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Pursuing Justice in Wrongful Death Cases

wrongful death

The loss of a loved one to a fatal accident is heartbreaking and soul-wrenching. Although nothing could ever truly make up for such a tragic loss, the California wrongful death claims process is a path for families to get justice, accountability, financial support, and some degree of closure. 

Background: A Wrongful Death Claim is a Civil Legal Case

A wrongful death claim is a type of civil legal case that can be brought forth when a person’s death is attributed to the negligence or misconduct of another party. It allows the deceased’s closest surviving loved ones to hold the at-fault party responsible. Through a wrongful death claim, survivors may seek compensation for their damages, including their loss of love. 

In some circumstances, there may also be a corresponding criminal case. For example, if your loved one was killed in a DUI crash in Los Angeles County, the driver is likely to face serious felony criminal charges. The criminal case is relevant to the civil case—as a charge and conviction are evidence of liability. Still, the civil wrongful death claim is a separate legal matter. 

Know the Law: California’s Wrongful Death Statute

Under California law (Cal. Civ. Proc. § 377.60), a wrongful death claim is a “cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” There are many different types of wrongful death cases—from car accidents and semi-truck accidents to medical malpractice and nursing home negligence. These are fault-based civil legal cases—meaning the family must prove that the defendant’s negligence (failure to take proper care) contributed to the fatal incident. 

The Legal Filing Deadline: Grieving families do not have an unlimited period of time to file a claim. Under California law, there is a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. Only narrow exceptions apply—such as if the death was not actually reasonably discoverable within two years. Families should consult with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. 

Who Can File the Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

A fatal accident impacts many people. The effects could be felt by an entire community. At the same time, not every person who had a relationship with the victim (deceased) has legal rights under California’s wrongful death law. Unfortunately, only certain parties have the authority to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. People who may be eligible to file a claim include: 

  • The deceased’s surviving spouse or domestic partner directly impacted by the loss; 
  • The deceased’s children and/or step-children of the deceased; 
  • If there are no surviving spouse or children, the individuals who would inherit the estate under California’s intestate succession laws, such as parents or siblings. 

Note: There are only parties who may potentially have the right to bring a wrongful death claim as well if they can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased. As these are especially complex cases, a person considering a claim should speak to a wrongful death lawyer. 

An Overview of Wrongful Death Compensation

Of course, there is no amount of wrongful death compensation that could ever truly be sufficient to make things right. At the same time, financial compensation is the primary remedy available through our civil claims process. Further, surviving family members need financial support. Wrongful death compensation may include: 

  • Economic Damages: Economic damages include out-of-pocket medical bills, funeral and burial costs, and loss of financial support. 
  • Non-Economic Damages: Wrongful death damages are primarily non-economic. In California, grieving family members have the right to seek compensation for non-economic damages, including loss of love, loss of companionship, loss of consortium, and loss of parental guidance. 
  • Punitive Damages (Limited Remedy): Punitive damages are a form of punishment against a defendant who caused death through gross negligence or an intentional act. A potential example would be drunk driving. These damages are still awarded to victims.   

At the Law Offices of Andrew Ritholz, we have the experience and expertise that families can count on during even the most difficult of times. If you lost a loved one to an accident caused by negligence, we are here to help. 

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