Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit In California?
There is nothing harder than the loss of a life of a loved one. Losing a loved one at the hands of another person or entity’s negligence or wrongdoing makes the pain so much more difficult.
Research suggests that approximately 190,000 people in the US die due to wrongful death. When this happens, the deceased’s family members often suffer from emotional distress and financial hardships arising from losing their loved ones.
California law provides for legal recourse and damages for the loss of a loved one. We understand that no amount of compensation in the world can bring back a loved one. However, our legal system allows you to hold the person responsible through legal action.
Put briefly, if the death was a result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness or intentional act, you might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Only certain heirs are eligible to make a claim for the loss of a loved one. These rules are strict.
Here are some of the fundamental facts you need to know about a wrongful death lawsuit, whether you are eligible to file the lawsuit and how a qualified attorney at LA Century Law can assist you.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
In California, a wrongful death lawsuit is a claim filed following the death of a loved one that occurred due to the legal fault of another person or entity. Typically, a wrongful death lawsuit arises due to acts such as negligence, medical malpractice or any other intentional act that causes the death of a person.
To file a successful claim in California, you need to demonstrate that:
- Someone died
- Their death occurred due to someone else’s negligence or intentional acts
- The surviving family members suffered damages or any other losses as a result of the death
- A representative of the deceased’s estate has been selected
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
To pursue a wrongful death claim in California, you must satisfy the eligibility criteria set out under California’s wrongful death statute. Typically, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is reserved for family members as they are deemed to be most affected by the loss of their loved ones. However, this doesn’t preclude others from filing the lawsuit once they demonstrate they have a genuine interest in the claim or demonstrate they have a connection with the deceased.
Here is a list of the individuals who are eligible as plaintiffs to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California:
The Decedent’s Surviving Spouse
If the deceased person was married at the time of their death, their surviving registered domestic partner has a genuine cause of action. In other words, they have the primary right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Despite this, a surviving spouse may be barred from filing a wrongful death lawsuit if it is established that they lack capacity or they are deemed not legally competent. In such a case, the party may choose to waive their right.
A “putative” spouse may also be considered eligible to file this type of lawsuit. A putative spouse is a person who believed that they were in a valid marriage with the deceased when, in reality, the marriage was void or voidable. The putative spouse will only be eligible to file the suit if they can demonstrate that they genuinely believed to be in a valid marriage with the deceased and, at the same time, they financially relied on the deceased.
The Decedent’s Surviving Children
The surviving children of the victim are also qualified to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. This includes biological, adoptive and even stepchildren of the deceased. Minors who have lived with the deceased for at least 180 days before the death are also eligible to file the claim. However, they must demonstrate that they relied on the deceased for at least 50 percent of their financial support to succeed.
Also, grandchildren may be included in this list. Although a rare inclusion, they may be eligible to file the suit if the decedent’s children are deceased.
Parents of the Deceased
If you have lost your minor child or an adult with no descendants, you are eligible to file a lawsuit. What’s more, if the decedent was an adult, you may still be eligible to file the lawsuit once you prove that you were financially dependent on them.
Other Heirs of the Deceased
Other heirs of the deceased are typically eligible to file the lawsuit if none of the above family members survives the deceased. As such, California’s intestate succession laws will apply to determine who is eligible to file the suit.
California’s intestate laws allow those deemed to be heirs of the deceased’s estate to file a wrongful death claim. Oftentimes, it is difficult to determine who should file the claim since there may be several people eligible to file the claim. For this reason, it is imperative to have a competent and qualified wrongful death attorney to help establish eligibility.
A Personal Representative of the Deceased’s Estate
If numerous people are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased’s family members may choose to assign a personal representative of the deceased’s estate. As such, the role of the personal representative is to file a single claim on behalf of the family members or any other interested parties.
Essentially, this helps simplify the suit and, at the same time, ease the conflict that tends to ensue.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?
Like most claims, a wrongful death lawsuit is subject to the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in California, specifically under section 335.1 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure, provides that a wrongful death lawsuit should be filed within two years after the victim’s death.
That said, this timeframe may be confusing, especially if the victim’s death did not occur immediately. For this reason, you need to seek help from a qualified attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and interests.
Need help? Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney.
If your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence or intentional act, you might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Although the statute of limitations provides for a timeframe of two years, you need to file the lawsuit as soon as possible.
An attorney at LA Century Law understands California’s wrongful death law and has experience handling these types of suits. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.