What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

Man sitting at gravesite with a look of sadness

When someone close to us dies there is always a period of disbelief that our loved one or friend has been taken away and will never return. In many cases that person’s death will be understood as being a part of our natural world and, although it may seem “unfair” or even “an act of God,” our grief will eventually ease and we return to our everyday lives. However, there are times when a death is the result of an accident or even the willful, deliberate act of another person. In these cases the surviving family members might bring a lawsuit for wrongful death.

Wrong Death

In California, a “wrongful death” is defined to be any death that is the result of the negligence or wrongful actions or another person or entity. Under the law, an “entity” is some group, business, or organization that can be thought of as acting in a coordinated manner. Examples of an entity are social clubs, retail stores, farms, trucking companies, or even churches.

When a wrongful death occurs, the state’s civil law allows the surviving family members to bring a legal action seeking the payment of damages that are the result of that death. Damages that can be sought in a wrongful death lawsuit include, but are not limited to:

  • current income that would have been earned by the victim,
  • the victim’s estimated future income,
  • funeral and burial expenses,
  • medical expenses related to the victim’s injuries, or
  • the repair or replacement costs of any personal property damaged or destroyed in relation to the death.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by someone who would be recognized as the victim’s heirs if the victim had died without a will or by someone who was benefiting from the victim’s financial support and generosity. This means that a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by:

  • the victim’s spouse or domestic partner,
  • the victim’ s surviving children,
  • the victim’s stepchildren,
  • the victim’s parents or siblings, or
  • an individual who is acting as the representative of the victim’s estate.

Statutes of Limitations and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

California’s Statutes of Limitations state that a lawsuit claiming wrongful death must be started within two years of the date of victim’s death. In cases where the death is attributed to medical malpractice, the lawsuit must be filed within one year after the discovery of the act of malpractice or within three years of the act itself.

The California laws regarding wrongful death and the procedures for filing wrongful death lawsuits are far more complex than can be explained here. Anyone considering such a lawsuit is strongly encouraged to contact an attorney experienced in these matters.

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