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In California, a claim for wrongful death may arise when the act of one, whether intentional or by accident, leads to the death of another. This blog will set out the basics of wrongful death laws in California, a person’s eligibility to file, the components of the damages claim, and the statute of limitations to originate a claim.

Retaining the services of a Los Angeles injury attorney is imperative in successfully filing a wrongful death claim.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

Asnoted above, a wrongful death claim occurs when the fault of one leads to the death of another. Fault can be in the following three categories:

  1. Negligence, or non-intentional like accidents
  2. Medical malpractice
  3. Intentional, like acts committed in a crime

The liability of the person at fault is expressed only in financial terms, or the compensation a court will order the one at fault to pay to the survivors.

To be clear, wrongful death claims are not criminal homicide cases. In homicide cases, it is the State of California that brings the case where punishment can be prison, jail, or probation. These cases are filed in criminal court.

Wrongful death cases are civil cases brought by the survivors of the decedent. The “punishment” as in any civil case is financial compensation. A private citizen cannot sentence another to prison or jail.

A wrongful death claim can be brought against one charged with the criminal act of homicide. The outcome in the criminal case will have no bearing upon the outcome in the civil case.

In California, the fault is based upon the “preponderance of evidence” burden. This is a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden in a criminal case. In civil cases, fault can be found upon a “more likely than not” cause. Or, the chances of a person being responsible for the death is more than 50%.

Furthermore, one can be found “not guilty” in the criminal case and found to be at fault in the civil case. The person found to be at fault will still be obligated to pay the damages to the survivors.

Who is Eligible to File?

The surviving spouse or domestic partner and/or the surviving children or grandchildren can file a claim for wrongful death. If there are no survivors in the first line of descent, then the eligibility follows through to parents, siblings or any other person entitled to the decedent’s property.

In addition, California extends this right to any person who can show financial dependence on the decedent, like stepchildren or wards.

What Damages can be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Case?

The damages follow those of a personal injury case. Damages are classified in two categories: economic and non-economic.

Economic damages are the recovery of actual expenses for:

  1. Medical
  2. Funeral and burial
  3. Financial earnings that would have supported the family
  4. Value of household services that would have been performed by the decedent

Economic damages are based upon actual numbers and the proof is objective.

The intent of economic damages it to make one whole financially as if the accident had not occurred. The amount of economic damages is the least amount placed upon the value of the claim.

Non-economic damages subjectively measure the impact of the death upon the family. This is where value is placed upon “pain and suffering” and the “loss of enjoyment of intimacy and guidance.” The value of non-economic damages is completely subjective and is not based upon actual numbers. It is the experience of a wrongful death attorney with expertise in presenting the value of non-economic damages that will succeed in the court of law.

It is the total of the economic and the non-economic damages that establishes the value of a wrongful death claim.

What is the Statute of Limitations to File a Claim?

In California, a claim for wrongful death must be filed in a civil court within two years of the death, not the date of the accident or the act. If a claim is not initiated within the two-year period, then, most likely, the family will lose the right to file.

Ready to Take Action? Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Law Firm to Schedule a No-Cost Case Review Today

Do you believe you are eligible to file a wrongful death claim? At Los Angeles City Law, we are committed to skillfully employ our wealth of experience in pursuit of your claim’s optimal outcome. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys are solution-focused professionals who understand the hardships a death can cause, and we are here to help. Fur further information or to schedule a free consultation, please contact LA City Law at 866-999-6640, or visit to learn more. There is no financial risk to you.

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