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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

The loss of a loved one in an accident is devastating. California’s wrongful death law allows family members to seek justice and financial support by holding the at-fault party liable for the accident. Unfortunately, not every person who was close to the victim has the right to bring a wrongful death claim in California. The law restricts who can initiate the claim and recover compensation. 

You may be wondering: Do I have the right to file a wrongful lawsuit in California? The answer depends primarily on your relationship to the victim. In this article, our Stockton wrongful death lawyers provide an in-depth overview of the different types of damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death claim in California. 

What Does ‘Standing’ Mean in a Legal Case?

As a starting point, it is important to understand the legal principle of standing. You may run across this term when doing some research about civil legal claims, including wrongful death cases. As defined by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, standing is simply the “capacity of a party to bring suit in court.”In other words, it is the right to file a lawsuit for a certain type of claim. Not everyone has the right to file a civil lawsuit to address every type of wrong. You must have legal standing under state or federal law. 

California Wrongful Death Law: Eligibility to File a Claim

Wrongful death claims are generally state-based legal cases. Our state’s wrongful death statute is found under California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60. Among other things, this section of California law lays out who has standing to bring a claim. Under § 377.60(a), the following parties have the primary right to file a wrongful death lawsuit: 

  • Surviving spouse;
  • Surviving domestic partner; and 
  • Surviving children. 

If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving partner, or surviving children, then the next-in-line based on California’s intestate succession laws would have the right to bring the claim. Most often, that is the parents of the victim. Though, it could be other parties as well, potentially including their adult siblings or even more distant relatives. 

Summary: In California, wrongful death claims are generally filed on behalf by the immediate family members of the victim. If you have any specific questions about whether or not you have the right to bring a claim, an experienced Stockton, CA wrongful death lawyer can review your case and help you understand your options. 

Wrongful Death Damages Compensate Family Members

As a general matter, wrongful death damages are meant to compensate close family members for the support that they would have received from the deceased had they survived the accident. A wrongful death settlement or verdict can include financial compensation for both economic and non-economic losses. Some notable examples of wrongful death damages include: 

  • Funeral & burial costs;
  • Out-of-pocket medical bills;
  • Loss of financial support the family would have received; 
  • Loss of gifts/benefits for heirs; 
  • Loss of the deceased companionship, affection, and moral support. 

With economic damages, California juries will look to the actual monetary losses suffered by the family. With non-economic damages, there is no fixed standard calculation under California law. Instead, state policy requires juries to use their good judgment and common sense to determine the appropriate compensation.   

How is Wrongful Death Compensation Divided Among Surviving Family Members?

In some circumstances, only one person has the standing to file a wrongful death claim under California law. However, there are also circumstances in which multiple parties have rights under the state statute. You may be wondering: How is wrongful death settlement money split up? The answer depends on many different factors, including the specific reason why compensation is being granted. 

For example, wrongful death compensation may be provided for funeral & burial expenses. That settlement money is generally meant to reimburse the person who paid for those costs. Wrongful death compensation granted for a spouse’s loss of love will be awarded to the spouse. If you have specific questions about how wrongful death proceeds may be split in your case, an experienced Stockton, CA wrongful death attorney can help. 

The Estate of the Victim May Also Have a Survival Action Claim

A wrongful death lawsuit is designed to give surviving family members an opportunity to seek compensation for their damages, including their direct financial losses and their intangible damages, such as a loss of love and loss of consortium. In some cases, the estate of the deceased may also have the right to file a related time of lawsuit called a survival action claim. Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.30, a survival action claim essentially allows the estate to step into the shoes of the decedent to seek compensation for damages sustained between the time of the accident and the time of the death. 

It is not an either/or proposition for families. A survival action claim can be filed concurrently with a wrongful death lawsuit. Here is an example of how a survival action claim works in California. Imagine that a person was involved in a catastrophic truck accident in San Joaquin County. They are immediately transported to a local hospital. Tragically, they then pass away 72 hours after the accident. A survival action claim allows their estate to seek justice and compensation for damages sustained within that 72 hour period—including for medical bills and the pain and suffering endured by the victim. 

Contact Our Stockon Wrongful Death Attorneys for Help 

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton wrongful death lawyers are passionate, reliable advocates for grieving families. We are here to take care of all of your legal needs while you focus on yourself and your loved ones. Contact our law firm today for a free, completely confidential assessment of your case. With an office in Stockton and an office in Sutter Creek, we provide wrongful death representation throughout all of Central California, including in San Joaquin County, Sacramento County, Calaveras County, Solano County, and Amador County.