Who Can Sue in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

California law allows the family of a person that passes away due to another person’s negligence the right to file a claim for monetary compensation. These are known as wrongful death lawsuits. While California takes a broader approach to the right to file wrongful death claims, not every family member is entitled to pursue these lawsuits.  

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one due to the carelessness of another person, you may have a viable wrongful death claim. Pursuing these claims on your own is never recommended, as they can be more difficult to resolve than most negligence claims. Reach out to a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer to learn more.  

The right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California 

California law allows for a number of parties to potentially file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is a departure from the approach taken by most other states. In fact, many states do not allow the surviving family of a deceased person to file a suit at all. In these states, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may pursue these claims.  

Under state law, there are three categories of individuals that have the right to pursue these claims. Any member of any category could pursue a claim. In fact, it is possible for a claimant to be a part of more than one of these categories.  

The first category covers a surviving spouse, child, domestic partner, or the heirs of any pre-deceased children. This includes children that are adopted or naturally born children. These individuals have the right to pursue a claim regardless of whether they were dependent on the decedent at the time of their death.  

The individuals in the second category only have the right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit under specific circumstances. These individuals must have been financially dependent on the decedent at the time of their passing. Otherwise, they do not have the standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This category includes parents, stepchildren, putative spouses, and the children of putative spouses. Experienced wrongful death lawyers could advise you if you meet the qualifications for this category. 

The third category includes individuals that are not necessarily related to the decedent at all. Members of this category may only pursue a wrongful death action if they were a minor residing with the decedent at the time of their death. This minor must have lived with the decedent for at least 180 days prior to death and been financially dependent on them for at least half of their support.  

What is a putative spouse? 

While most of the parties that have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim are easy to understand, the putative spouse is the exception. This is a legal term that covers a person that reasonably believed they were married to the decedent, even though they were not.  

To qualify as a putative spouse, a person must have a good faith belief that they are married to another person. This is despite the fact that under the law the marriage is either void or voidable. This good faith belief does not have to be reasonable.  

There are a number of reasons why marriage is void or voidable. Marriages between family members are considered void. A marriage could be voidable when one spouse was under the legal marrying age. While state law surrounding putative spouses is primarily used in probate cases, an experienced wrongful death attorney could advise you on whether this status could impact your rights to file a wrongful death case as well.  

Discuss your wrongful death claim with an attorney 

If you believe you are entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it is vital that you do not undertake this challenge on your own. These cases are complex, and a single error could cost you the chance to obtain justice on your loved one’s behalf. A Los Angeles personal injury lawyer from Ellis Injury Law could guide you through this process. To learn more, schedule your free consultation today.