Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

wrongful death california

If your loved one passed away because someone acted negligently, California law entitles you to financial recovery.

Wrongful death lawsuits provide compensation to a person’s dependent family members.

They also deter others from engaging in the same conduct. They are civil suits, not criminal. You’ll need to prove that the defendant acted wrongly, caused the death, and left the surviving family members with losses. 

Our Los Angeles, California wrongful death lawyers understand that no amount of money can make up for the loss of your loved one. Still, the law provides a way to recover from financial and emotional losses that occur with the loss of a family member.

If you prevail in a wrongful death suit, the defendant must pay financial damages to the family members. Jail time is not a possible outcome. When you’re ready to find financial recovery after an accident, consider the Saeedian Law Group.

We offer personalized representation and one-on-one attention to our clients. Our attorneys will bring their litigation experience to your suit and commit to maximizing the compensation that you deserve.

Send us a message or call (310) 288-3000 today for a free consultation.

Who Can Be a Plaintiff in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The family members who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California are known as the “plaintiffs.” A lawsuit is a method for the surviving family to collect compensation for the financial losses associated with the person’s death. Therefore, the surviving spouse (or registered domestic partner), children, and grandchildren may file a suit.

The law also allows a suit by a minor child who lived with the deceased and was dependent on them for half or more of their support for at least 180 days before the accident. Other people who were dependent on the deceased person’s income, such as a parent or stepchild, may also file.

In addition, if the law entitles the deceased person to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent person before they died, the personal representative handling the person’s estate may be able to take up those claims on that person’s behalf. These are known as survival actions. In survival actions, the law limits compensation to the damage that the person sustained before death, including penalties or punitive damages.

You cannot recover damages for pain, suffering, or disfigurement in survival cases in California. Depending on the circumstances, a family member may bring both wrongful death and survival claims in the same suit. 

Can a Sibling Sue for Wrongful Death in California?

The law does not always allow a sibling to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

If the person dies without surviving children or grandchildren, the law identifies family members who can sue following the state’s “intestacy” laws, which set the order for inheritance if a person died without a will. Under California’s law for intestate succession, when there are no surviving children, the law designates the parents as next in line, then the siblings. The law allows the siblings of the deceased person to file a wrongful death lawsuit only when the person has no surviving children and the parents have already passed. 

In addition, a sibling can be the personal representative who handles the deceased’s estate. In that case, a sibling may be able to file a survival action on the person’s behalf, but any damages recovered would go to the person’s estate. It would then be distributed based on the directions in the person’s will or according to state law if they have no will.

What Are Wrongful Death Damages in California?

Surviving family members can receive economic and non-economic damages for wrongful death in California.

You’ll need to provide evidence that the defendant caused you damage, such as financial loss, by causing the death of your loved one. After you present your case, the jury will decide the damages the law entitles you to. 

Economic Damages

Economic damages are things you can assign a dollar value to, including: 

  • The financial support that the person would have contributed to the family;
  • The loss of gifts or benefits that the plaintiff would have expected to receive from the deceased person;
  • Funeral and burial expenses; and
  • The reasonable value of household services that the deceased person would have provided.

The jury will estimate the person’s life expectancy to determine the amount of financial support the person would have provided to the plaintiff over their lifetime. The courts recommend that the jury estimate life expectancy using the life tables in Vital Statistics of the United States, published by the National Center for Health Statistics.

These reports contain summary tables on mortality, including crude, age-specific, and age-adjusted death rates. The jury may also consider the average life expectancy of a person of that age, as well as that person’s health, habits, activities, lifestyle, and occupation.

Non-Economic Damages

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages do not have a fixed standard. Instead, the jury will decide on a reasonable benefit based on the evidence and their common sense.

Typically, a jury award non-economic damages to cover the loss of:

  • The person’s love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support; 
  • The enjoyment of sexual relations (if the plaintiff is the spouse); and 
  • The person’s training and guidance (if a child or grandchild).

The jury is not allowed to consider the plaintiff’s grief, sorrow, or mental anguish; the deceased person’s pain and suffering; or the poverty or wealth of the plaintiff. Rather, the jury may consider factors such as the closeness of a family unit and the depth of their love and affection. The law also allows them to consider the character of the person as kind, attentive, and loving.

California Wrongful Death Damages Cap

California does not have a universal cap on damages in wrongful death lawsuits.

The law requires the jury to decide a “just” recovery under the circumstances. California does limit non-economic damages to $250,000 in medical malpractice suits. Because juries have leeway to determine damages in most cases, your best chance for a full recovery is to have a confident attorney present and argue your case.

Saeedian Law Group: We Are Here to Support You

If you’re able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California, don’t wait. California courts limit lawsuits to within two years of death.

When you call the attorneys at Saeedian Law Group, we offer caring, personalized, and attentive legal representation. With over a decade of experience, we have helped numerous clients recover after many types of accidents. We’ve dedicated our practice to helping the injured and their families. In every case, we commit to maximizing the client’s recovery.

When you are ready, we are here to help you obtain the recovery you deserve. Contact us online or call us today at (310) 288-3000 for a free consultation to discuss the options for your case.