Defending Against a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in the State of California

If you have lost a loved one as a result of the carelessness or recklessness of another person, business, or institution, you may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in a California civil court against the responsible party.  The purpose of this article is to explain what a wrongful death is, who may bring a wrongful death claim in the state of California, and what damages are available to wrongful death victims.

In California, a death is considered “wrongful” when it occurs as the result of the negligence, recklessness, or intentionally wrongful conduct of another individual, business, institution, or other entity. Negligence, the most common basis for a wrongful death suit, is a legal doctrine.  Under the doctrine, negligence occurs when a breach of a duty of care owed to another person causes damages.

We owe and are owed a vast array of duties of care. There is the duty of safe driving on California’s streets and highways, for example. There is also the duty of businesses and construction contractors to keep their premises and sites safe, whether by performing routine cleaning and inspection or by posting adequate notice of hazardous conditions. When one of these duties is breached and damages result, negligence has occurred. Returning to the duty of safe driving, an all too common and sometimes tragic examples of breaches include distracted driving (e.g. texting while driving) and drunk driving. When one of these breaches causes a traffic accident, negligence has occurred. In most cases, the victim – the individual who has suffered harm to his or her person or property – can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party to recover compensation for the damages suffered. However, in cases where the breach and accident is so severe as to result in a fatality, only a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought.

A wrongful death claim is a “survival” claim. In other words, the claim against the at-fault party “survives” the death of victim. Not everyone may bring a wrongful death claim; in California, only the following people may bring the claim over the loss of a loved one:

  • The deceased individual’s surviving spouse;
  • The deceased individual’s domestic partner;
  • The deceased person’s surviving children;
  • The deceased individual’s financially dependent would-be spouse;
  • The deceased individual’s financially dependent stepchildren;
  • The deceased individual’s financially dependent parents.

Only these parties may bring a wrongful death claim for damages. Damages include the funeral and burial expenses of the deceased, medical and hospital expenses incurred prior to death, lost income including with present and future income, the value of domestic services, and even loss of love, affection, emotional support, and guidance. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or wrongful conduct of another, reach out to a dedicated and experienced California wrongful death attorney. A dedicated attorney will review the specifics of your case, explain your legal options, and work to obtain the compensation you need and deserve for your loss.