Understanding Wrongful Death Cases in California

Losing a loved one, especially when it's the result of a preventable accident caused by another person's action or inaction, is an experience none of us want to endure. Wrongful death cases can take a financial toll. On behalf of the estate, survivors (usually family members) can often file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Though these claims are never what a person wants to do, they are often necessary to obtain justice. California recently passed a law that now allows the survivors of a decedent to claim damages for pain and suffering or disfigurement.  

At Garcia Preciado Law, our wrongful death attorneys in California understand what you are going through and will persevere to obtain the best possible legal outcome. Here's an overview of what a wrongful death claim in California may involve. 

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When someone dies as a result of the negligence or misconduct of another person, the family of the deceased person may file a wrongful death claim against the person at fault. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit brought against an individual, company, or government agency.

In a wrongful death claim, a plaintiff can seek compensation for things like: 

  • Lost income
  • Medical expenses prior to the death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost companionship, love, comfort, care, and societal and moral support

While the specific laws vary between states to establish a wrongful death claim, a plaintiff generally needs to show the cause of death by satisfying four elements.

     1.   The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person (also referred to as the decedent).

     2.   They breached this duty of care (either negligently or intentionally).

     3.   This breach caused the decedent's wrongful death.

     4.   The plaintiff suffered losses as a result. 

After establishing these elements, it then turns on the question of who can file the wrongful death claim in California.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Wrongful death lawsuits are usually brought by a representative of the decedent's estate (often the executor) on behalf of or with survivors who suffered financially as a result of the death, referred to as the “successors in interest”. 

The definition of a successor in interest is an immediate family member of the decedent, including:  

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims often arise in the context of the following:

  • Car accidents, especially those involving drunk drivers.
  • Other auto accidents or related-auto accidents, including those involving commercial trucks, semi-trucks, motorcycles, boats, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
  • Product liability, e.g., a defective medication causes someone's death.
  • Workplace accidents or construction accidents, including deaths caused by falls, falling objects, improper training, or exposure to toxic substances.
  • Premise liability accidents, e.g., a slip and fall or another accident occurring on someone else's property.

What are Common Defenses to Wrongful Death Claims in California?

The defenses available to a defendant in a wrongful death claim and their application vary between states. If you are the plaintiff, it is important to know what potential defenses are so that you can be prepared to argue against them. 

Some common defenses include:

  • Comparative negligence, where the defendant alleges the decedent's negligence contributed to their death.
  • Assumption of risk, where the decedent knew about the risk associated with an activity or signed a waiver or release accepting it.

Whether a specific defense applies depends on the circumstances of the case. It's also important to remember that just because a defense is invoked, it does not mean you can't argue against it. When a defense is invoked, the defendant must prove it. 

The standard of proof in a wrongful death action is the civil standard of a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, it is more likely than not that the defendant's actions resulted in the wrongful death.

Contact Garcia Preciado Law Today

If you lost a loved one and believe you may have a wrongful death claim but are unsure, our wrongful death attorneys can help you understand what your legal options are. Time is of the essence, though. 

To know how long you have to file a claim, contact Garcia Preciado Law today by filling out the online contact form or calling us at 661-495-0084. We will schedule a FREE consultation with one of our wrongful death attorneys so that you can get the legal advice and representation you need.