What Determines Wrongful Death in California? - Adamson Ahdoot

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Key Factors That Determine Wrongful Death in California

October 4, 2023 Alan Ahdoot
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Losing a loved one due to factors beyond your control is a heart-wrenching experience. The pain of a loss caused by another’s negligence deeply affects the family, both physically and emotionally. In addition, a wrongful death lawsuit in California can take time if you do not have adequate legal representation.

Additionally, this tragedy brings forth significant financial and administrative challenges during the process of pursuing claims and seeking compensation from the responsible party.

This article aims to guide you through the process of filing a wrongful death claim in California. Explore the crucial factors that can impact the outcome of your case as we delve further into this vital subject.

What is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when an individual loses their life due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person. 

These tragic events often stem from personal injury accidents like car crashes, workplace mishaps, animal assaults, or slip and fall incidents

Some cases of murder or assault leading to fatality may also fall within the scope of wrongful death cases.

Factors Behind Wrongful Death Cases in California

In a wrongful death case, it’s important to prove the damages and the actions that led to the fatality. 

To delve deeper into the components of a wrongful death case, let’s explore the key factors that shape the outcome of such legal proceedings.


When a person breaches their duty of care, it can have fatal consequences. Lawyers must prove the other party’s misconduct that led to the victim’s death, depending on the type of accident.  

Intentional Harm

Not all wrongful deaths stem from negligence. Some are due to intentional violence, like assault, murder, or using a weapon to cause harm. 


If the case involves negligence or misconduct, determining the cause of the accident is crucial. Presenting how the breach of care led to the victim’s fate is essential. 


Demonstrating that the death resulted in compensable damages is vital. This can include medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and more. The court considers the financial losses of the surviving dependents for settlement. 

Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

Depending on the accident, the legal representative or claimant may sue the following:

  • At-Fault Drivers: Individuals responsible for accidents, like car collisions, can be sued in wrongful death cases.
  • Manufacturers: If faulty vehicle parts contributed to the accident, the manufacturer may be liable.
  • Builders or Contractors: Those responsible for poorly constructed roads or highways leading to an accident can also be held accountable.
  • Property Owners: If a property owner didn’t warn about a dangerous condition, they could face a lawsuit if it resulted in a death.
  • Alcohol Sellers: Individuals selling alcohol to someone impaired who later caused an accident may be held liable.
  • Medical Practitioners: Doctors involved in cases of medical malpractice resulting in death can face legal action.
  • Employers: Employers failing to implement necessary safety measures at the workplace leading to a death may also be sued.
doctors operating on a patient
Wrongful death may result from a breach of duty stemming from negligent actions, such as in medical malpractice cases.

How to Prove Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case

Establishing negligence in a wrongful death case follows a standard akin to other personal injury cases. The plaintiff needs to demonstrate the defendant’s recklessness or misconduct through a burden of proof that represents a preponderance of the evidence.

In civil wrongful death cases, “preponderance of the evidence” means something is more likely true than not true. However, in more severe cases like murder, the burden of proof is much higher, requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.

In California, the court emphasizes the quality of evidence over quantity when determining compensation. Thus, building a strong burden of proof is crucial. Skilled legal professionals, such as tort experts or wrongful death lawyers, play a significant role in presenting the case effectively on behalf of the victim.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

California law only allows the surviving family members or a legal representative of the deceased to file a lawsuit. This includes the spouse, domestic partner, children, or the deceased estate’s beneficiaries. 

But if there are no eligible survivors from the family of the deceased, the next in line would be anyone who is legally allowed to inherit from the decedent as per the Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377.60.

If there’s still no claimant, California allows anyone from the list below to file a lawsuit:

  • A putative spouse or someone who mistook a lawful marriage with the deceased
  • Children of the deceased putative spouse
  • Stepchildren of the deceased
  • Parents of the deceased
  • Legal guardians, if the deceased parents are no longer around

How to File for a Wrong Death Claim

To initiate a wrongful death claim in California, the surviving family member or claimant must first establish that their loved one’s death resulted from someone’s negligence or wrongful actions. Following this, they need to provide substantial evidence of the damages and losses endured due to the incident.

In California, there’s a statute of limitations, imposing a two-year deadline for filing a personal injury claim from the date of the deceased person’s passing. This legal timeframe underscores the importance of acting promptly to seek justice and compensation for the wrongful death.

Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

To compensate for the losses, the court awards damages to the claimants. While there’s no general cap on damages in such cases, medical malpractice damages may apply to wrongful death cases from medical errors. 

According to CACI No. 3921 Wrongful Death (Death of an Adult), a wrongful death case constitutes economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages include financial losses such as:

  • Loss of income or cash support contributed by the deceased to their family
  • Benefits and gifts expected by the family from the deceased
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Financial value of household services supported by the deceased

Meanwhile, non-economic damages include emotional pain and mental anguish such as:

  • Loss of affection and companionship
  • Partner’s loss of intimacy with the deceased
  • Loss of guidance and assistance from the decedent

How Much Compensation Can You Get?

Like many personal injury cases, most wrongful death cases are resolved before reaching a trial. If there’s liability insurance, the at-fault party’s insurance company may negotiate a settlement even before a lawsuit is filed.

If settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, the court determines compensation considering factors like:

  • Nature of the Relationship: The closeness and dependence between the deceased and the plaintiff.
  • Age and Income: The age and potential income of the deceased.
  • Life Expectancy: The anticipated lifespan of the deceased had the accident not occurred.

The court’s objective is to provide fair compensation to the surviving family members for their loss, considering both economic and non-economic factors. An experienced attorney can help you navigate this process, ensuring your rights are protected and you receive a just resolution.

Speak to a Wrongful Death Lawyer at Adamson Ahdoot

Navigating a wrongful death case can be complex and emotionally challenging. An experienced wrongful death attorney at Adamson Ahdoot is here to provide you with the necessary guidance and support to pursue your case effectively. 

Our team understands the intricacies of wrongful death claims and is dedicated to helping you seek the justice and compensation your loved one deserves. Trust us to advocate for your rights and fight for a fair resolution during this difficult time. Call us at (800) 310-1606 today to schedule your free consultation. 

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