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What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Posted on July 8, 2021 in Wrongful Death

When someone dies in a traumatic accident or due to the wrongful act of another person, such as a violent crime, surviving loved ones may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil cause of action that may result in financial compensation for beneficiaries. While no amount of money can ever make up for the loss of a person’s life, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can bring a family justice and reduce stress related to financial strain.

What Is California’s Definition of Wrongful Death?

California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60 states that certain parties – a deceased person’s surviving loved ones or a personal representative of the estate – may bring a cause of action for the death of a person caused by someone else’s wrongful act or neglect. A cause of action is a civil lawsuit that seeks financial compensation to reimburse the filing party (plaintiff) for the opposing party’s (defendant’s) wrongdoing.

California’s wrongful death law gives parties the right to file a lawsuit for the following causes of death:

  • Negligence-related accidents. Negligence is the failure to use a reasonable or acceptable amount of care, resulting in harm or injury to someone else. Examples of accidents related to negligence are slip and falls and car crashes.
  • Medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is a health care practitioner’s failure to adhere to the correct standards of patient care, resulting in patient injury or death.
  • Intentional killings. A wrongful death suit can hold a criminal financially responsible for a murder or a fatal injury that occurred as a result of the defendant’s reckless actions or intent to harm.

The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to make one or more parties pay for a preventable loss of life in the hopes that financial compensation can enable surviving loved ones to pay for related expenses and move forward with less stress. It also serves to hold one or more parties accountable for their actions and to push for safety changes on an institutional level.

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

If you are a surviving spouse, domestic partner, child or someone else who can prove that you were financially dependent on the decedent, you have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Filing a lawsuit requires filling out certain paperwork and submitting it to the civil court in the county where your loved one died. You will also need to pay the filing fee.

The defendant you named in your case will have a certain amount of time to respond to your claim. If the response is to accept liability and offer a settlement, you will enter into settlement negotiations. If the defendant denies liability or does not offer a reasonable settlement, however, you will have to take your case to trial. Most wrongful death claims in California reach settlements and do not have to go to court.

Do You Need an Attorney for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

No law in California requires you to hire an attorney for a wrongful death lawsuit. Representing yourself, however, can be unnecessarily difficult and hurt your odds of obtaining maximum financial compensation. Even when someone’s wrongful acts result in a fatality, an insurance company may try to save money by devaluing the claim. With a wrongful death lawyer in Los Angeles representing you, however, an insurance company is more likely to treat you fairly.

An attorney can use aggressive negotiation strategies to optimize the outcome of your wrongful death case. An attorney can also give your family greater peace of mind during this difficult time by answering your legal questions, addressing your concerns and taking care of complicated legal processes on your behalf. For more information about a potential wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles, contact an attorney today.