The wrongful death statute in California is relatively vague when it comes to the damages that surviving family members can recover after proving a wrongful death.

In fact, the law simply states that any “just” damages may be available in a particular situation. Many different parties may bring wrongful death claims in CA, including spouses, children, stepchildren, parents, and other potential heirs.

The damages that each different party can recover will vary depending on their own specific and personal losses from the death. The law gives the court discretion to determine the rights of each party to certain damages.

For the above reasons, it is impossible to say exactly what damages you may receive without a thorough evaluation of your situation. While the best way to learn about potential damages in a wrongful death case is to consult with an experienced California wrongful death attorney, the following are some of the losses for which you may be able to recover:

  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
  • The estimated amount of income and benefits the deceased person would have earned in their lifetime had the accident not occurred
  • Loss of financial support for the household
  • Loss of services around the household, including cleaning, landscaping, cooking, caring for children, and other everyday tasks and contributions to the family
  • Loss of intangible support, including love and affection, encouragement, moral support, guidance, attention, and more.

Some parties may have contributed to funeral expenses while others may not have. In addition, older parents may have lost financial support but not any household services if they did not live in the same place as the deceased. As you can see, the situations can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances.

Calculating Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Once you have determined the type of damages that may be available in your wrongful death case, it becomes necessary to calculate the exact amount you want to seek.

Some damages are much easier to calculate than others–for instance, to determine funeral and burial costs, you should simply examine all of the bills and receipts you received from the funeral home and other service providers. Note that only reasonable expenses will be reimbursed. This means that if you throw a lavish funeral and reception for your loved one, you may likely only receive a portion of the costs back.

Calculating lost future earnings can be significantly more challenging as there are many factors to take into account, including the following:

  • The age of the deceased and how many more years they would be expected to work;
  • The education, skills, and abilities of the deceased;
  • The deceased’s potential for promotions, raises, and other adjustments to income throughout the course of their career;
  • Inflation and how wages and earning would be adjusted over the years; and
  • The benefits and retirement account contributions the deceased would have received.

Considering all of these factors into one calculation can be complicated and you will often need the assistance of an occupational and economic expert to reach an accurate estimate.

Experts are also used to determine the monetary value of household services lost, as well as the loss of affection, love, and other intangible support. Our attorneys have the resources needed to obtain expert analysis to ensure you receive a fair and just result in your case and always seek the maximum possible damages available.

Damages Not Available in a Wrongful Death Case

In California, there are certain losses that are specifically not available in a wrongful death case because they should be recovered in a different type of legal claim called a survival action. These damages do not have to do with the losses of the family members, but instead relate to the losses of the deceased person between the time of the accident and the time of death. Such losses can include medical expenses prior to the death, pain and suffering experienced by the deceased, and punitive damages if the actions of the responsible party were particularly egregious.

How do I sue for wrongful death damages in California?

You start by making sure you file the case within the time period that you’re allowed to file the case in. Generally two years from the date of the death if you are an adult and if it’s not against a public entity and then other specific time limitations that differ.

Once you’ve determined that, the next step is filing a lawsuit in the proper court, and the proper court is going to be either where the accident happened or where one of the people responsible for the accident lives.

Now before you file a lawsuit it is important to determine if you are one of those people who is entitled to file a lawsuit. Certain categories of relatives are always eligible to file a wrongful death case. That is a child, or a spouse or a dependent parent. A dependent parent is defined as a parent who is receiving some sort of financial assistance from the deceased person.

If there is no living spouse and if there are no living children, then the parents can recover whether or not they are dependent. And then if there are no dependent parents, no spouse and in addition to that no children, the California probate code determines what people are then entitled to recover, including siblings, cousins and on down the line.

Contact an Experienced California Wrongful Death Attorney for a Free Consultation

Determining and calculating damages in a wrongful death case in California can be highly complicated. At GJEL Accident Attorneys, we have extensive experience working with wrongful death claimants and the resources and skills necessary to ensure you receive the most compensation that is possible in your case. We offer free consultations, so please do not delay in calling us at 866-218-3776 to discuss your situation today.


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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.