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Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California

Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If a loved one passed away in an accident, their untimely death leaves a lot of loose ends that can turn your life upside down. On top of the grief of losing them, you may also be suffering a financial loss if their death results in an influx of medical bills and decrease in your household’s monthly income since they no longer work. Especially in an area with a high cost of living like California, these financial losses can be devasting.

When someone loses their life as the result of a wrongful act or negligence of another person, you can seek out a wrongful death attorney in LA to file a lawsuit against the party responsible. A wrongful death claim can be filed in California by a Los Angeles personal injury attorney in order to hold the defendant accountable for their actions, resulting in financial compensation that is given to the plaintiff.

These kinds of suits are filed directly against the person who can be deemed responsible for the victim’s death. The deceased’s passing can be the result of a wrongful act, such as assault, or gross negligence, such as failure to administer the correct dosage of a medication.

What are some real-life examples where someone can be held civilly liable for the death of another? Read to three examples below:

  • The defendent intentionally killed the victim
  • The defendent causes the victim’s death through medical malpractice
  • The defendent acts with negligence while driving, resulting in a traffic accident fatality

It should be noted that if the victim was intentionally killed, a civil claim will be filed separately from the criminal suit, which is pursued by law enforcement. Damages in a civil claim are typically easier to get, which is why some people can be held liable in a civil sense while being declared innocent in their murder trial (ex. OJ Simpson). The status of the criminal case against the defendent does not matter when you are filing a wrongful death suit.

If you’re looking to hire a personal injury claim lawyer in Los Angeles, Grey Law has compiled some information regarding these suits in California below.

Filing a Wrongful Death Suit in California

A wrongful death suit is a civil claim, meaning that the suit generally does not result in incarceration like a criminal case. It is brought to court directly by the survivors of the deceased person and their wrongful death lawsuit lawyers. The outcome of a wrongful death suit is financial, in which the court orders that the defendant pay damages to the deceased’s loved ones.

Only certain people who were close to the victim can spearhead a wrongful death lawsuit in California, and they are generally limited to people who were financially dependent on the victim. Those who can file include:

  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or putative spouse, meaning they are not legally married but still together
  • The deceased person’s surviving children or stepchildren
  • The children of the putative spouse of the deceased
  • The deceased person’s parents

In order to win a California wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove the victim’s death was caused by the defendent’s negligence or intentionally wrongful actions and that the surviving family members have suffered harm because of the death.

California Statutes of Limitations

A wrongful death suit must be filed within a certain period of time. This can vary from state to state, but in California, the family of the deceased must file within two years of the victim’s death. This is called a statute of limitations.

What happens if you try to file a wrongful death claim after the statute of limitations? Once the statute of limitations runs out, your wrongful death suit will be declared invalid.


While the defendent is a wrongful death case cannot be held criminally responsible, they can be ordered to provide financial support to the family of the deceased. This financial compensation is meant to make up for the monetary losses that the family has suffered due to their loved one’s death. In addition to financial loss, the family of the deceased can also receive compensation for the mental anguish that inevitably results from the sudden loss of a loved one.

These are considered “losses” in the eyes of the courts, and they include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills for the deceased person’s medical attention leading up to their death
  • Lost income, including potential income that the deceased person would earned had they not passed
  • Lost financial support
  • Lost companionship or love

Sometimes the courts will also award punitive damages when the defendant has exhibited gross negligence, but punitive damages are not legal in California wrongful death suits.

While the medical bills, loss of income, and financial support can be easily counted, it’s hard to put a dollar amount on the emotional pain that the family has endured.  This is something your attorney can handle, as you will rely on their argumentation skill to win the largest amount possible.

Hiring an Attorney

Due to the two-year statute of limitations, you should not hesitate to contact an attorney to handle your wrongful death suit. In the weeks, or even months, following your loved one’s death, you will be under an extreme amount of stress. Your attorney will handle these matters for you, giving you time to work through your trauma and return to your everyday life.

Visit Grey Law for a free consultation regarding your case.

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