Losing a loved one is often incredibly traumatic. When your family member died because of the actions of another person, your grief may be compounded by the knowledge that their life was cut short. Financial hardships due to their death may make this time even more challenging.
In California, wrongful death actions allow families to file a lawsuit against the person responsible for their loved one’s death. If your parent, spouse or child has died as a result of another person’s negligence or recklessness, a wrongful death claim can help you hold that person accountable and provide you with the financial compensation that you need to move forward with your life.
A skilled California wrongful death lawyer can investigate the case, determine what happened, and fight for justice on your behalf. While a lawsuit won’t make your family whole again, your attorney can advocate for you and your family, and help you put the pieces of your lives back together after a tragic loss.
When Is a Dead Considered “Wrongful” in California?
Under California law, a wrongful death is one that was caused by the wrongful act of another person. This may include actions that are negligent, grossly negligent, reckless, or even intentional. If a person intentionally caused harm to someone, they may also face criminal prosecution for their actions.
A wrongful death action can only be filed by certain members of the decedent (person who died)’s family: spouses, domestic partners, children, grandchildren (if the decedent’s children are also deceased), and other minor children, such as stepchildren, who were dependent on the dependent for at least 50% of their financial support. In addition, anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased’s property under California’s intestate secession laws (i.e., the way that property is inherited if a person dies without a will) can file this type of claim.
For example, if a married mother of three dies after a drunk driver slams into her car, her death would likely be considered wrongful under California law. Her surviving spouse, children, and parents could file a lawsuit against that drunk driver for their actions (driving under the influence) that caused her death. The drunk driver may also face criminal charges for drunk driving.
In California, there is a separate type of legal action that may be filed for a wrongful death: a survival action. This type of legal action is brought by the victim’s estate to compensate for the losses that they suffered before passing away (as opposed to the damages that the family has suffered). In the example above, if the mother was critically injured and spent months in the hospital before dying, her estate may recover damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical bills, and burial expenses.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases in California
“Wrongful death” is defined broadly under California law. Almost any death that was caused by someone acting negligently or recklessly could be the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim may be filed in cases involving: