Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in California
Our attorneys stand up for grieving families
Life has value. California law acknowledges that, and when families lose a loved one due to negligence, they have recourse through the civil justice system. However, fighting for those rights can be a heart-wrenchingly difficult process, especially when grieving a loss and trying to rebuild your life. The last thing you need is to deal with an insurance company that just sees a tragedy as exposure to its own bottom line.
You don’t have to go into that fight alone. The Swanson Law Group is honored to stand up for California families in their darkest hour. We know California law, we know the system, and we know how to get meaningful results in wrongful death claims. Contact us today to speak with a California wrongful death lawyer about your situation.
Who can sue for wrongful death in California?
California’s wrongful death statute (Code of Civil Procedure §377.60) allows people with a certain relationship with the decedent (the person who died) to file a wrongful death claim, including:
- The surviving spouse or legal domestic partner
- The surviving children
- The surviving grandchildren, if their parent (the child of the decedent) is also deceased
- If none of the above, the surviving parents of the deceased, or legal guardians if the parents are also deceased
- If there are no surviving parents or children, the siblings of the deceased
In addition, the following people can file a wrongful death claim if they were financially dependent on the deceased person:
- The decedent’s putative spouse (that is, someone who believed in good faith that they were married to the decedent) and their children
- Parents, or legal guardians if the parents are deceased
- Any child who resided in the decedent’s household for the 180 days prior to the death
In addition, the decedent’s estate can bring a “survival action” if the victim did not die at the moment of the wrongful event. For example, if someone was badly hurt in an accident and died of their injuries in the hospital some weeks later, the estate can bring a survival action to pursue damages for the losses suffered in those intervening weeks, parallel to the wrongful death action brought by the surviving family members.
What damages can be recovered for wrongful death?
The California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI No. 3921) establish two categories of damages in a wrongful death case: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are objectively verifiable financial losses that can be tied to a specific dollar figure, including:
- Loss of financial support that the decedent contributed
- Household services (such as childcare or yard work) the decedent would have provided
- Gifts or benefits that surviving family members would have received from the decedent, had they lived
- Funeral and burial expenses
Non-economic damages are subjective losses experienced by the surviving family members, including:
- Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support
- Loss of guidance provided by the decedent
- Loss of intimacy for the spouse or domestic partner
In a survival action, the estate can recover compensation for losses sustained during the decedent’s final period of injury or illness, such as medical bills and lost wages. Survival actions also allow the estate to sue for punitive damages, if the death resulted from particularly egregious or intentional conduct. Finally, if the death was caused by elder abuse, the estate can sue for pain and suffering.
How much time do you have to sue for wrongful death in California?
The statute of limitations (legal deadline) for most wrongful death lawsuits in California is two years from the date of the death (Code of Civil Procedure §335.1). That said, it’s usually in the family’s interest to take legal action significantly sooner. Wrongful death claims take time to investigate, and evidence must be secured before it disappears or is destroyed. Moreover, the insurance company won’t wait to start building their strategy to take advantage of the situation and protect their bottom line. To them, a grieving family is just another financial exposure, and they will use pressure tactics and gaslighting to pay as little as possible.
We won’t put up with those tactics. When we handle a wrongful death case, we stand between the family and the insurance company, advocating for your interests and making sure you know what to expect at each stage in the process. We will negotiate for no less than the full compensation your family needs, and if the insurance company won’t do what’s right, we will take them to court.
Again, it’s important to act quickly to protect your family’s rights. We know the last thing on your mind is talking to a lawyer, but we would be honored to take on the legal fight to come so that you can focus on grieving and healing. Schedule your free consultation with a California wrongful death attorney today. There’s no cost, no obligation, and no pressure, just answers about your legal options.