After losing a loved one, it may be difficult to know whether you have a wrongful death case.
While California has laws in place that allow families to seek justice for their loved ones, a few of these laws have a significant impact on how you proceed.
Here’s an overview of the major laws that affect a wrongful death lawsuit in California and how they may apply to your case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
Under section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, a wrongful death claim may be brought by any of the following people:
- Spouse or domestic partner;
- Children of the decedent;
- Grandchildren, if the children of the decedent are deceased;
- Stepchildren who received 50% or more of their financial support from the decedent; and
- Any other person entitled to their property under intestate succession (i.e., parents, legal guardians, etc.).
It’s also important to note that a personal representative of the decedent may file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, this is more likely to happen in cases where the decedent has a will.
How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California Differ from a Survival Action?
While they sound similar, a wrongful death action and a survival action serve different purposes.
Many families choose to file a survival action alongside a wrongful death lawsuit in California if the decedent survived for a short time after the injury. This occurs when the decedent had a right to sue for damages before they died.
For example, if the decedent was in a coma for a month after their injury but before death, their personal representative may file a personal injury claim as a survival action on their behalf.
In many cases, wrongful death and survival actions stem from the same negligent act.
Recoverable Damages in Wrongful Death
The damages in a wrongful death are somewhat different from other personal injury cases. However, they still fall under one of two categories: economic or non-economic.
In a California wrongful death lawsuit, economic damages refer to any financial losses the family incurs due to their loved one’s death.
This often includes:
- The financial support the decedent would have provided if they lived;
- Loss of gifts, benefits, or inheritances due to the decedent’s passing;
- Household contributions the decedent would have provided, such as repairs or childcare; and
- Funeral/burial expenses.
However, these aren’t the only losses that surviving family members incur. There are less tangible losses that have just as much of an impact on the decedent’s loved ones.
These are considered non-economic damages and generally include:
- Loss of guidance, companionship, comfort, care, affection, and moral support; and
- Loss of consortium, enjoyment, and intimacy for the decedent’s spouse.
Such losses are difficult to assign a value because they have such a lasting impact on the family. For this reason, it’s best to explain the extent of these losses to a wrongful death attorney who’s compassionate and understands their severity.
The Statute of Limitations
In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is the same as other personal injury cases. According to section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, the representative has two years to file a lawsuit against the negligent party. This time limit starts on the date of death rather than the date of the incident. This is an important distinction if the decedent passed away sometime after the incident that caused their injury.
To better position your lawsuit, it’s best to start building your case as soon as possible after your loved one’s death. If you fail to file before the statute of limitations expires, you may lose the right to seek justice. In addition, evidence tends to degrade or go missing over time, so it’s best to put these parts of the case together sooner rather than later.
You Aren’t Alone. Our California Wrongful Death Lawyers Are Here for You
Losing a loved one to another’s negligence is one of the most tragic things a family can experience. Often, the family is left without knowing how to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.
At Weinberg Law Offices, we understand how difficult it is to deal with such a difficult loss. That’s why we dedicate ourselves to treating every case with the utmost care, compassion, and individualized attention.
Disclaimer: This content should not be construed as legal advice.