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Wrongful Death

If you have just lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, please
contact Kistler Law Firm to speak with a wrongful death attorney.

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Local Wrongful Death Attorney Serving the Antelope Valley

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, and it can be especially devastating if their death was caused by someone else’s negligence or misconduct. In California, the law provides a way for surviving family members to seek compensation through a wrongful death claim. Contact the Palmdale personal injury attorneys at Kistler Law Firm for answers to essential questions about wrongful death claims in California, including what constitutes wrongful death, the elements of a wrongful death claim, the specifics of statute 377.60, and who is entitled to and can bring a wrongful death action.

What is a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of the legal fault of another person or entity. This can include cases of negligence, such as car accidents, medical malpractice, or workplace accidents, as well as intentional acts like assaults or other criminal activities. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to provide financial compensation to the deceased person’s survivors, acknowledging the financial and emotional impact of the loss.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim in California

To establish a wrongful death claim in California, the plaintiff must prove several key elements:

1. Death of a Human Being: The most basic element is that a person has died.

2. Negligence or Intentional Harm: The death must have been caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of the defendant. This could be due to various circumstances, such as medical errors, car accidents, or criminal actions.

3. Causation: There must be a direct causal link between the defendant’s actions and the death of the deceased. It needs to be shown that the defendant’s conduct directly resulted in the fatality.

4. Damages: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the death has resulted in quantifiable damages. These can include economic losses such as funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial support, and non-economic damages like loss of companionship and emotional suffering.

What is California Civil Code 377.60?

California Civil Code 377.60 is the statute that governs wrongful death claims in the state. This statute outlines who is eligible to file a wrongful death claim and the types of damages that can be sought. It specifies that a wrongful death claim can be brought when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another. The law allows certain survivors to seek compensation for the losses they have endured due to their loved one’s untimely death.

Who is Entitled to Wrongful Death Benefits in California?

Under California Civil Code 377.60, certain individuals are entitled to wrongful death benefits. These typically include:

Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner: The legal spouse or registered domestic partner of the deceased.

Surviving Children: This includes biological and legally adopted children.

Grandchildren: If the deceased person’s children are also deceased, the grandchildren can bring a claim.

Other Dependents: Individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased, such as parents or stepchildren, can also be entitled to wrongful death benefits.

In some cases, if there are no surviving individuals in the immediate family, other parties who were financially dependent on the deceased might be able to file a claim.

How Do I Prove Wrongful Death in California?

Proving wrongful death in California involves several steps centered around demonstrating that the defendant’s actions directly led to the death of your loved one:

1. Gathering Evidence: Collect all relevant evidence that can establish the defendant’s negligence or intentional act. This can include medical records, accident reports, witness statements, and any other documentation that supports your claim.

2. Expert Testimonies: In many wrongful death cases, expert witnesses can provide crucial testimony. For instance, medical experts can explain how a medical error led to the death, or accident reconstruction specialists can detail how a car crash occurred.

3. Demonstrating Damages: It is essential to show the extent of the damages suffered due to the wrongful death. This includes both economic damages like medical expenses and loss of income, and non-economic damages, such as emotional pain and loss of companionship.

4. Legal Representation: Working with an experienced wrongful death attorney can significantly enhance your ability to prove your case. They can help gather evidence, engage experts, and navigate the legal complexities of your claim.

California Statute of Limitations for Bringing a Wrongful Death Claim

The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in California is generally two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. This means that eligible parties have two years to file a lawsuit in court. If the claim is not filed within this time frame, the court will likely dismiss the case, and the right to seek compensation will be lost. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the wrongful death resulted from medical malpractice, the statute of limitations may be extended under certain circumstances. Additionally, if the cause of death was not immediately known and only discovered later, the statute of limitations might begin from the date of discovery rather than the date of death.

Can You Get Punitive Damages for Wrongful Death in California?

In California, punitive damages are generally not awarded in wrongful death cases. The primary purpose of a wrongful death claim is to compensate the survivors for their losses, which include both economic and non-economic damages. These compensatory damages cover expenses such as funeral costs, lost income, and loss of companionship. However, there is an exception: if the wrongful death is a result of felony homicide, the decedent’s estate may be able to pursue punitive damages in a separate survival action. This survival action is brought by the estate on behalf of the deceased for the injuries the deceased suffered before death, which can include punitive damages if the conduct of the defendant was particularly egregious.

What is the One Action Rule for Wrongful Death in California?

California’s “one action rule” stipulates that all potential plaintiffs in a wrongful death case must be joined in a single legal action. This rule is designed to prevent multiple lawsuits stemming from the same wrongful death incident, promoting judicial efficiency and consistency in the awarding of damages. Under this rule, it is crucial that all eligible family members and dependents be included in the lawsuit from the outset. If a wrongful death action is filed, any potential claimant who is left out may later join the lawsuit but cannot file a separate, individual claim for the same wrongful death.

What is the Cap for Wrongful Death in California?

California does not impose a general cap on damages in wrongful death cases. This means that the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiffs is not subject to a statutory maximum. However, there are specific caps in certain contexts, such as medical malpractice cases. For wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice, the state caps non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) at $500,000. Economic damages, which include losses like medical expenses, lost wages, and funeral costs, are not capped and can be awarded based on actual losses incurred.

Who Has Standing to Sue for Wrongful Death in California?

Under California law, specific individuals are granted the right, or “standing,” to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those with standing typically include:

Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner: The legal spouse or registered domestic partner of the deceased.

Surviving Children: Biological and legally adopted children of the deceased.

Grandchildren: If the deceased person’s children are also deceased, the grandchildren may file a claim.

Other Dependents: Parents, stepchildren, or others who were financially dependent on the deceased at the time of death can also have standing to sue.

Other Heirs: In the absence of the aforementioned relatives, other individuals who would be entitled to the deceased’s property under California’s intestate succession laws may have standing.

These parties must be joined in a single wrongful death lawsuit to comply with the one action rule.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Distributed?

The distribution of a wrongful death settlement in California can be complex and depends on several factors, including the relationships and agreements among the plaintiffs. Generally, the settlement is distributed among the plaintiffs who have proven their relationship to the deceased and demonstrated their losses.

1. Court Approval: Often, especially when minor children are involved, the court must approve the settlement distribution to ensure it is fair and just. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of minor children in the settlement proceedings.

2. Agreement Among Heirs: Ideally, the plaintiffs will reach an agreement on how to divide the settlement. This agreement should be documented and submitted to the court for approval. Factors that might influence the distribution include the level of financial dependency on the deceased, the nature of the relationship, and the financial needs of each heir.

3. Court Intervention: If the plaintiffs cannot agree on the distribution, the court will intervene and make a determination. The court will consider each heir’s financial dependency, the extent of each heir’s loss, and other relevant factors to ensure an equitable distribution.

Contact Kistler Law Firm

Wrongful death claims in California are designed to provide financial relief to the surviving family members and dependents of a person whose death was caused by someone else’s wrongful actions. Understanding the elements of a wrongful death claim, the specifics of California Civil Code 377.60, and knowing who can bring and benefit from such a claim are crucial steps in navigating the legal process.

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or misconduct of another party, it is essential to seek experienced legal representation to guide you through this challenging time. At Kistler Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping families secure the compensation they deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and let us help you understand your rights and options in pursuing a wrongful death claim.

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