How Do I Invoke a Wrongful Death Statute in a Lawsuit?

In California, surviving family members or the decedent’s estate can sue for damages if the person’s death was caused by another party’s wrongful act. This act can be negligent, intentional, or reckless. A wrongful death settlement or jury verdict can compensate for a range of damages. Here’s a look at California’s wrongful death statute (Code of Civil Procedure 377.60) to help understand how it can be used in a lawsuit.

What You Need to File a Wrongful Death Claim

You can file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the date of the person’s death. These are some other considerations when bringing a claim:

  • Burden of Proof: Rather than establishing guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in pursuing a guilty verdict, a wrongful death claim (like most civil claims) requires a “preponderance of the evidence” or proving the defendant more likely than not caused the loss.
  • What Must Be Proven: The plaintiff and their attorney must show a human being died, their death was caused by someone else’s negligence or intent to cause harm, and surviving family members suffered financial injury as a result.
  • Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim: Under California’s wrongful death statute, a surviving spouse, domestic partner, child, or issue of the deceased child can bring a claim. When there’s no surviving issue of the decedent, a surviving spouse/domestic partner could receive property by intestate succession. Any dependent family member of the decedent can also file a wrongful death claim, as can a minor who resided with and was dependent on one-half or more of their support for the previous 180 days.

Other Rules Under California’s Wrongful Death Statute

California enforces a “One Action Rule” for anyone who invokes the wrongful death statute. This means only one lawsuit can be filed against the defendant. If there are multiple claimants, they must join together in a single action (i.e., all known heirs). Therefore, a claimant not a party in a wrongful death suit is barred from bringing a separate suit. This avoids defending more than one suit for the same claim and inconsistencies in multiple actions.

Another legal concept to consider is “survival action”. Separate from a wrongful death lawsuit, it allows heirs to sue on behalf of the deceased’s estate. A wrongful death claim is only intended to compensate the decedent’s surviving family members. A survival action can compensate for claims unrelated to the death and that the now-deceased person had the right to sue for. It can also include claims for an injury that caused the death (if the person survived it for a time).

Damages the Wrongful Death Statute Allows For

A settlement or verdict can pay out damages for burial and funeral expenses, an amount the deceased would have earned, or financial support they would have contributed to the family. It can also compensate for their pain and suffering, disfigurement, or loss of companionship or support. The loss of gifts or benefits a family/individual would have expected to receive from the deceased could be included, as could a reasonable dollar value of household services they would have provided. 

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

At the Law Offices of Jacob Emrani, we’ve fought and won many wrongful death lawsuits. If any of the above elements apply to your case, we’ll use California’s wrongful death statute to award compensation for damages to the deceased’s estate and surviving family members. Our skilled attorneys work with the unique circumstances of each case. We understand the complexity and emotional toll of your situation. To schedule your free consultation, call 888-952-2952 today

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