Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

wrongful death settlements

Understanding who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is crucial when seeking justice for a loved one’s death. In each state, there are guidelines regarding who can file wrongful death claims. While the claims process can be complex, knowing who can file a wrongful death lawsuit is the first step if you are seeking compensation.

California law recognizes specific individuals and entities that can initiate a wrongful death lawsuit.


1. The Victim’s Surviving Spouse

The deceased victim’s legally married partner holds the right to file a wrongful death suit. This ensures that the surviving spouse has the opportunity to seek justice and compensation for the wrongful death. The surviving spouse can recover compensation in a wrongful death settlement to help cover the financial and emotional losses suffered.

2. A Registered Domestic Partner

In addition to the surviving spouse, California law allows registered domestic partners to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This legal recognition provides domestic partners with the same rights and benefits as married couples. Therefore, a registered domestic partner can seek compensation in a wrongful death suit for the loss of their partner.

3. The Deceased Person’s Surviving Children

Under California law, the decedent’s surviving children are also eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes both biological and adopted children. The surviving children can hold the responsible parties liable and obtain compensation for their losses. Damages can include lost financial support, guidance, and the emotional bond that their deceased parent provided.


4. The Decedent’s Parents

The surviving parents also have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. This includes both biological and legally adopted parents. The surviving parents can pursue justice for their child’s death and obtain compensation for the pain, suffering, and financial losses they have endured.


5. Dependent Minors Living in the Household

California law allows dependent minors who are living in the decedent’s household to file a wrongful death lawsuit. To qualify as a dependent minor, the child must have been living in the same household as the deceased for at least 180 days before the wrongful death. Additionally, the minors must have relied on the deceased person for at least half of their financial support during that period.


6. Personal Representative of the Decedent’s Estate

The personal representative of the deceased’s estate, appointed by the court, has the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries. The personal representative is responsible for managing the affairs of the estate. This ensures that the estate and its beneficiaries have a voice in seeking justice for their loved one’s wrongful death.


7. Other Heirs

In some cases, other heirs who are entitled to the deceased person’s property under California’s intestate succession laws may have the ability to file a wrongful death claim. These heirs are individuals who would inherit the assets of the deceased if there was no valid will or trust in place. By pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, other heirs can seek compensation for the losses resulting from the wrongful death of their loved one.


What Are the Four Elements of a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

car accident

A successful wrongful death lawsuit requires the demonstration of four key elements to prove wrongful death. These elements include the following:

Duty of Care

The first element involves demonstrating that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased individual. This means the defendant had a legal duty to act with reasonable care to prevent harm to others.

Breach of Duty

The second element requires establishing that the defendant breached their duty of care. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not uphold their duty of care.


The third element involves demonstrating a causal connection between the defendant’s breach of duty and the death of the victim. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions or negligence were a direct cause of the victim’s fatal injuries.


Damages can include losses, such as medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, and loss of companionship.

To build a strong wrongful death case, it is essential to gather evidence and work closely with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who can guide you through the claims process.


The Statute of Limitations to File a Wrongful Death Claim

Generally, in California, the statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim is 2 years from the date of the person’s death. However, the wrongful death statute can vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the party being sued.

It’s essential to file your claim within the allotted time period to preserve your right to seek financial compensation. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you understand the specific statute of limitations that applies to your wrongful death case.


Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

family members take wrongful death action

In wrongful death lawsuits, the types of damages that may be awarded can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the wrongful death case.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are quantifiable losses that result from the death and can include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of potential future earnings

These damages can compensate the surviving family members for the financial impact that resulted from the deceased person’s death.

Non-Economic Damages

On the other hand, non-economic damages compensate for intangible losses that are not easy to quantify and prove. These may include:

Punitive Damages

In certain wrongful death cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. These damages are intended to punish the defendant for their particularly egregious or harmful actions.

The specific amount of damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit is determined based on factors including the evidence presented, the financial and emotional impact on surviving family members, and the decision of the judge and jury.


Contact Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyers

If you have experienced the devastating loss of a loved one due to wrongful death, it is essential to seek the guidance of an experienced attorney. At Harbor Accident Lawyers, we specialize in handling wrongful death cases and can provide the support and representation needed during this difficult time.

We will offer compassionate guidance, handle the legal complexities, negotiate with the insurance companies, and fight for justice on behalf of your loved one. If you are ready to seek justice for your loved one’s wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Call us at (858) 757-8724 to schedule a free consultation today.