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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Posted on July 6, 2021 in Wrongful Death

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that seeks to hold one or more parties legally and financially accountable for a loss of life. If one of your family members recently passed away in a preventable accident, such as a car crash caused by a reckless driver, your family may be entitled to financial benefits through a wrongful death lawsuit. One of the first steps in filing a wrongful death claim is learning who has the right to file under California law.

Do I Have a Case?

The definition of wrongful death in California is a fatal injury caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another person or party. Common examples of accidents that result in wrongful death lawsuits in Los Angeles are car accidents, truck accidents, premises liability accidents, product liability accidents and medical malpractice. You may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit if a crime took the life of your loved one.

California’s Wrongful Death Laws

Who can file a wrongful death claim changes from state to state. Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60 outlines who has the legal right to bring a cause of action for wrongful death in California. It lists the following persons, in addition to the decedent’s personal representative:

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Surviving children and issue of deceased children
  • A person who would be entitled to the property of the decedent through intestate succession

In addition, the following parties can file a wrongful death lawsuit if they can prove that they were dependent on the decedent:

  • A putative spouse (the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage)
  • Children of a putative spouse
  • Stepchildren
  • Parents
  • Legal guardians if the parents are deceased
  • A minor who resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household

A personal representative may be someone assigned by the decedent him or herself in a will. If the decedent does not have a will at the time of death, the courts can assign a personal representative instead.

What About a Survival Action?

A wrongful death lawsuit sues for the damages suffered by surviving family members, while a survival action is brought on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. A wrongful death lawsuit can lead to financial compensation for losses such as lost wages and loss of the loved one’s care and companionship. A survival action can repay the estate for the decedent’s losses, including medical expenses and property damage.

In California, a survival action can be filed by the personal representative of the estate or the deceased person’s successor in interest – the person entitled to inherit from the deceased person through intestate succession or a will or trust.

How Quickly Must I File a Claim?

If you believe you are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and/or survival action in California, consult with a wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles right away. It is important to act quickly to consult with an attorney about a potential wrongful death lawsuit, as your time to file is limited to two years.

All states, including California, have statutes of limitations on civil claims. These are laws that impose deadlines for filing. In California, if you do not file your wrongful death cause of action within two years of the date of your loved one’s passing, you will most likely forfeit the right to recover financial compensation.

There is an exception, however, if the defendant is facing criminal charges for the same incident. In this situation, the courts will extend your deadline to two years from the date that the criminal case ends. If you are filing a lawsuit against the government, on the other hand, you will have less than two years to file. This is why it is important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible about a potential wrongful death lawsuit in California.