Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

If a loved one has died due to another party’s intentional actions or negligence, filing a wrongful death lawsuit may be the best course of action. Working with a lawyer to bring forth a claim on behalf of a loved one can help survivors receive compensation for medical expenses, funeral costs, and other points of stress that may have resulted as a direct result of someone’s passing. In California, there are certain laws about what situations are eligible to have a wrongful death lawsuit filed, who can file them, and how quickly they must do so, which is important to note before you proceed.

What Does a Wrongful Death Claim Mean?

A wrongful death occurs when a victim dies at the hands of another party, due to intentional acts or general negligence. It is a civil claim that must be brought forth by the survivors of the victim or their representatives and allows them to seek financial compensation from the offending party for the expenses, pain, and suffering caused by the loved one’s untimely death.

Because a wrongful death claim is a civil suit, the defendant does not face criminal ramifications such as jail time or probation, and the matter is instead settled with monetary compensation. Wrongful death claims are common following instances of medical malpractice, fatal car accidents, and assaults, but there are many scenarios where the term might apply.

Who Can Bring Forth a Wrongful Death Claim?

In California, only people of certain relation to the deceased and/or their personal representatives are eligible to bring forth a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim. Here are the parties who may have the option of filing a wrongful death suit:

The Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner

All states allow the surviving spouse to bring a wrongful death lawsuit forth, but California also has provisions that allow domestic partners and putative spouses to file if their loved one has been killed. 

Children and Stepchildren of the Deceased

If the deceased victim is an adult with children, whether biological or adopted, those children are often eligible to bring forth a wrongful death claim if they are still minors. This also applies to step-children in cases where they are dependent on the deceased for at least half of their financial support.

Grandchildren of the Deceased

If a grandparent is killed due to someone else’s negligence, the grandchildren may be eligible to file in some situations. In California, this is possible only if the children of the deceased are no longer alive, but the grandchildren remain.

Parents of the Deceased

In the tragic event of a child being killed at the hands of another party, the parents are often eligible to file a wrongful death claim if the child is unmarried.

The Personal Representative of the Deceased

In scenarios where the person who died had a will in place, their designated personal representative or estate executor may be eligible to file a claim on behalf of the entire estate.

Others Entitled to the Deceased’s Property

California has intestate succession laws in place, which means that any party who may be entitled to the victim’s estate based on these laws is also eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can include a variety of related and unrelated parties, depending on the situation.

Who Can Be Sued in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Unfortunately, there are many situations that can lead to wrongful death. Though this list is not exhaustive, some of the most common parties at-fault in a wrongful death are:

  • An at-fault driver in a fatal car accident

  • The manufacturer of a faulty product

  • A property owner, if an injury on the property resulted in the death

  • The city or state, in the event of a poorly-maintained roadway

  • Medical professionals, in the event of a medical malpractice situation

Even if none of these situations apply to your loved one’s death, there very well could still be an at-fault party and it is best to seek legal counsel to determine if you have a case.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In California, there is a statute of limitations that states that you must file a wrongful death claim within two years from the date of your loved one’s death. In cases where the state or other government entities are involved, the statute of limitations may be even shorter depending on the situation.

What Compensation Can I Receive in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

While no amount of financial compensation can bring a loved one back, survivors can receive payment for the undue expenditures and stress they have had to endure as a result of the death. Some things that you may be eligible to receive compensation for include:

  • Medical costs your loved one accrued before passing

  • Funeral and burial expenses

  • Pain and suffering the loved one experienced before they passed

  • Loss of income and financial support

  • Lack of emotional support

Seeking a Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one has died due to another party’s actions or negligence, we can help you determine if you have a wrongful death lawsuit and how to proceed with your case. Contact us today for a free consultation so we can review the details of your case and fight for you to receive the compensation you deserve.