Death is always a tragedy to experience but especially so when the death is within your family. But knowing that it was your loved one’s time, that there was nothing else that could be done can help to soften the blow.
In contrast, finding out that your loved one’s untimely demise could have been avoided is like having the emotional pain of their loss ripped open all over again. In the case of a wrongful death, there is unfortunately nothing that can bring back your loved one. But the justice system allows you an opportunity to ensure that the individual responsible for their death faces the consequences of their actions, which hopefully means they won’t be able to cause this type of pain to another family.
What is a Wrongful Death in California?
A wrongful death is a death that is caused as a result of somebody else’s legal fault. In the case of wrongful death in California, the individual responsible may be either a person or an entity.
Wrongful death can be applied to a number of different situations. A car accident, for example, that was caused by negligence can result in a wrongful death. Similarly, medical malpractice or negligent medical care is a common factor of many wrongful death suits. You might be surprised to learn that criminal actions and intentional acts can also count as causes of wrongful death in California.
A wrongful death suit is similar to a personal injury case. A successful lawsuit will result in damages paid out. So if the wrongful death occurs as part of a crime, the wrongful death case is unconcerned with the criminal charges and instead it focuses entirely on the wrongful death aspect. So if you lost a loved one as part of a crime, there would be one trial to determine the result of the criminal charges and another to determine whether or not a wrongful death occurred.
There are fewer challenges to overcome in order to prove that a death was lawful compared to proving a crime occurred. The defendant’s liability must be shown “by a preponderance of the evidence.” In a criminal case, the guilt must be shown “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a wrongful death suit, the liability must show it is more likely the death wouldn’t have occurred without the defendant’s actions.
Who Is Able to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
California’s wrongful death statute clearly states that the following people may file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court:
- The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased
- Any surviving children of the deceased
- The grandchildren of the deceased if their parents have already passed on
Most often, it is a member of the deceased individual’s immediate family that brings a wrongful death lawsuit to bear. But what happens in cases where the deceased no longer has any living family?
In these cases, the wrongful death claim can be brought forth by anyone who would be entitled to the deceased’s property by means of intestate succession. So if a widower suffered from a wrongful death, their parents or even their brothers or sisters could file a wrongful death claim.
There are some additional cases wherein a wrongful death claim can be brought forth. An individual can bring a wrongful death lawsuit forth in California if they were financially dependent on the deceased. Some examples would be a putative spouse, a child of the putative spouse, the legal guardians of the deceased, or the deceased’s stepchildren
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in California is two years. This means that generally you will not be able to file a wrongful death claim if you wait more than two years, with some exceptions.
Two years might seem like a lot of time but you would be surprised how quickly you can run out of time. You always meant to file a wrongful death claim but then something always seemed to come up and before you realized it was too late. Unfortunately, this can happen to any of us. This is especially true depending on the circumstances of the wrongful death because that two years is only a rough generalization.
There are some cases where the statute of limitations on filing a wrongful death claim in California are different, these include:
- One thing that could allow you to extend the statute of limitation is the discovery rule. If the cause of the death was found out at a later date then it could extend the statute of limitations to be two years from the date when the discovery was made.
- In a case of wrongful death against a public entity, there could be a much shorter window of time to act. Expect to have to act within six months.
- A minor whose parent has died a wrongful death could be able to take some time deciding to pursue a case, as they often have two years from when they turn 18 to file a wrongful death claim. This is so they can have a chance to properly consider the option, which they couldn’t do as a young child.
- In cases of medical malpractice, there can be quite a few different laws in place that can affect whether it’s a wrongful death or a personal injury. In these cases, it is always best to assume you have less time to act and therefore act within one year of the death.
What Should I Do If I Want to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you have lost a loved one in what you think was a wrongful death, then it only makes sense that you would want to seek justice. The cost of settling an estate and planning a funeral can be astronomical. Especially when you aren’t prepared for them. That should fall on the individual whose negligence caused the wrongful death in the first place.
Reach out to The Accident Network Law Group to see what options are available for seeking damages and to work with one of our experienced attorneys so your family can get the justice they deserve.