A Comprehensive Guide to Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California

“Beyond the course of the years and the sun.” – Virgil

Wrongful death lawsuits are traumatic.

Read the following if you think you have a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Survival actions, a similar lawsuit, will be discussed on a future post. Wrongful death lawsuits based on medical malpractice are not discussed because special rules apply.

 

What is a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits brought against a person or business that caused the death of a loved one.

Examples of wrongful death lawsuits in California include death from fall at a lumberyard (Bennett v. Southern Lumbar Company), death from fall and loss of blood at nursing facility (Doe v. Roe), death from assault (Manning v. St. John of God), and deaths from automobile accidents (Perl v. Sirebrenik and Raya v. Klasna).

Of course the most famous example of a wrongful death lawsuit in California is the one brought by the Goldman family against O.J. Simpson.

 

What are the elements of a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

It depends.

Death must have occurred because of the wrongful act of another. It doesn’t matter whether the act was negligent or intentional, only that it wrongly caused the death.

If death occurred because of the wrongful act of another, then analyze the wrongful act. If it was negligent, the required elements will be duty, breach, causation, and damages. If it was intentional, the elements will generally be nonconsensual contact. But if the wrongful act involved a defective product, a whole different analysis applies.

This type of analysis generally requires the help of a wrongful death lawyer.

 

Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

Again, it depends.

California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 sets out the following persons who can bring a wrongful death action in California:

  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partners, children, and children of any deceased children;
  • Or, if there are no survivors of the deceased person, then those entitled to succeed to that person’s property; and
  • Others (this matter gets complicated quickly, so it’s important to speak with a wrongful death lawyer).

Realize, however, that more than one person may be entitled to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California. But a “personal representative” may be able to represent everyone’s interests in a lawsuit.

 

What damages are recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

California Code of Civil Procedure 377.61 states that “just” damages may be awarded. Damages recoverable in a survival action are excluded.

Types of recoverable damages include the following:

  • Economic
    • Financial support and contributions deceased person would have provided;
    • Loss of gifts deceased person would have provided;
    • Service, advice, and training deceased person would have provided;
    • Future loss of earnings; and
    • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Noneconomic
    • Loss of love, companionship, society

The following damages are not recoverable:

  • Pain and suffering of the deceased person;
  • Medical expenses incurred by the deceased person before death; and
  • Survivor’s grief, suffering, and mental anguish

 

Is there a wrongful death damages calculator?

No.

It is notoriously difficult to value wrongful death claims. Can you say that the 15 additional years you would have had with your loved one is worth $225,000? $725,000? $1,000,000? Of course not.

But generally speaking, most wrongful death lawsuits in California are valued over six figures. The average wrongful death settlements are in six figures too.

Remember the wrongful death lawsuits in California I discussed above? The recovery was $320,000, $475,000, $347,000, $822,000, and $1.6 million, respectively. The Goldberg family was awarded $33.3 million ($8.5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages) in the O.J. Simpson case.

 

What are the statutes of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

Statute of limitations refers to the time period in which a lawsuit must be filed.

Here are the statutes of limitations for filing wrongful death lawsuits in California:

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