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Understanding California wrongful death laws

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2018 | Wrongful Death

While most Californians are aware of their right to seek compensation after a fatal accident has claimed the life of a loved one, many are not certain of the basics of what constitutes the foundation of a wrongful death case. Knowing these important facts is key to moving forward with a case. If there is a death because of misconduct or negligence on the part of another person – including murder – the family of the victim has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

For there to be a wrongful death lawsuit, the person must have died; it must have been caused by negligence or the intention to harm the decedent; there must be family members left behind; and there must be a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. A medical error, a motor vehicle accident, a criminal act, an occupational incident, and death while taking part in a supervised activity are all situations in which there can be a wrongful death case.

Each state has its own specific laws related to wrongful death and California is no different. In California, if there is negligence or malice that leads to death, a case can be filed to recover compensation for the wrongful death. With a wrongful death case, the standard of proof is the “preponderance of the evidence.” This is different from a criminal case in which there must be guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits.

The following people can file a case: the surviving spouse; children; grandchildren, if the children of the decedent are dead; a domestic partner; and those who are eligible to receive property via intestate succession if none of the other eligible people are alive. A minor must have resided with the decedent for the previous 180 days and was a dependent for half or more of their support. Damages can include medical expenses; funeral expenses; money that the decedent would reasonably have earned; loss of financial support; and loss of companionship.

Losing a loved one unexpectedly for whatever reason can severely damage a family. There can be personal, emotional and financial issues to work through. While a lawsuit cannot bring the person back, it can help those left behind gain some closure and move forward with their lives while holding the responsible party accountable. Having legal advice from an attorney experienced in a variety of wrongful death cases can help with pursuing compensation after a fatal accident.

Source: FindLaw, “Wrongful Death Overview,” accessed on Feb. 19, 2018

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