What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
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Los Angeles personal injury lawyers know all-to-well that when the worst of tragedies strikes a family, nothing will truly make up for the pain and hardship of losing a loved one. It can be of some comfort, however, to know that California law allows loved ones to file a lawsuit in order to fight for compensation of losses caused by the wrongful death. One of our
Los Angeles personal injury lawyers can review your case and give more personalized input.

What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

Wrongful death is a tort (a civil wrong) that occurs when someone’s wrongdoing – their carelessness, recklessness, or even intentional act – leads to another’s death. The wrongful death victim’s family may then have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for their losses.

To win a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiffs need to show that the defendant was legally liable (most often due to his or her negligence) for the victim’s death. The plaintiffs also need to show their losses because of the death.

Who may file a wrongful death suit in California?

State statute defines who may file a wrongful death lawsuit. The statute is contained at California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, and specifies that a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by the following family members of a victim or their personal representatives:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Children (or grandchildren, but only if the victim’s children are already deceased)
  • Other minor children (including stepchildren) for whom the victim provided at least 50% of their financial support
  • If the above do not exist or are unwilling to file, then anyone else who would be entitled to the deceased’s property under the state’s intestacy laws

Be aware that in most cases, a plaintiff must bring a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the victim’s death. There are technical rules that can impact this for certain individuals, but it is risky to guess which statute of limitations period applies. Missing the filing deadline will invalidate your claim so instead, speak with a personal injury attorney to get professional input.

Difference between wrongful death claim and a survival action

A wrongful death claim seeks to compensate the surviving family members for their own losses. A survival action may be brought in the same lawsuit but is a different type of claim – it is a claim for the pain and suffering experienced by the victim between the event leading to death and his or her death.

If a man is injured in a car accident and dies hours later, his spouse may file a wrongful death claim for the loss of his income, benefits and emotional support, which she personally has suffered. However, she may also include a survival claim for the conscious pain and suffering that her husband experienced in the hours before his death due to the accident.

Compensation available for a wrongful death

The law allows a plaintiff to be “made whole” – with certain limitations.

Damages in personal injury claims, including wrongful death lawsuits, can be broken down into economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages can be readily measured, such as by a cost or bill. Non-economic damages cannot be measured in the same way because they relate to intangible losses like physical pain and emotional suffering.

A wrongful death claimant may recover all the economic damages he or she has suffered because of the loss. Non-economic damages can also be recovered but they are, in general, capped at $250,000. In some circumstances, like when the defendant was a drunk driver and their drunkenness caused the wrongful death, the non-economic damages may not be capped.

Commonly-recovered damages include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Related medical bills
  • Loss of victim’s income and benefits
  • Loss of services that the victim provided
  • Loss of care, companionship, and emotional support

Speak with a personal injury lawyer to get a better understanding of what damages may be available in your case.

Schedule a consultation with a car accident attorney

If your loved one was fatally injured in an accident, do not wait to speak with the competent and caring Los Angeles car accident attorneys at Ellis Injury Law. It is never too soon to act in order to protect your rights.

The attorneys at Ellis Law put your needs first as they aggressively advocate for your best interest. Call today to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an attorney in our Los Angeles office.


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