Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

July 28, 2022 Posted In Wrongful Death

After losing a loved one to a preventable accident, California only authorizes certain surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Family Members Who Can Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim in California

Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, a wrongful death claim can be filed by the following surviving family members or a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate on behalf of:

  • Surviving spouse of the deceased.
  • Domestic partner of the deceased.
  • Surviving children of the deceased, including biological, fully adopted, or stepchildren. If the children are minors, the court will appoint a guardian to pursue the claim on their behalf.
  • A dependent minor who lived with the deceased for at least six months.
  • If none of the above family members survives the deceased, anyone who would be entitled to the deceased’s property by California’s intestate succession laws (which may include surviving parents or siblings). 

All potential heirs must join together to pursue a single wrongful death claim. California enforces this “one action rule” to avoid simultaneous and multiple lawsuits. 

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Under California law, the surviving family of the deceased has two years from the date of the victim’s death to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there are some exceptions. For example, in wrongful death cases caused by medical practice, the state allows claimants three years from when the malpractice occurred or, if discovered later, within one year of learning the malpractice caused their loved one’s death. If you miss these deadlines, the court will likely dismiss your case, and you will be barred from recovering compensation. 

What Damages Can the Surviving Family Recover?

There are two types of damages typically available in California wrongful death claims: economic damages for monetary losses and non-economic damages for subjective losses. The damages awarded will vary based on the circumstances of each case but can include: 

  • Medical bills caused by the accident which led to the death;
  • Funeral, cremation, or burial expenses;
  • Loss of the victim’s expected income; 
  • Loss of benefits;
  • Estate administration expenses
  • Reduction in the inheritance suffered by surviving children;
  • Loss of parental guidance;
  • Loss of support and services that the victim provided;
  • Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice.
  • Compensation for the conscious pain and suffering the deceased endured due to their injuries before their death.
  • Interest on top of the damages awarded, which are calculated from the date of death. 

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if the at-fault party’s actions were malicious or extremely reckless. However, unlike other types of compensation, punitive damages are intended as a punishment. 

How Much is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth?

Since each case is unique, a wrongful death claim’s worth will vary based on individual factors. For example: 

  • The deceased’s past financial contributions;
  • The deceased’s life expectancy;
  • The deceased’s health before death;
  • The deceased’s age, habits, and occupation;
  • The number of surviving minor children;
  • The past and potential future earnings of the deceased;
  • The percentage of financial support the surviving spouse relied on;
  • The type and severity of the accident;
  • Whether the deceased was actively involved in their community;
  • The degree of negligence exhibited by the defendant; 
  • And more.

For a better understanding and accurate estimate of your wrongful death claim’s worth, speak to a Riverside Wrongful Death Attorney who will evaluate your case for free.

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