Death is always a tragedy to experience within your family. Nothing about it brings peace or joy. But knowing that it was your loved one’s time, that there was nothing else that could be done can help to soften the blow.
In contrast, learning that your loved one’s death could have been avoided is like having the emotional pain of their loss ripped open again. In a case of a wrongful death, there is nothing that can bring back your loved one. But the justice system allows you an opportunity to ensure that the individual responsible for their wrongful death faces the consequences of their actions.
What is a Wrongful Death in California?
A wrongful death is, at its simplest, a death which was caused as a result of somebody else’s legal fault. In the case of wrongful death in California, the individual responsible may in fact be an entity rather than a person.
Wrongful death can be applied to a number of situations. For example, a car accident that was caused by negligence can result in a wrongful death. Likewise, medical malpractice or negligent medical care is a common component of many wrongful death suits. Surprisingly, criminal actions and intentional acts can also count as causes of wrongful death in California.
A wrongful death suit is similar to a personal injury case whereupon a successful lawsuit sees damages paid out. So if the wrongful death occurs as part of a crime, the wrongful death case is unconcerned with the criminal charges proceeding and instead it focuses entirely on the wrongful death aspect. So if you lost a loved one as part of a crime, there would be one trial to determine the result of the criminal charges and another to determine that a wrongful death occurred.
There is less of a hurdle that has to be overcome to prove that a death was lawful compared to a criminal case. The defendant’s liability must be shown “by a preponderance of the evidence.” With a criminal case, the guilt must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death suit, the liability must show it is more likely the death wouldn’t have occurred without the defendant’s actions.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
California’s wrongful death statute states quite clearly that the following people may file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court:
- The surviving spouse or domestic partner of the deceased.
- Any surviving children of the deceased.
- The grandchildren of the deceased if their parents have already passed on.
It is most often that a member of the deceased individual’s immediate family brings a wrongful death lawsuit to bear. However, what happens in cases where the deceased no longer has any living family? In these cases the wrongful death claim can be brought forth by anyone who would be entitled to the deceased’s property by means of intestate succession. So if a widower suffered from a wrongful death, their parents or even their brothers or sisters could start a wrongful death claim.
There are still some cases in which a wrongful death claim can be brought forth. An individual can bring a wrongful death lawsuit forth in California if they were financially dependent on the deceased. Some examples would be a putative spouse, a child of the putative spouse, the deceased’s step children or the legal guardians of the deceased.
What is the Statute of Limitations on Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in California?
In general, the statute of limitations on filing a wrongful death claim in California is two years. That means that if you wait more than two years, you will not be able to file a wrongful death claim.
Two years might seem like a lot of time but you would be surprised how quickly time can pass. You kept meaning to file the wrongful death claim but something always seemed to come up and before you realized it was too late. This can especially be true depending on the circumstances of the wrongful death, because that two years is only a generalization. Some cases in which the statute of limitations on filing a wrongful death claim in California are different include:
- One thing which could extend the statute of limitation is the discovery rule. If the cause of the death was found out later on then it could extend the statute of limitations to be two years from the date when the cause of death was discovered.
- In a case of wrongful death against a public entity, there could be a much shorter window of time to act. Typically, expect to have to act within six months.
- A minor whose parent has died a wrongful death could be able to take some time deciding to pursue a case, as they often have two years from when they turn 18 to file a wrongful death claim.
- In cases of medical malpractice, there can be quite a few different laws in place which need to be maneuvered around whether it’s wrongful death or personal injury. In these cases, it is always best to assume you have less time to act and therefore act within one year of the death.
What Should I Do If I Want to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you have a loved one in what you consider to be a wrongful death, then it only makes sense that you would want to seek justice. After all, the cost of settling an estate and planning a funeral can be astronomical. Especially when you aren’t prepared for them.
Filing a wrongful death claim is not the same as taking somebody to criminal court. If your loved one was murdered, you want justice from a criminal court. It’s important to understand what you are seeking when you look to file a wrongful death claim.
If you are thinking about or ready to file a wrongful death claim, you’re going to want to speak with an attorney that understands the laws surrounding such a claim. They’ll be able to help you build a solid case and set realistic expectations on the damages you seek. Here at Sweet Lawyers, we have lots of experience in cases just like yours and we’re happy to help you get what you deserve. Give us a call at (949) 359-0002 to start planning your next move.