What Qualifies for Wrongful Death in California?

If someone passes away due to the negligent actions or intent of another person, their family members and dependents may seek legal action against those responsible through a wrongful death, which is a civil cause of action.

When a wrongful death takes place, those affected may recover financial damages to compensate for the lost wages and suffering caused by the tragedy. Juries take into account several aspects when determining compensation amounts, such as prior income, future earning potential, and how much family members relied on them.

The California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60 states that the decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and the issue of deceased children, or, if the decedent had no surviving issues, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, would be entitled to the deceased’s property by intestate succession.

It is crucial for California residents to have a good understanding of wrongful death laws if they need to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved ones. As the process of filing a claim can be complicated, a good grasp of these laws and hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney will be your best bet to ensure your and your loved one’s rights are protected.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • Understanding wrongful death in California
  • Causes of wrongful death in California
  • Proving a wrongful death claim in California
  • Steps to Take after a wrongful death in California
  • Factors that affect a wrongful death claim in California

Understanding Wrongful Death in California

In California, wrongful death laws give surviving family members the right to file a compensation claim when their loved one dies. This may be through the act of negligence (car accidents) or malice (homicide).

Although wrongful death claims and personal injury claims are similar in the sense that they are both claims based on negligence, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the victim sustained the “injury” has passed away, so the injury in question is therefore sustained by the estate of the deceased. Whereas in a personal injury claim, the victim of negligence has sustained an “injury” that is considered a bodily injury.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California? As previously mentioned, the following parties are among those who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in California:

1. Surviving spouse of the deceased 

The deceased’s surviving spouse (if they were legally married at the time of death) or their registered domestic partner has the primary right to file a claim against the at-fault party. They may choose to waive their right to priority. On the other hand, the court reverses the right to deny the surviving spouse the right to file a wrongful death claim if they are deemed not legally competent.

2. Surviving child or children of the deceased 

The deceased’s surviving children (biological children, stepchildren, and legally adopted children) may file a lawsuit if the deceased has no living spouse. In the case where the deceased’s child is a minor, a guardian will be appointed to them by the court, who can then file the claim on their behalf.

3. Dependent Minors Living in the Deceased’s Household 

Regardless of whether or not they are legal children, a minor child living with the deceased at the time of the death may have the right to seek compensation. In this case, the minor must have been dependent on the deceased for care and relied on the deceased for at least half of their financial support. In addition, the dependent minors must have lived in the deceased’s household for at least six months.

4. Parents of the deceased 

If a parent can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased, then they have the right to file a wrongful death claim. When the deceased is unmarried, has no children, or is a minor, their parents have precedence to submit a claim.

5. Other heirs 

California intestate succession laws state that if none of the previously mentioned family members survive the deceased, other individuals are entitled to inherit from the deceased. Priority will pass down to these eligible individuals in this order: parents (regardless of their dependency on the deceased), siblings or children of deceased siblings, grandparents, and lastly, children of a deceased spouse.

6. Next of kin 

If none of the qualified relatives are present to receive a deceased person’s property, any member of their closest family may submit a wrongful death lawsuit in lieu.

Statute of Limitations in California

A statute of limitation is a court rule that orders lawsuits to be filed within a certain period. If the claim is not successfully filed within this period of time, it cannot be brought to court and will be dismissed.

California residents who seek justice for the wrongful death of a family member or loved one must take action within two years following their passing. It must be noted that there is an exception to the statute of limitations referred to as the “discovery rule.” 

In the event that the deceased victim’s cause of death was not apparent at the time of death, and the cause was later discovered, this circumstance may extend the statute of limitations the deceased’s family has to file a wrongful death claim.

Causes of Wrongful Death in California

wrongful death in California

There are many events in which a person’s negligence causes a wrongful death. Below are some of the most common causes of wrongful death in California:

Car Accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2021 there was over an estimated 4,000 automobile accident fatalities in California. This number was a 10.7% increase from the year prior. In 2020, California ranked first among the 50 states with the most car accidents with 3,847 deaths out of 3,558 accidents.

Negligent driving is a very common cause of accidents on the road. This may occur when a motorist is distracted and doing activities that divide their attention, such as texting or on a call. A form of reckless driving that leads to wrongful death is unknowingly getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 32 Americans die every day in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.

Pedestrian Accidents

Another common type of accident that may cause wrongful death are pedestrian accidents. California is home to some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, with a remarkable number of motorists and pedestrians all in one place. 

In 2018, the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) reported that 893 pedestrians were killed on California roadways. Car Insurance Comparison shares that California’s pedestrian death rate is 30.2% higher than the national pedestrian death rate.

Product Liability

Many untoward incidents may occur due to defective products. While many of these defective products may only cause injury, wrongful death may also occur.

Unfortunately, some of the products that can lead to fatal health issues contain dangerous chemicals – asbestos being a prime example. Mesothelioma is often caused by extended exposure to asbestos over months or years and progresses at different paces depending on an individual’s overall well-being and amount of contact with this substance.

A popular example of a product liability case that is currently in the news is Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.

Accidents on the Job

It is common knowledge that numerous accidents occur in the workplace that may lead to wrongful death. In 2020, a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that nearly 5,000 workers tragically lost their lives on the job—a 10.7 percent decrease from 2019. Some of the most common types of accidents that cause wrongful death that occurs in the workplace are transportation incidents and slip-and-fall accidents.

Truck Accidents

As of 2021, about 30,000 trucks travel on California roads and serve California’s ports. Truck owners and owners are responsible for performing the necessary maintenance to ensure the safety of their trucks. Drivers must also ensure that they get the right amount of rest and sleep to be able to drive safely.

Due to their large size and weight, accidents involving trucks are quite serious. The occupants of a passenger vehicle involved in a truck accident suffer more damage due to their limited protection, resulting in more fatalities.

Medical Malpractice

When a health care provider deviates from the appropriate standard of care, resulting in harm to their patient, this is known as medical malpractice. Medical malpractice may also occur when a doctor fails to diagnose or misdiagnoses a patient’s medical condition which may result in wrongful death.

Another form of health care provider negligence may be when a doctor conducts a surgical error or prescribes or administers the wrong medication or dose. Depending on the situation, different standards may apply.

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim in California

The burden of proof is the responsibility to demonstrate a statement as true in court. This requires one party to present evidence that meets this standard and proves their argument.

In the case of a claim, a plaintiff (injured party) must provide sufficient supporting evidence for the claim filed. Burden of proof also determines how much evidence is needed to prove your claims.

In California, in order to prove that a death was wrongful there are certain legal elements you must provide, such as:

  • The death occurred due to the negligence of another party.
  • You must have sufficient evidence to prove your case.
  • You must prove that it is at least 51% likely that a wrongful death occurred.

Required Evidence to Prove a Wrongful Death Claim in California

If your loved one’s wrongful death was the result of negligence, you must present evidence that proves all the elements of negligence. These four elements are the following:

Negligence 

To have a successful wrongful death lawsuit, you must show that the defendant’s (at-fault party) carelessness, recklessness, or negligence directly caused the plaintiff’s loved one to pass away.

Breach 

The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed their loved one a duty of care and that there was a breach of duty. An example of duty of care would be a property owner ensuring that their premises are free from dangerous conditions or hazards.

Causation 

To succeed in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence was a direct cause of their loved one’s death. This will establish how exactly they have breached their legal obligation to the victim.

Damages 

Quantifiable damages must be the result of the victim’s death to successfully build a wrongful death case on behalf of the deceased. Although these California wrongful death damages are not enough to make up for the loss of a loved one, these types of damages are meant to compensate the family for their tragic loss.

Examples of recoverable non-economic and economic damages are the following:

  • Hospitalizations
  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Loss of benefits
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of household services

Steps to Take After a Wrongful Death in California

In the wake of the death of your loved one, there are certain steps one must take to ensure a favorable outcome of a wrongful death claim, should you choose to file one.

Obtain a Death Certificate

Acquiring a death certificate is the first step one must take when filing a wrongful death claim in California.

Hire an Experienced California Wrongful Death Lawyer

One of the best ways to increase your chances of winning your wrongful death claim is by having an experienced wrongful death lawyer by your side. Dealing with a claim of this nature can be complex.

At Farahi Law Firm, our California wrongful death lawyers have years of experience handling wrongful death lawsuits.

Negotiating a Settlement

Oftentimes, it may be more beneficial to start wrongful death settlement negotiations before going to trial. Engaging in settlement negotiations can be a time-consuming and exasperating process. There is no guarantee that the defendant will settle, but it is typically suggested to allow them to do so.

In the event that either the defendant or their insurance company decides not to settle, we anticipate filing a complaint for wrongful death in civil court. This claim will present important facts, such as the date and time of death, cause of death, and occasionally the amount of compensation.

Factors That Affect a Wrongful Death Claim in California

It is important to note that there are several factors that may affect the outcome of a wrongful death claim in California.

1. Comparative negligence

California is known as a pure comparative negligence state. Unlike a modified comparative negligence state, accident victims are allowed to recover damages even if they were 99% liable for their accident. 

An example of this would be the victim riding their bicycle at night without reflectors is then struck and killed by an oncoming truck. If the deceased is found to be comparatively negligent, the amount of compensatory damages awarded may be reduced by their percentage of fault.

2. Determining Pecuniary Loss

When determining pecuniary loss, many different elements are taken into account, such as the victim’s age, character and condition, earning capacity, life expectancy, health and intelligence, and more.

In a wrongful death action, the jury will determine the amount of monetary damages awarded after hearing the evidence (ex. earning capacity, income, age, etc.). These detail will help in determining the potential damages of the case.

Hire an Award-Winning California Wrongful Death Lawyer Today!

If your loved one was the victim of a wrongful death, you must hold the at-fault party accountable and file a wrongful death claim on your loved one’s behalf.

Not only will this claim enable you to recover the compensation needed for expenses incurred due to their untimely passing, but this will also help you gain justice for them.

Do not hesitate to contact us today for a free case consultation and find out whether or not you have a wrongful death claim. Call us at (844) 824-2955!

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