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Wrongful Death Claims in California: A Guide to Comparative Negligence

Losing a family member in an accident is one of the most challenging things that any person can be forced to endure. A wrongful death claim allows grieving family members to seek justice, accountability, and financial support. Unfortunately, the wrongful death claims process can be difficult to navigate. A defendant may try to blame your departed loved one for the accident.  

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, we want to make sure that you have the tools, resources, and knowledge that you need to deal with this type of situation. In this blog post, our Stockton wrongful death lawyer provides a comprehensive guide to comparative negligence, liability, and wrongful death claims in California. 

Background: Liability for a Wrongful Death is Based on Fault

As a starting point, it is crucial that you understand how liability works in a wrongful death claim in California. These are fault-based legal cases. To hold a driver, a truck company, a business, a property owner, or any other party legally liable for a fatal accident, you must prove that their negligence was a “cause” of the accident. Put simply, negligence is the failure to exercise due care. 

How negligence is defined in practice depends on the specific circumstances at hand. In a fatal car accident case, another driver may be deemed negligent due to texting and driving. In a fatal tractor-trailer accident case, a trucking company may be deemed negligent for its failure to properly inspect the truck. Negligence occurs when a party fails to exercise ordinary care.  

Understanding Comparative Negligence

One of the many things that make wrongful death claims complicated is that one party is not always liable for the entire fatal accident. California uses a comparative negligence standard to apportion liability in these types of cases. In effect, this standard holds that each party will be held liable for the proportionate share of “blame” for a fatal accident. 

For example, consider a case where a person is killed in a fatal truck accident in Stockton. A comprehensive investigation reveals that the trucking company is at fault for 75 percent of the accident and a third-party driver is responsible for the remaining 25 percent. Those two parties—and their insurance carriers—would share liability proportionately.  

California Jury Instructions: Comparative Negligence and Wrongful Death

Under California’s comparative negligence standard for wrongful death claims, the decedent—the person killed in the accident—can be held partially liable for their own fatal accident. These can be especially difficult cases for grieving families to navigate as a defendant or insurance company is actively trying to push blame on a person who is no longer around to defend themselves. California has a process in place to assign liability in these types of cases. As explained in the Judicial Council