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What is a wrongful death action?

If a person dies due to the wrongful act or omission of another person, can one recover damages from the party who is at fault? The answer is "yes," provided certain conditions are met and the proper procedures are followed.

California's Code of Civil Procedure provides that the following persons have a cause of action "for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another:"

  • The decedent's personal representative, if one has been appointed
  • The decedent's surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent's children
  • The children of the decedent's deceased children
  • Any person dependent upon the decedent
  • A putative spouse, i.e., a spouse in a void or voidable marriage who believes in good faith that the marriage was valid, and the children of such spouse
  • A minor who resided with the decedent for the previous 180 days and who depended upon the decedent for one-half or more of the minor's support

To recover on a claim for wrongful death, the claimant must show that the wrongful act of another caused the death. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the person who is alleged to be at fault either acted in a negligent manner by failing to use reasonable care or purposefully caused the death.

The damages that can be recovered for a wrongful death action include financial support provided by the decedent, the loss of gifts and other benefits that could have been expected and the value in money of the loss of the decedent's love and companionship, sexual relationship and loss of the decedent's guidance and training.

Proving and winning a wrongful death case require significant skill and experience on the part of the plaintiff's attorney. Proof of fault often involves complex expert testimony and proving damages may also require an expert. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one in an accident should consult with a lawyer experienced in handling wrongful death cases to find out if a lawsuit for damages should be commenced.

Source: FindLaw, "CAL. CCP. CODE ยง 377.60: California Code - Section 377.60," accessed Feb. 8, 2015

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