In California, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is reserved for those closest to the deceased.

If someone you love tragically dies in an accident or due to a violent crime, it is only natural to want to obtain justice for them and take legal action.

However, California law does not allow anyone to come forward and file a wrongful death claim.

Here Are The People Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

  • The surviving spouse of the deceased.  This includes legally married spouses and registered domestic partners, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. It also includes “putative spouses” – individuals who believed in good faith that their marriage was valid, even if it was later found to be void or voidable.
  • The deceased’s surviving child or children. This encompasses biological children, legally adopted children, and stepchildren who were primarily dependent on the deceased for financial support. Adult children of the deceased can also be eligible.
  • Dependent minors living in the deceased’s household. This extends beyond biological or adopted children. It includes minors (under 18) who lived with the deceased for a significant amount of time and relied on them for at least 50% of their financial support. This recognizes diverse family structures, such as foster children or minors under the deceased’s guardianship.
  • Parents of the deceased. Acknowledges that regardless of the deceased’s age, losing a child is a devastating loss. If the deceased had no surviving spouse or children, their parents have the right to file a claim. This may also apply to parents who depended on their adult child for financial support.
  • Other heirs as per California law. California’s intestate succession laws determine who inherits if someone dies without a will. This group may include siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more distant relatives. It emphasizes that surviving immediate family might not always be the only ones with legal standing.
  • The next of kin. While traditionally understood as closest blood relatives, the term “next of kin” should be used cautiously. Emphasize that the legal definitions under California law take precedence in determining who has the right to file a claim.
  • A personal representative of the deceased’s estate. This person can be designated in a will or appointed by the court. They act on behalf of the deceased and can bring a wrongful death lawsuit if it benefits the estate and its beneficiaries. This option might be considered when there are multiple people eligible to file.

1. The Surviving Spouse of the Victim

If you are the surviving spouse of the deceased accident victim, you have the right to pursue damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Domestic partners and “putative” spouses can also file wrongful death lawsuits. A putative spouse is a person who believed they were in a valid marriage when, in reality, the marriage was void or voidable. If the putative spouse believes they were married and financially relied on the deceased, they will have the right to seek compensation.

2. Surviving Children of the Victim

If you lose your biological or adoptive parent in a wrongful death, you may file a claim for wrongful death. The same is true for stepchildren who can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased at the time of death.

In addition, minors who lived with the deceased for at least 180 days before the death and relied on the deceased for at least 50 percent of their financial support may also have a claim, even if they are not legal children.

3. Parents of the Victim

If you have lost your minor child or an adult child with no descendants, you have the right to recover damages by filing for wrongful death. In addition, parents have the right to bring a claim if they can demonstrate they were financially dependent on their child.

4. Other Heirs of the Victim

If there is no spouse or child who survives the deceased, other family members who are deemed to be heirs under California intestacy laws have the right to file a wrongful death claim. Heirs are the people who would legally inherit the deceased person’s property if that person died without a will.

In many wrongful death cases, there may be several people who are eligible to file a claim. It may be difficult for one attorney to represent all of the claimants without an ethical conflict and these cases can become unwieldy.

In such situations, it is possible to simplify the case by having the designated personal representative of the deceased person’s estate bring the wrongful death claim on behalf of all of the eligible survivors. If a settlement or award is obtained, the personal representative can then distribute the recovery appropriately to the survivors.

How Soon Should you File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In California, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is two years. If you fail to file within that timeframe, it is very unlikely that you will be able to seek damages.

This is why you should seek legal representation from a qualified wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. The two year limit usually starts at the date of the decedent’s death.

Who Can Sue For Wrongful Death In California?

In California, the right to file a wrongful death claim is restricted to the deceased’s immediate survivors or their legal representative. Specifically, this encompasses the surviving spouse, domestic partner, and children. In the absence of these direct survivors, other relatives like siblings, parents, or legal guardians are also eligible to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit.

Discuss your Situation with a California Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have lost a loved one and are wondering about your legal rights and options, do not hesitate to discuss a possible case with the GJEL Accident Attorneys. Winning wrongful death lawsuits in California relies on expertise and understanding the elements of a wrongful death case.

We offer free consultations with no obligation to use our services, so you have nothing to lose by sitting down and talking to us about your loss. We are here to help you, so please call us at 866-218-3776 to schedule your consultation.

We hope you found this article informative and helpful and that you now know who can bring a wrongful death claim in California. If you have additional questions please reach out to us anytime.

This article was written by Andy Gillin.