What To Know About California Wrongful Death Laws

wrongful death laws

Life is full of difficult and awful circumstances, and the death of someone you love is one of them. When a person dies from an accidental or intentional act, a family has the right to file for a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or entity that caused their death.

Wrongful death in California can be caused by negligence in accidents, medical malpractice, intentional acts and crimes. In the same way of a personal injury lawsuit, a defendant’s liability is only expressed in the ways of financial compensation, which is ordered by the court for the defendant to pay the deceased’s existing family. 

One difference between a personal injury lawsuit and a wrongful death lawsuit is that wrongful death lawsuits result in a conviction and the defendant is penalized with prison, jail, probation, or other penalties. In criminal cases, the guilt of a defendant needs to be established beyond reasonable doubt, and in a civil lawsuit, liability only is shown by powerful evidence.

Who is Able to Sue For Wrongful Death?

The following people are allowed to file for wrongful death in California’s state civil courts:

  • Decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children
  • If one was dependent on the decedent, their spouse, stepchildren, or parents
  • A minor that is unrelated, and if at the time of the decedent’s death, resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for half or more of the minor’s support

If nobody is left behind in the deceased’s family line of descent, a wrongful death lawsuit may be available to anyone entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession like one’s alive parents or siblings. Surviving family members also are able to sue in “strict liability” where the defendant may be held for the injuries even if not negligent or at fault.

Claims for wrongful death are based on: 

  • Negligence
  • Gross negligence
  • Intentional wrongful act
  • Intentional crimes
  • Recklessness

Wrongful acts that cause death include:

  • Car accidents
  • Pedestrian falls or knock downs
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Drowning
  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Elder or child abuse/neglect
  • Medical malpractice

What Damages Are Compensated in a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful death cases in California are intended to compensate heirs of the deceased for the value of support they had and would be expected to receive from their loved one if they had survived. Settlements usually are paid as a lump sum or part of a settlement with payments made over time.

Damages that are available in a wrongful death claim:

  • Expenses related to medical bills for the care of the deceased right before their death
  • Expenses for the funeral, burial, etc.
  • Amount of money the deceased would have earned if remained alive
  • Loss of financial support 
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of moral support

There is no fixed standard that decides the amount of damages in a wrongful death case in California. A jury is able to consider any amount that seems reasonable depending on the evidence given and common sense.

Heirs are unable to get punitive damages. and only under “survival action” on the behalf of one’s estate. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to actual damages in some circumstances, and are considered punishment awarded at the court’s discretion when the defendant’s behavior is very harmful.

“Survival” legal action can compensate the deceased’s estate for two types of losses:

  • Claims that are unrelated to the death and which the deceased person had a right to sue for on the date of death
  • Claims for the injury that caused the death, provided if the person survived any of those injuries for some period of time regardless of how short

Statute of Limitations When Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

All civil actions, and this includes wrongful death actions, have time limits for when they should be filed. These time limitation periods are called statute of limitations, and once a statute of limitations period ends, you lose the right to sue upon your legal claims. California’s statute of limitations is 2 years from the date of death.

Needing Help With Your Wrongful Death Claim

It can make things easier and run more smoothly to explore if your claim is valid by meeting with a personal injury attorney that has the experience to guide you through making your wrongful death claim. Losing a loved one is an emotionally devastating occurrence, and you shouldn’t have to go through it alone when it comes to the legal preparations.

At Hann Law Firm in San Jose, California, we help with pain and suffering and all the other end of life expenses caused by all types of injuries, from slip-and-falls to car accidents. Figuring out what is the next step with a wrongful death claim can be difficult to navigate while also grieving the loss of a loved one, so our experienced accident attorneys work tirelessly to ensure compensation for you and your other family members.

Contact us today; nobody needs to face these challenges alone. Get the compensation you deserve.