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An introduction to wrongful death in California

On behalf of Steve Brady
Wrongful death lawsuits are a powerful means of recovering economic and noneconomic losses following the negligent death of a loved one.

Losing a loved one is never easy. However, if your loved one died unexpectedly because of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you may experience financial losses that you did not anticipate on top of your emotional pain and loss. In such situations, it is possible to recover such losses under California law in a wrongful death lawsuit.

When does a wrongful death occur?

Wrongful deaths happen more often than you may think. In general, any death where someone is killed because of the negligent or intentional act of someone else is potentially a wrongful death. In everyday life, examples of wrongful death included deaths caused by car accidents, medical malpractice, assault, product defects and dangerous property conditions. Additionally, wrongful death sometimes arises following a criminal act. However, since wrongful death is a civil lawsuit, the outcome of any criminal charges does not affect your right to seek compensation or the fate of your civil lawsuit.

Whom may file the lawsuit?

Unlike some other personal injury actions, California’s statutes set the rules surrounding wrongful death lawsuits. Under the law, the decedent’s spouse, children, domestic partner, parents, siblings or other persons financially dependent on the decedent may file a wrongful death lawsuit. In cases where there are no financial dependents, the executor (personal representative) of the decedent’s estate may seek compensation on behalf of the estate.

What type of compensation may be recovered?

In California, the purpose of wrongful death lawsuits is twofold: to compensate close family members for their financial and emotional losses; and to pay back the decedent’s estate for financial losses caused by the death. As a result, the type of compensation recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit is rather varied and includes:

  • Loss of income the decedent would reasonably have earned had he or she survived.
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of decedent’s financial support
  • Loss of companionship, comfort, care, guidance or affection
  • Reasonable value of decedent’s household services

If the decedent died because of acts that constitute a felony, and the wrongdoer is convicted, punitive damages are also available. This type of damages is not based on the plaintiffs’ actual losses, but instead serves to punish the responsible party for their conduct. However, in most cases, wrongful death lawsuits serve as a way for dependents to recover their losses, not as a means of punishing the responsible party.

An attorney can help

Although the concept behind wrongful death lawsuits is rather simple, the lawsuit itself often involves very difficult issues of proof. As a result, it is necessary to have the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney when making your claim. The attorneys at the Brady Law Group can work to ensure that you have the best possible chance of achieving a favorable outcome.

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