How does wrongful death work in California?

When someone dies in an accident caused by a third party, his or her family may have a case for legal damages. Filing this type of lawsuit can help cover the financial burden of burial expenses, final medical bills and lost wages of the deceased person. 

Review the laws about wrongful death in California to determine the next steps. 

Defining wrongful death

The state allows families to sue for wrongful death if negligence by a person or business caused their loved one’s fatality. Negligence can include actions, such as drinking and driving, or failure to act, such as a company’s lack of recall for a dangerous product. The plaintiffs must also demonstrate monetary damages caused by the person’s death. 

Filing a lawsuit

In California, only the deceased individual’s surviving spouse or child can claim wrongful death. If the person has neither of these survivors, the next person in the state line of succession could file a lawsuit. The state may also hear wrongful death cases from foster children, in-laws, stepchildren and former spouses in certain circumstances. 

Reviewing available damages

The family can ask for both monetary and nonmonetary damages in California. The latter category includes types of loss without a price tag, such as loss of the deceased’s affection, companionship, guidance and love. Monetary damages are quantifiable and include lost future wages, final medical expenses and funeral costs. 

The statute of limitations for wrongful death in California is two years from the date the fatality occurred. After the deadline passes, the court will not hear this type of lawsuit even if valid.