of that child will file a lawsuit.

  3. The deceased's parents could file a lawsuit if the decedent was married but had no children.

  4. If the deceased's spouse, children, or parents are no longer alive, the decedent's siblings or other dependents may file a lawsuit.

  5. The parents of a minor child who dies may file a lawsuit. If the decedent's parents have died, the decedent's siblings will file a claim.

  6. Those who may be entitled to inherit property and properties and those who were financial dependents of the decedent would have the right to file a wrongful death claim in most cases where the decedent did not draft a will.

Survivors are entitled to financial compensation for their injuries, which may include:

  1. Expenditures on health and medication

  2. The decedent's estate is valued at potential monetary contributions as well as personal service, guidance, or training.

  3. In the meantime, companionship, comfort, community, compassion, solace, and moral guidance were all lost.

  4. Punitive damages are only recoverable in "survival suits," which enable the deceased's estate to recover economic losses incurred as a result of the event that eventually caused their death, even though the deceased only lived for a brief moment after the incident that killed them.

It is important to obtain legal advice from an experienced California wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Many factors can affect your case's outcome, and strict statutes of limitations apply to all personal injury cases.


In a wrongful death case, what is the statute of limitations?


The term of limitations in most cases is two years from the date of death. However, other factors such as the source and nature of the action that caused death, the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s)' circumstances, and other factors such as the following all play a role:


A one-year statute of limitations can extend to medical malpractice lawsuits.


A government tort lawsuit must be filed first if a complaint is being brought against a California government agency. These statements have a 180-day limitation period.


What Can You Expect from A Wrongful Death Case?


Emotional Impacts on Family Members. Emotional and psychological effects can be debilitating and lead to serious consequences. They should be evaluated by a specialist.


Health costs, the value of monetary donations, emotional losses such as loss of companionship, the psychological effect of the death on survivors, and other personal losses are all common damages in wrongful death proceedings.


Fatal occupational injuries. Occupational risks such as exposure to toxic conditions, liquids or gases, falls, and other injuries are examples of case types.


Accidents involving fatal motor vehicles. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of wrongful death.


Child death. Children are vulnerable to disease and other preventable causes. Unfortunately, there are many instances of child death in California.


Pedestrian injuries usually leave victims with severe injuries. A pedestrian will sustain more physical damage compared to a driver behind the wheel.


Accidents involving trains, planes, and boats. If not catastrophic injuries, large-scale accidents while on these vehicles claim lives more often than other vehicular accidents.


A wrongful death settlement or favorable verdict will not bring your loved one back, but it will help you deal with the tragedy, medical costs, lost wages, and excruciating psychological distress by receiving reasonable and just compensation with the help of an experienced attorney.


Do You Need A Lawyer?


Potential victims should work with an attorney in virtually any wrongful death case. The law in this field is complicated in terms of who is allowed to bring a lawsuit and who is entitled to a recovery, and it is normally best left to an wrongful death attorney in California to figure out. Furthermore, even though the decedent was killed by someone with a low insurance policy limit, it is prudent to obtain legal counsel because an investigation might uncover other possible claimants who are more capable of paying damages.


Damages Recoverable in a California Wrongful Death Case


Many forms of financial costs and damages, emotional pressures, and psychological effects are all recoverable in a wrongful death case. Past, pending, and potential injuries are all included in these damages.


Punitive damages are not recoverable in wrongful death proceedings in California. They are, however, recoverable in "survival acts," which enable the estate of the deceased (decedent) to recover economic damages incurred as a result of the event that led to death. The trick is proving that the decedent survived the initial accident, even if only for a brief time, before succumbing to his or her injuries.


For the inheritance/acquisition of the decedent's estate, survival actions can be paired with wrongful death actions. Any money awarded will be distributed to the estate's heirs.


In a wrongful death case, determining the value of damages (and doing so correctly) is crucial. This is primarily achieved by measuring the monetary value of losses, which includes:

  • Care/Medical expenses and funeral costs

  • Future financial contributions and personal care, nurturing, advice, encouragement, training, services, and inheritance from the decedent are all lost.

  • Joy, companionship, warmth, community, friendship, peace, or moral support are all things that can be lost.

Several considerations are taken into account in determining and litigating the amount of money paid in a wrongful death lawsuit. Expert witnesses (economists, psychologists, medical practitioners, and so on) will be required to determine the case's absolute, equal, and true worth. Life expectancy, age, earning capacity, schooling, fitness, intelligence, character, parental obligations, spending and saving habits, and survivors'/beneficiaries' circumstances may all be factors to consider.


Even the cases of stay-at-home moms and dads and unemployed individuals at the time of death can be useful because we can quantify the loss of contributions to the household and family; loss of love; loss of companionship; loss of comfort; loss of society; loss of affection; loss of solace; and loss of moral support.


Financial compensation can assist you in dealing with your injury, covering costs, and saving for a more stable future. Only through truthful, committed counsel and representation can you determine the true worth of your case.

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Obtaining Compensation in a Case of Wrongful Death


Before committing to anything with an insurance provider, it is important to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles. And your own insurance provider is unlikely to be absolutely truthful and open. Insurance firms like to keep as much of their own money as possible. Their desires are at odds with your needs and priorities.


Personal injury lawsuits must be made within a certain time period, known as the statute of limitations, under California law. The statute of limitations on wrongful deaths is two years from the date of death. If the case is not brought by that date, the lawsuit could be absolutely blocked.


While no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a loved one, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you hold the party responsible for their death. Simultaneously, it will help to alleviate the financial strain that sometimes comes with wrongful death. Considering a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer or law firm with experience would be the best option for you to properly handle this.


In wrongful death claims, there are two types of damages available, both of which are designed to compensate claimants for the injuries they have suffered.


Economic and non-economic damages are used together to reimburse families for the financial and emotional assistance they would have earned if their loved one had lived.


The following are examples of economic damages:

  • The loss of benefits or other advantages that the survivors may have expected from the decedent during their lifetime