Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

Wrongful Death Lawsuit California

Wrongful death cases california civil jury instructions

If you have experienced a sudden and unexpected death due to someone else’s negligence, the last thing on your mind might be hiring a lawyer. But it may be in your best interest to consult with a wrongful death lawyer to explore your legal rights and options for a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Before you speak with a lawyer about your loved one’s death, you must understand who can file a California wrongful death lawsuit. Every state follows their own wrongful death statutes that dictate who can and cannot file a lawsuit. To speak with our Santa Ana law office directly, contact us in a free consultation at (657) 655-6045


Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Not everyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit. California wrongful death law limits the parties who can file a wrongful death action to close surviving family members of the deceased. 

The following individuals are eligible to file wrongful death lawsuits in the state of California:

Surviving spouse, partner, and children

The deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, or the children of any deceased child have first priority when filing a California wrongful death lawsuit. 

Intestate successor 

If there are no surviving descendants, then anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California’s intestate succession laws, such as the deceased’s parents or siblings. 

Financial dependent 

In addition to the above, the following people may also have the right to file a claim if they can show they were financially dependent on the deceased: 

  • The decedent’s “putative spouse” (This is someone who in good faith believed they were in a lawful marriage with the decedent)
  • Children of the decedent’s putative spouse
  • The decedent’s stepchildren
  • The decedent’s legal guardians, if the decedent’s parents are deceased


How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

Once you’ve identified who can file a California wrongful death case, you can begin the legal process. While more simple and straightforward cases like car accidents may not require a lawyer, filing a wrongful death lawsuit is a much more complicated legal matter. You will most certainly need the expertise of a wrongful death attorney.

You will also need to be aware of the statute of limitations. Generally, you only have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. There are some exceptions, so it’s best to consult with an attorney. 

Your attorney will then begin the investigation process and gather important documents like the deceased’s medical records and the police report. In order to prove a wrongful death, your attorney will have to show the other party acted negligently, and their negligence directly led to your loved one’s death. 

You as the plaintiff must prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it’s more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the death. 


Wrongful Death Damages You May Be Able to Recover 

Wrongful death lawsuits wrongful deaths

In successful wrongful death claims, the court awards the plaintiffs (the surviving family members) compensation for their loss. 

Wrongful death damages are categorized into economic and non-economic types. Economic damages may encompass:

  • The projected financial support the deceased would have offered the family, adjusted to its present cash value
  • Anticipated gifts or benefits the family would have received from the deceased person
  • The deceased’s burial and funeral expenses
  • The deceased’s medical expenses incurred before their death
  • An estimation of the value of household services the deceased would have provided

On the other hand, non-economic damages are assigned to intangible losses such as:

  • The loss of the deceased’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support
  • The partner’s loss of the enjoyment of intimacy
  • The loss of guidance provided by the deceased

It’s important to note that California law does not impose a general limit on the amount of damages in wrongful death lawsuits. However, the state’s restrictions on damages are applicable if the wrongful death claim arises from medical malpractice.


What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Case and a Criminal Case?

California wrongful death lawsuits vs criminal cases

A wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit filed by the family or estate of the deceased, seeking monetary compensation for their loss. While a criminal case may be filed at the same time, the two are distinctly separate cases with very different outcomes. 

In a wrongful death case, the family members or estate of the deceased are the plaintiffs. In a criminal case, the government is the prosecutor, and the accused individual is the defendant.

The goal of a wrongful death lawsuit is to obtain financial compensation for the survivors’ loss. In contrast, a criminal case aims to punish the defendant with penalties such as imprisonment or fines.

While a defendant could be found not guilty in a criminal trial, they could still be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit due to the different burdens of proof required in civil and criminal courts.


Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer

Wrongful death suit Santa Ana

At Riverview Accident Lawyers, our Santa Ana wrongful death lawyers have extensive experience settling wrongful death cases and proving liability. Our compassionate legal team can provide the necessary legal assistance to win a fair settlement for your family. 

Consult with an experienced attorney today to learn more about how we can help you during this challenging time.