Making Sense of California Wrongful Death Statutes
The idea that you can seek compensation when a loved one is wrongfully killed seems pretty straightforward. However, like many laws in California, the wrongful death statute has complicated provisions and uses complex language. For this reason, the statute may be difficult to decipher unless you have some prior understanding of wrongful death laws.
Death “caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another”
The statute begins by specifying that the wrongful death cause of action arises only from deaths that result from the “wrongful act or neglect of another.” A wrongful act generally refers to an intentional act that causes death, such as a violent assault. “Neglect” refers to the legal concept of negligence, in which a party breaches a legal duty of care and causes an accident. Examples of negligence can include medical errors, distracted driving, and similar careless acts. If an accident does not happen due to either negligence or an intentional act, there is no available legal action under the statute.
Who can File a Claim
The next large section of the statute carefully sets out who may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim in California. Simply put, the following survivors may have that right in certain circumstances:
Registered domestic partners
Stepchildren or other minors who financially relied on the deceased person
Other legal heirs of the deceased person’s estate
The personal representative of the estate
The above list is a significantly simplified account of who can recover for wrongful death as the statute has many conditions and requirements for survivors to be eligible.
Damages that may be Awarded
The law then designates the specific types of damages a wrongful death action can seek. “Damages” refers to the losses for which a party is seeking compensation. The law simply states that the damages must be “just” under the circumstances of the case and gives the court discretion to determine the rights of certain survivors to certain damages. Depending on your relationship to the deceased and the losses incurred, damages often include:
Funeral and burial costs
Loss of future income and financial support
Loss of household services
Loss of love and affection, as well as other types of emotional support
The law does prohibit wrongful death claimants from seeking damages for any losses that may be available in a “survival” action, which is a different type of claim brought after a person dies.
Joining with Survival Actions
Finally, the law addresses that, for the sake of convenience, a wrongful death action may be joined together with a survival action that is brought by the personal representative of the estate, so long as both claims result from the same wrongful or negligent act. This can save everyone involved time, energy, and money.
Consult with our California Wrongful Death Lawyers for Help
As with any law, the wrongful death statute in California can be confusing. At GJEL Accident Attorneys, we have extensive knowledge and understanding of all wrongful death laws and we can evaluate and handle your case with skill and experience. Call us today for a free consultation at 866-218-3776.
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.