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What is the Statute of Limitations For a Wrongful Death Claim in California

No family should ever have to endure the heartbreak of losing a close loved one in a preventable accident. Although there is nothing that could ever truly be sufficient to make things right, state law (California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60), allows eligible family members of the victim to seek justice, accountability, and financial support through a wrongful death claim. 

A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations run out. While wrongful death claims are typically subject to a two-year statute of limitations in California, there are some exceptions that grieving families need to know. In this article, our Stockton wrongful death lawyers provide a guide to understanding the statute of limitations in wrongful death claims in California. 

A Two-Year Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in California

Under California state law (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code, § 335.1), wrongful death claims are subject to a two-year statutory filing deadline. To bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California, you must file the case within two years of your family member’s death. To clarify, this does not mean that the entire wrongful death lawsuit must be resolved within two years. Indeed, if litigation is required, the legal process could take longer. 

However, any lawsuit must be initiated before the two-year deadline imposed by the statute of limitations expires. The sooner you get started with the wrongful death claims process, the better position your family will be in to get justice and the financial support you need to move forward. Consult with a Stockton, CA wrongful death lawyer right away after a fatal accident. 

Statute of Limitations for Survival Action Claims is More Complicated 

Following a deadly accident, some grieving families may also have the right to pursue a related type of legal case called a survival action claim. These are not either/or legal cases: A survival action lawsuit can be filed at the same time as a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Whereas a wrongful death claim is designed to compensate the family members for the economic and non-economic damages, a survival action claim in California is meant to cover the damages the decedent suffered between the accident and their passing. A survival action claim may be an option if your loved one survived for days, weeks, or longer before succumbing to their injuries. 

The statute of limitations for a survival action claim is a little bit more complicated. In California, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident to six months from the date of the victim’s death, whichever is later. 

Special Rule for Wrongful Death Claims Against Government Entities

A fatal accident may be caused by the negligent actions or inactions of a government employee or government agency. While government entities have general sovereign immunity, there are statutes in place such as the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) that allow them to be held legally liable for certain types of deadly accidents.  

Notably, there is a more restrictive statute of limitations in cases involving government defendants. In other words, you have less time to start the claims process. For example, the California Tort Claims Act requires plaintiffs to initiate a case (including a wrongful death case) by providing adequate notice to the responsible government agency within six months. 

Wrongful Death Statutory Deadline May be Extended in Limited Circumstances

The two-year statute of limitations applies to most wrongful death claims in California. However, there are limited exceptions that allow for an extension of the deadline. Here are two potential situations in which the wrongful death statute of limitations may be extended in California: 

  1. Discovery: If you could not have reasonably known about the death of your family member —most often because they were deemed “missing” for a period before being pronounced dead—the California wrongful death statute of limitations may be extended. 
  2. Minor Plaintiff: A minor may have additional time to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a parent. In general, a minor claimant in California has two years from the date of their 18th birthday to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. Though, these are complex cases. 

Call Our California Wrongful Death Attorneys for Immediate Help 

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton wrongful death lawyers are compassionate, reliable advocates for grieving families. If you have any questions about the wrongful death statute of limitations or any other aspects of a wrongful death claim, we are here to help. Contact us today for a free, strictly confidential consultation. We provide wrongful death representation in Stockton, San Joaquin County, and throughout the wider region in Central California.