Do I have a wrongful death or injury claim?
California's wrongful death law allows surviving family members or the estate to sue for damages when a person dies as the result of someone else's wrongful act – whether the act was negligent, reckless, or intentional.
It allows a lawsuit to be filed even though the person who was harmed is no longer alive to bring the case. In California, the family of the decedent can bring two different types of claims: a "wrongful death" claim to recover the "full value of the life" of the deceased, and a survival claim on behalf of the decedent's estate to recover for funeral expenses, pain and suffering, or punitive damages.
Wrongful death claims may arise out of a variety of circumstances, including medical malpractice, occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals, and criminal activity. Regardless of the underlying circumstances, the plaintiff must prove the existence of the following elements:
- Someone died;
- The death was caused either by another's negligence or another's intent to cause harm;
- Surviving family members are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death; and
- A personal representative for the decedent's estate has been appointed.
The standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the standard of proof in a wrongful death claim is less stringent than it is for criminal cases, it is not uncommon for a defendant to be acquitted of murder or manslaughter and still be found liable for wrongful death.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death or Injury Claims
The legal term “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file their lawsuit before they are barred from doing so. Most of the time, this clock starts ticking down from the date of the accident or incident in question.
In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit is two years from the date of the decedent's death. But there are a few exceptions.
Exceptions to the Two-Year Statute of Limitations Rule
1. The discovery rule says that the statute of limitations in a wrongful death suit does not start until the victim's surviving family members discover that the victim died.
2. If a wrongful death was caused by a government entity or an employee, then the applicable statute of limitations is six months from the date of death.
3. There is a special statute of limitations rule when only a minor is filing a wrongful death claim for the death of a parent. Here, the minor must file an action within two years from the day he/she turns 18 years of age.
4. In wrongful death cases in which the cause of death is due to the medical malpractice of a health care provider, then the victim's family has to bring a claim within the earliest of: 1 year from the date of discovery that death was caused by medical negligence, or 3 years from the date of death.
Who can sue for wrongful death in California?
California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 allows the following family members (or their personal representatives) to bring a lawsuit:
- Surviving spouses,
- Domestic partners,
- Grandchildren (if the deceased person's children are also deceased),
- Other minor children (such as stepchildren) who were dependent on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support, and
- Anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased's property under California's laws on intestate succession.
Reach Out To Our Firm Today If You Need Help Taking Legal Action
If you're not sure what your next step should be, then speak with a wrongful death attorney at Szeto-Wong Law. In some instances an attorney does not need to be involved, but, if you are unsure, have your questions answered by an experienced, licensed legal professional.
At Szeto-Wong Law, we have more a decade of experience fighting for the rights of victims who have been assaulted, harassed, or injured. Our legal professionals are dedicated to providing our clients the closure and compensation they deserve.