When Should I File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The loss of a loved one alters the lives of everyone involved, and the feeling of loss is often amplified when the death was preventable. The legal system has certain protections in place for family members who’ve lost someone in what we call a “wrongful death” case. However, families must take legal action within a certain timeframe in order to seek justice.

What Is Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death occurs when someone dies due to another person’s misconduct or negligence. Some examples of incidents that often result in wrongful death lawsuits include medical malpractice and car accidents. Wrongful death claims allow surviving family members to seek compensation for their losses.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Compensatory damages for a wrongful death are reserved for specific family members who suffered losses due to the death. The following people are legally able to file a wrongful death suit in California’s civil courts:

  • The domestic partner or spouse of the deceased party
  • Any surviving children of the deceased party
  • Any of the deceased party’s grandchildren

If the deceased party does not have any surviving people in their line of descent, anyone who would be entitled to their property can make a wrongful death claim. That could include their parents or siblings, for example.

Certain other individuals can file a wrongful death claim if they can prove they depended on the deceased party for financial support. Some examples of people who may make such a claim include:

  • Stepchildren of the deceased party
  • The deceased party’s parents

Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Claims

An eligible party can start a wrongful death lawsuit up to 2 years from the day the person died. For example, if someone died at the scene of a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, their eligible family members could file a lawsuit within 2 years from the day the accident occurred. However, if the person died months later due to complications from the accident, the family could file a lawsuit within 2 years from the date the person died rather than from the date of the accident.

Note that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if someone were to die due to someone else’s negligence and members of their family did not find out until a few years later, they would be able to file a wrongful death claim within 2 years from the date they found out. This is known as the discovery rule.

Proving Wrongful Death

The plaintiff in a wrongful death suit has the burden of proof, meaning they have to prove to the court that the person’s death was wrongful. The most common elements that must be proven in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • The person in question is deceased
  • Their death occurred due to negligence or malicious intent
  • The surviving family members have suffered financial or other losses due to the death
  • A personal representative has been appointed to the deceased party’s estate

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In a personal injury lawsuit such as a wrongful death, damages are whatever losses the plaintiff claims. In wrongful death cases, damages can be either economic or noneconomic. Some examples of economic damages are:

  • Financial support the deceased party would have given to the plaintiff
  • The loss of certain benefits the plaintiff would have received from the deceased party
  • Any costs related to the deceased party’s funeral, burial, or cremation
  • The financial value of household services the deceased party would have provided, within reason

Some examples of non-economic damages a plaintiff might claim in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Loss of companionship, protection, affection, and moral support
  • Loss of intimate relations (if the deceased party was their spouse)
  • Loss of guidance from the deceased party

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence and need legal counsel, contact the Law Office of Robert J. Kaiser today. With over 20 years of experience litigating personal injury cases, our team will fight tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve. We know that losing a loved one is hard, which is why we treat each client with empathy and help them work towards a safe and secure future. Contact us for a free consultation at (661) 441-3446 or via our online contact form.


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