Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in California?

California law limits who can file a wrongful death claim. Only the surviving spouse, children, parents, or heirs of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate the survivors for their losses, such as funeral expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

If you lost a family member due to the negligence or malice of someone else, you would feel understandably angry and heartbroken. They cannot be replaced. Their sense of humor, the sound of their voice, and their words are wisdom are lost forever. Their death forever changes the trajectory of your life.

You might also be left wondering how you will pay for their funeral.

Filing a wrongful death claim can bring your loved one back, but the lawsuit can help repair what was taken away financially. At Palmer Rodak & Associates, we understand that an unexpected death can be financially and emotionally devastating.

Section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedures authorizes wrongful-death claims by individuals related to the victim in the following capacities:

  • Spouse
  • Registered Domestic Partner
  • Child
  • Grandchild
  • Parents

If there are no surviving immediate family members, the lawsuit can be legally filed by anyone entitled to the deceased’s estate such as financial dependents or through a successional relationship.

Unrelated Individuals Qualifying in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

An unrelated minor who is financially dependent on the deceased might have the right to sue for wrongful death. Reliant individuals include children and other relatives but can go beyond a biological relationship.

Wrongful death claims can be brought by a minor if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support.

Damages Available in a California Wrongful Death Claim

California does not have a financial award cap in most wrongful death lawsuits.

Financial awards can include the following:

  • Economic Damages: These damages are typically determined by looking at receipts and invoices and similar supporting evidence. The cost of the funeral and burial, household expenses, the deceased’s paystubs, etc.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These damages reflect pain and suffering and the household and advisory services the deceased would have provided if still living.

A wrongful death claim associated with medical malpractice is limited to $250,000 in non-economic damages. Punitive damages, those designed to punish the responsible party, are not available in California wrongful death claims.

The $250,000 cap has been in place since 1975. A ballot initiative to remove this cap was scheduled for 2022 but has been withdrawn because of a legislative compromise. Non-economic medical malpractice awards will be increased to a maximum of $350,000 beginning Jan. 1, 2023. For those cases involving wrongful death, the award maximum is $500,000 and will increase up to $1 million over a 10-year period. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Determining Wrongful Death Awards

The amount of compensation awarded can include the net loss to the estate or net lost support to designated beneficiaries. The award ultimately related to the earnings the decedent could have been expected to generate over the rest of their lifetime.

The dollar amount of awards is based on future earnings that could be reasonably expected to provide support to other family members or dependents.

California juries will also consider the deceased’s contribution to the family:

  • Supervising children
  • Household chores like yard work and laundry
  • Tutoring and mentoring their children
  • Driving children to school and activities

California is a personal consumption jurisdiction, meaning damages are offset by what the deceased would have consumed. Personal consumption would include food, clothes, medical expenses, and other typical expenses. These expenses would be deducted from the economic award.

Familial consumption is not included in this calculation. Examples include the car payment for a family car, utilities for the home, property taxes, and rent or mortgage.

Wrongful Death Cases: Supporting Those Left Behind

When a loved one dies, the emotional devastation is often combined with a financial loss. Immediate family and others dependent on the deceased can file a wrongful death action based on negligence, recklessness, or an intentional wrongful act.

Wrongful death lawsuits can be based on such incidents as follows:

  • DUI Accidents
  • Assault and Battery
  • Slip-And-Fall Accidents
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Medical Malpractice

Those eligible to file a wrongful death claim must do so within two years of the decedent’s death. If the case isn’t initiated within that time, the family will most likely lose the right to file.

Lean on the experience of Palmer Rodak & Associates. If you believe you have a wrongful death case, schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. Knowing and acting on your rights is a vital component in moving forward. Call (760) 573-2223 to learn more.