Losing a loved one is never easy, but the loss is even more devastating when it feels like their death could have been prevented.
When a person’s death is caused by the negligence of another person, their loved ones not only suffer a profound personal loss, but they can also be left dealing with immediate and long-term financial losses because of the death. Wrongful death claims are intended to help surviving family members recover some of those financial losses.
Who can make a wrongful death claim?
In the state of California, wrongful death claims can be made by the surviving spouse, children, or domestic partner of a deceased person. If a deceased person isn’t survived by any of those types of people, a wrongful death claim could also be made by another person who would have claim to the deceased’s property through intestate succession, such as a parent or sibling.
A wrongful death claim can also be made in the state of California by people who were financially dependent on the deceased. This typically includes people like a parent, a stepchild, or a putative spouse.
If a minor doesn’t fall into any of the above categories, but had been living with the deceased for at least 180 days at the time of death and the deceased had been providing at least 50% of the support for the minor, they could also make a wrongful death claim.
If multiple parties are eligible to make a wrongful death claim, California has a “one action rule,” which requires that all parties eligible to make a claim do so in a single lawsuit. For example, if three people are eligible to make a wrongful death claim, they can’t make three separate claims. The claims would have to be made together in one claim.
Damages in a wrongful death claim
When making a wrongful death claim, some of the damages that can be claimed include:
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost income
- Loss of companionship
In most cases, California law does not allow punitive damages to be made in a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful death claims vs. survival action claims
In the state of California, there are two types of actions that can be taken against someone whose negligent actions have resulted in a person’s death: wrongful death claims and survival action claims. These two are very similar, but not exactly the same.
A survival action claim covers damages that occur after the time of injury, but before the time of death. Some of these damages can include things like medical bills and lost income. Damages for pain and suffering cannot be brought in a survival action claim. However, unlike a wrongful death claim, survival action claims can include punitive damages.
Another key difference between wrongful death claims and survival action claims is that wrongful death claims are intended to compensate the deceased’s family for their losses, while survival action claims are meant to compensate the estate of the deceased for economic damages incurred by the deceased.
Statute of limitations on California wrongful death claims
If you are interested in making a wrongful death claim in the state of California, it’s very important to be aware that there are limitations on the amount of time you have to make your claim. In most cases, California wrongful death claims need to be made within two years from the time of injury or death.
California’s statute of limitations for wrongful death claims can be different depending on how the death was caused. If the death was a result of medical malpractice, California law gives a statute of limitations of either three years from the date of injury or one year after the time an injury is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered, whichever occurs first. If the wrongful death claim is being made against a government employee or entity, the claim must be made within 6 months from the time of injury.
If the statute of limitations has passed, you may still be able to make a wrongful death claim. In some situations, a statute of limitations can be extended or paused. California law may allow the statute of limitations to be tolled under the following circumstances:
- The plaintiff was a minor at the time of the death
- The plaintiff was serving in the military
- The plaintiff or defendant has died
- The plaintiff was serving a prison sentence
- The plaintiff was found to be mentally incompetent at the time of the death
- The defendant was out of the state for a while during the statute of limitations
Contact a Los Angeles wrongful death attorney
If you’ve lost a loved one through an act of negligence, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer. These claims can be very complicated and an experienced wrongful death lawyer will have the expertise needed to help your family get the compensation you need. At The Wallace Firm, we have Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys ready to fight for you and have the experience to answer your questions. Contact us today for help with your claim.