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No one ever wants to hear that a loved one has died. While always tragic, the news is especially devastating when the individual has been killed by another person or entity. The emotional distress for surviving family members is often compounded by a sudden financial burden as well. Although a guilty sentence for the responsible party may bring a measure of justice, manslaughter or murder charges alone do nothing to alleviate the family’s resulting financial hardship. To receive money damages for their losses, dependents must file a wrongful death claim.

What is California’s wrongful death law?

Under California’s wrongful death law, survivors of a deceased person may file a lawsuit against the responsible party to receive compensation for their losses. While murder is often the first thing that comes to mind when people think about California’s wrongful death law, wrongful death claims can arise out of many situations. A wrongful death claim can be brought to court if a person dies from a:

If the lawsuit is successful, the court will order the guilty party to pay the deceased person’s survivors.

Who can file a wrongful death claim in California?

Only certain people can file a wrongful death claim in California. Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, the surviving spouse or domestic partner and children of the decedent are given first priority to file a wrongful death claim.

If the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse or child, any person who can prove he or she was dependent on the decedent’s income can file a lawsuit. This includes a putative spouse, children of a putative spouse, stepchildren, and parents.

Damages available in a wrongful death claim

Placing value on a life is an incredibly difficult and complex process that takes many factors into account. Generally, in California, dependents can file a wrongful death claim to receive damages for funeral and burial expenses, medical bills related to the decedent’s care just before his or her death, the income the decedent would have reasonably earned had he or she lived, loss of financial support, and loss of companionship and affection. The age and circumstances of the decedent’s dependents are also taken into account, as is the value of lost benefits like pension and health insurance. The total amount to be awarded to surviving dependents must be supported by objective evidence.

How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

The statute of limitations, or deadline, for most wrongful death claims in California is two years. If a dependent does not bring about a lawsuit within two years of the death, he or she may lose the right to file at all. Under 340.5 of California Code of Civil Procedure, death cases involving health care provider negligence have a statute of limitations of three years. Deaths based on government tort liability have a statute of limitation of six months. While there are special circumstances that could extend the statute of limitations, it’s best to speak with an attorney about your case as soon as possible for the best chance of receiving full compensation for your losses.

Have you lost a loved one in a tragic event? Call the attorneys at Harlan Law.

Coping with a family member’s death is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever endure. On top of dealing with your grief, there are important financial decisions to make that will dramatically impact your family’s quality of life. California’s wrongful death law protects survivors from the financial hardship of losing a loved one by allowing them to bring a civil lawsuit against the guilty party. If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry. You don’t have to do it alone.

At Harlan Law, we’re here to lift some of the burden off your shoulders. Contact us to speak with an attorney today and see how we can handle your wrongful death claim from start to finish. Consultations are always confidential and free with absolutely no obligation.