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What Counts as Wrongful Death in California?

Posted on 11/20/23 Wrongful Death

If you unexpectedly lost a loved one under unusual or suspicious circumstances, such as in an automobile accident or due to a violent crime, your family may be entitled to financial compensation through a wrongful death claim. Learn what definitions, rules and requirements are established in California’s wrongful death laws to find out if your family has grounds for this type of claim.

California’s Definition of Wrongful Death

Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, a cause of action for the death of a person that is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another party may be asserted in pursuit of damages (financial compensation) by certain surviving family members or a representative of the deceased person.

A wrongful act can refer to intentional or malicious acts of wrongdoing, such as physical assault, battery or homicide. Neglect describes the failure to exercise reasonable care, whether or not it was intentional. A wrongful death claim can also be brought in California after an act of medical malpractice that results in the death of a patient.

Elements of Wrongful Death Claims in California

Filing a civil wrongful death claim in California requires proof that one or more defendants, or accused parties, are responsible for causing the fatal injury or illness that took the victim’s life. This does not necessarily mean proof of intent to kill the victim. It can also mean proof of negligence. Establishing negligence in a wrongful death case requires proof of four elements:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

There must be clear and convincing evidence that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, or a responsibility to behave reasonably, and violated this duty of care through a negligent act or omission. There needs to be a causal connection between this breach of duty and the victim’s fatal injury. Finally, real, calculable damages must have been suffered due to the death, such as financial losses experienced by the family.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death in California

A wrongful death case could be filed in California after many different types of accidents and incidents that result in one or more fatalities. Examples include:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Catastrophic slip and fall accidents
  • Construction or industrial accidents
  • Criminal activity
  • Defective product accidents
  • Fires and explosions
  • Medical malpractice
  • Swimming pool accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Workplace accidents

If someone in your family passed away from an injury inflicted by someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing under any circumstances, you may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. An Orange County personal injury attorney can help you in investigating a potential wrongful death claim.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

California law is clear about who has the legal right to file a cause of action for wrongful death. The wrongful death statute lists the following individuals as eligible claimants who may file on behalf of one or more qualifying beneficiaries (in this order):

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Surviving children
  • Issue of deceased children
  • Anyone who would be entitled to the decedent’s property by the laws of intestate succession
  • If they were dependent on the decedent, a putative spouse, children of a putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents or legal guardians

The law also states that the personal representative or administrator of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. If your loved one did not name a representative in a will that was left behind, the courts can appoint one.

For more information about a potential wrongful death claim, contact an Orange County wrongful death lawyer to schedule a free consultation.

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