What Is “Wrongful Death” in California?

A wrongful death lawsuit is brought by the surviving relatives of someone who died due to the legal fault of another. This is also commonly referred to as a wrongful death claim. If someone else was responsible for the death of the deceased person you may be able to bring a wrongful death action.

In this case, the defendant’s liability is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation (“damages”). Damages are ordered by the court and paid to the plaintiff(s) after the lawsuit is won.

The goal of this case is to make sure that the person who was responsible pays the family of the deceased. This case is different from a criminal trial because there is no punishment involved. Instead, the court awards monetary damages to the family of the deceased based on how much the defendant should pay them.

The lawyers at GJEL Accident Attorneys handle wrongful death cases to fight for the family of the deceased person but we do not handle medical malpractice cases. 

How to Bring and Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

California Wrongful Death Law allows family members or the estate of a deceased individual to sue for damages when someone dies as a result of another person’s negligence. The law is codified in the Code of Civil Procedure 377-60. This is a wrongful death claim.

A settlement of verdict may pay damages for: burial and funeral expenses for the deceased, amounts the deceased would have earned had he lived, pain and suffering and disfigurement of the deceased, and compensation for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and support.

A wrongful death suit is frequently paired with a California “survival” cause of action under CCP §377.30. Survival actions are brought on behalf of the deceased person’s estates to compensate for losses suffered from the wrongful act. Punitive damages are not available in wrongful death lawsuits in California. Only survivors can bring a survival claim.

Wrongful death cases are brought by the decedent’s spouse or children. A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years after the date of death. Damages include compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earnings, loss of consortium, funeral costs, and other losses suffered by the decedent. In addition, punitive damages may be awarded if the defendant acted with malice or reckless disregard for the safety of others.

The wrongful Death Statute states that if someone dies due to negligence or carelessness, then the person who caused the death may be held liable.

California Wrongful Death Laws

Wrongful death laws allow a surviving family member of a deceased person to file wrongful death claims to receive compensation when someone causes the death of their loved ones, whether it was an act of negligence or malice.

A person convicted of a crime could also be found liable for wrongful deaths caused by their actions. However, the standard of proof in wrongful death cases is lower than it is in criminal cases.

This means that even if you’re found guilty of murder or manslaughter, you might still be found liable for the wrongful death of your victim. A California personal injury attorney can help you seek punitive damages.

California Wrongful Death Laws at a Glance

Only spouses, domestic partners, children, and issues may file wrongful death claims. Spouses and domestic partners must prove that they were married or domestic partners. Children must prove that they were born out of wedlock. Parents must prove that they were legally married.

California law says that when someone dies without leaving any heirs, their estate goes to their next-of-kin. This includes spouses, domestic partners, children, and grandchildren. In this case, the estate goes to the children of the deceased.

(B) A person who is married to someone else but believes he/she is married to the deceased may qualify as a beneficiary under this section. To be eligible, the person must prove that he/she believed in good faith that he/she was legally married to the decedent.

(c) A minor, regardless of age, who lived with the decedent for the last 180 days before the decedent’s date of death is considered a beneficiary under the decedent’s estate plan.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

Each wrongful death case has three factors that must be proven for the plaintiff’s lawsuit to be successful. These elements are:

  • Death of an individual
  • That death was the result of negligent or intentional harm
  • The victim’s family suffers financial hardship as a result.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the elements of a wrongful death case, check out our full article here

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim In California?

Wrongful death lawsuits are filed by survivors of someone killed by another person. A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner.

It can also be filed by the de- event’s children, or the grandchild of any deceased child of the decedent. If the decedent had no surviving relatives, then anyone who would inherit the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

To understand if you might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit read this

What Do You Get By Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Damages include compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, funeral costs, lost wages, loss of support, loss of consortium, and other related losses.

Wrongful death cases often involve the loss of financial support. In this case, the deceased was providing financial support to his family. This means that he would have provided money for his family in the future. Therefore, the jury should award the plaintiff 1 million dollars.

Loss of gifts or benefits that a person would have received from the deceased. Funeral and burial expenses, and the reasonable dollar value of housekeeping services that the deceased would have provided. Non-economic damages might include the following impact on the family member(ies) bringing the wrongful death suit, according to CAC I No. 3921:

  • “Loss of Gifts or Benefits that the Deceased Would Have Received
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses
  • Housekeeping Services
  • Non-Economic Damages

Loss of love, companionship, comfort, and care are the most common types of damages in a wrongful death case. Intimacy is lost when a person dies. Guidance is lost when someone dies.

Value of household services that the decedent would’ve provided. Loss of moral support is a big issue when dealing with a loved one who died. A survivor may feel guilty about what happened.

Factors that Influence a Wrongful Death Settlement in California

Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California can be worth millions if you win. A jury may award up to 3 million dollars per person killed. This amount can go even higher depending on the circumstances.

Age, number of minor children, and financial support are the three main factors that affect the value of a case. The older the victim, the more valuable the case. Children under 5 years old are worth less than those over 65. The amount of money the victim receives in support affects the value of the case. A higher-income means a higher value. Accident circumstances also play a role in determining the value of a case, as does the type of injury sustained.

A person who dies without leaving any survivors should be considered as having contributed to the damages caused by their death. This means that the amount of compensation paid to the family could be reduced if there were no survivors. In this example, the fact that the deceased was almost 50% responsible for the accident makes the claim worth less than one where he left behind a surviving spouse.

Potential effect on wrongful death actions

SB 447 might also have a significant impact on wrongful death lawsuits. Plaintiffs’ estates, representatives, and heirs could potentially recover damages for the pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of the life of the deceased victim. This could significantly increase potential verdicts returned for plaintiffs between January 1, 2022, and January 1, 2026.

Wrongful death lawsuits allow families to seek compensation for the losses they have sustained due to the death of a loved one. These types of lawsuits are filed after the death of the person who died. Damages awarded go to the survivors of the deceased.

Insurance companies may raise rates to cover increased liability. Families and estates of those killed by negligence could receive full compensation.

Opponents of the law argue that it will make California an anti-business state. However, other states already allow families to sue for non-economic damages. California was one of the few states that didn’t allow such lawsuits. Now, California is joining the ranks of the rest of the country.

The surviving family members and estates will be given the chance to recover all of the losses they’ve suffered due to the actions of the defendants, but if the changes are made permanent, the remaining family members and estates of the deceased victims will be able to fully recover all of their losses. This means that the surviving family members and estate of the deceased victims may be better able to hold the defendant fully accountable for his/her actions while also recovering the compensation to which he/she should be entitled.

The Role of a Wrongful Death Attorney

A qualified California wrongful death lawyer has a team of experts who investigate the accident to determine the cause of the crash. The attorney hires consultants to conduct an independent inquiry into the accident to gather any necessary evidence for the victims’ families. The attorney evaluates all the evidence gathered by the police and the private investigator to begin building a wrongful death case.

A good attorney can show how valuable the victim was to the families left behind.

GJEL Accident Attorneys is a firm of California wrongful death lawyers who are focused on one thing. Helping you get through this difficult time. At GJEL we handle serious injury and personal injury lawsuits only. 

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.