Wrongful Death in California


Losing a loved one is an incredibly devastating and difficult experience. There are many things to consider after a death. If your loved one died because of the wrongful conduct of another, there may be one additional thing you are considering - filing a lawsuit. Under the law of most states, California included, a wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against the person or entity whose negligent or intentional conduct caused the death of a loved one. It is important to note that there are specific statutory requirements about who can file the lawsuit and what type of damages can be recovered. This page will discuss these requirements as well as other issues.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

California law specifies who can bring a claim for the wrongful death of a loved one. According to the Code of Civil Procedure, section 377.60, those who can seek compensation include:

  • a spouse
  • a domestic partner
  • children
  • issue (kids) of deceased children

If no one falls into one of the above categories, there are additional individuals who can file a claim. If a person was "dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents." In addition, a minor can also seek compensation if "at the time of the decedent's death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent's household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor's support."

How Long Does A Loved One Have To File A Claim?

The law only permits an individual a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. This time limit is called the statute of limitations. The amount of time that a person has to bring a lawsuit will depend on the particular claim that the person is looking to file. In a wrongful death case, the statute of limitations is generally two years. Code Civ. Pro. § 335.1. This means that if an individual is looking to bring a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of a loved one, he or she has two years from the date their loved one died to file a claim.

However, it is important to note that if the claim is against a government entity, whether it be state, city, or local, there is usually an additional requirement that has to be completed before a lawsuit can be filed. The government entity must be given notice that the injured party has a claim. The amount of time an individual has to give notice depends on the government entity that his or her claim is against. For example, if you were injured by a California state employee you would only have six months to file a claim against the state. Failure to comply with a notice requirement can result in an injured individual being completely barred from filing a claim.

What Damages Can Be Recovered In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Damages is a term for monetary compensation. There are several categories of damages that are available to plaintiffs in personal injury cases including economic damages, noneconomic damages, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are generally not permitted in wrongful death actions, however, economic and noneconomic damages are.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for losses. This is a type of compensation that is usually more objective than noneconomic damages as it concerns costs that are more easily calculated. Economic damages can include:

  • Loss of support
  • Loss of gifts or benefits
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Value of household services provided by the decedent

Noneconomic Damages

Like economic damages, noneconomic damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for losses. Unlike economic damages, these type of damages are often more subjective. Noneconomic damages can include:

  • Loss of "love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support,"
  • "Loss of enjoyment of sexual relations,"
  • Loss of training or guidance the decedent would have provided. CACI 3291.

Punitive Damages

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for egregious past behavior and to deter similar behavior in the future. As previously mentioned, punitive damages are not generally available in wrongful death cases. However, there is an exception to this rule. Punitive damages may be recovered if the death "resulted from a homicide for which the defendant has been convicted of a felony, whether or not the decedent died instantly or survived the fatal injury for some period of time." Civil Code. § 3294(d). In other words, if the decedent died as a result of felony murder, his or her loved ones may be able to seek punitive damages from the defendant.

Contact A California Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one has died because of the negligent or intentional conduct of another person or entity, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Woods Williford today. When filing a lawsuit, you want experienced, competent, knowledgeable, and compassionate attorneys on your side. The attorneys at Woods Williford have been practicing personal injury law in California for many years and have experience handling a wide range of cases, including those involving wrongful death. They strive to help the clients they represent recover just compensation for their losses and hold those responsible for the death of their loved one accountable for their actions. The lawyers at Woods Williford truly care about their clients and are dedicated to helping their clients seek justice.

Contact the law firm of Woods Williford today for a free case consultation. You can call the office at (888) 340-2440 or click here to fill out our line form.

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