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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

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Posted on December 9, 2022

A death in the family is always a time of shock and anguish, but the distress becomes unimaginable when the death is due to the negligence or wrongdoing of someone else. Though nothing can bring back a lost loved one, it’s possible to move forward toward healing and recovery with fewer worries about the financial aspect of your loss when you win a wrongful death lawsuit. When a loved one’s death occurs in a way that’s provably the fault of another person or entity, loved ones in California have the legal recourse of filing a wrongful death claim. However, not just anyone can file this type of lawsuit; otherwise, people who didn’t depend on the deceased loved one might try to profit from the tragedy. In California, only specific people can file a wrongful death claim.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a civil action filed against an at-fault party when their actions or inaction directly led to the death of another. These cases may proceed whether or not criminal charges are also filed related to the fatality and require a very different standard of evidence. In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove that the negligence, carelessness, or misconduct of another person directly led to the death. 

Wrongful death claims may stem from many different circumstances including car accidents resulting from reckless or drunk driving, pedestrian accidents, medical malpractice, product defects, and work-related accidents.

To prove a wrongful death claim, it’s necessary to show that the defendant owed care of duty to the deceased — for instance, drivers owe a duty to drive carefully and follow traffic laws. The plaintiff must also show that the breach of duty directly led to the family member’s death and that the death caused tangible financial harm to the family members left behind.

A successful wrongful death claim can win compensation for both economic and noneconomic damages such as: 

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Lost income and lost future earnings
  • Household services the deceased would have provided
  • emotional anguish
  • Loss of consortium, or the loss of a loving relationship, companionship, and support.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in San Diego?

California’s civil courts allow only specific people to file a wrongful death claim including the following:

  • The surviving spouse, domestic partner, or putative spouse
  • Surviving children, stepchildren, adopted children, or grandchildren in certain circumstances
  • Dependent minors living in the household for at least 6 months prior to the death
  • The deceased person’s parent or legal guardian if the deceased is a minor or an adult with no children
  • A legal heir under California’s intestacy laws if the deceased died without a spouse, children, or living parents
  • A legal representative in cases of multiple family members who are entitled to file a claim. Then the compensation is fairly distributed to those eligible persons

In California, claimants have two years after the death in which to file a wrongful death claim before the statute of limitations runs out.

A wrongful death lawsuit not only helps to financially compensate the family of the deceased person who died due to the misconduct, recklessness, or negligence of another, but it also helps achieve a sense of justice and closure for those left behind, regardless of whether or not criminal charges are filed in the case and regardless of the verdict in a criminal trial. Contact our San Diego wrongful death lawyers today if you need help with your case.