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California Wrongful Death Laws

Making Sense of California Wrongful Death Laws

California’s wrongful death statutes regulate wrongful death claims in the state. Under California law, a person will be entitled to bring a wrongful death claim if their family or loved one was wrongfully killed due to the fault of another person.

There are many situations that may lead to a wrongful death. In the majority of these situations, death will be caused by the action or inaction of a responsible person. What the California wrongful death statutes aim to do is ensure that you have a clear means of obtaining justice in these situations.

If your spouse, family, or a loved one has been wrongfully killed, you are entitled to receive compensation. Although it can often be difficult to understand what the law says and how it concerns you, a qualified wrongful death attorney can fully explain how this rule affects you.

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, we have a team of skilled and dedicated wrongful death attorneys with years of experience handling personal injury and wrongful death claims. Below, our attorneys will go more into depth with wrongful death and how an individual can be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Wrongful Death in California

There are over 160,000 unintentional deaths every year in the United States. These include more than 38,000 poisonings, over 30,000 falls, and 33,000 motor vehicle accidents.

Usually, a great number of these fatalities are eligible for wrongful death claims, but only a small percentage ever get to court. The reason? Too many people are unaware that they have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim if their loved one or family member gets fatally hurt by the fault of another person.

In 2015, for instance, there were just 31,847 filings for motor vehicle accident injuries, property damage, and wrongful death in California. 396 of these resulted in trial by jury while another 396 were settled out of court.

California law however provides a clear way for aggrieved family members to file a suit in court to claim justice on behalf of their loved ones.

California Wrongful Death Statutes

The primary California law that governs wrongful death suits is the Code of Civil Procedure. The Code provides a “cause of action” for relatives or personal representatives of a person that has been killed by the wrongful act of another.

A person that has been wrongfully killed by the act or neglect of another person is referred to under the Code as a “decedent.” The law protects the right of individuals that have a connection with the decedent in order for them to take action against the individual at-fault for the wrongful death.

Not just anybody can file a lawsuit on behalf of a decedent though. In order to be in a position to file a lawsuit, you have to be amongst those listed in the Code.

What Rights Are Available to You Under the Statute?

Ordinarily, in other lawsuits such as personal injury, it is the injured person that has the right to sue for compensation. In some limited situations, such as wrongful death cases,  they may allow that right to be exercised by another person on their behalf.

In wrongful death claims however, the right to take action falls directly on individuals other than the decedent. As such, any person mentioned in the Code can sue for the wrongful death of their loved one, as a matter of right.

In showing that the death of their loved one was wrongful, it will be necessary to show certain things. This includes showing proof that the death was caused by the action or neglect of another person. It will also be necessary to show that the death should not have happened had the person at-fault taken proper care and precaution with whatever activity they were in the middle of doing.

There are many situations in which a wrongful death claim may be raised. These could include fatal motor vehicle accidents, medical negligence resulting in death, or fatal slip and fall incidents.

Once you are able to show that the other person was at-fault for the death, you would be entitled to compensation. It is important to note here that the fault need not be that of a natural person. You could sue a company, an organization, or even the government if they have wrongfully caused the death of your loved one.

There is a wide range of compensation that you can get in the event of successfully strengthening your case. For instance, if your loved one was responsible for your welfare, you may be entitled to compensation for the loss of that financial support. Your qualified wrongful death attorney will help you emphasize those points that will help you get the compensation you deserve.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

The California wrongful death statute does not allow claims to go on forever though. It prescribes a period within which you have to file a lawsuit. Under the law, if you fail to file a wrongful death claim within the period, you will be barred from filing at any future time.

This is what is known as the limitation period and it generally starts to run on the date of death of your loved one. What this means is that the period within which you have to file the lawsuit begins to count from the day your loved one died.

From that date, you have until the deadline to file a lawsuit. Barring a few exceptions, if filed even a day after the end date of the limitation period, you will lose your right to claim compensation. The applicable period within which you have to file your lawsuit may vary in the following circumstances:

  • General cases: As a general rule, the limitation period runs for 2 years from the date of death. If the cause of death was not readily apparent, the limitation period starts to run from the date that the cause of death was discovered. This is known as the “discovery rule.”
  • Wrongful death of minors: Where a person below the age of 18 was wrongfully killed, the limitation period only starts to run from when the minor turns 18. The limitation period will then run for 2 years.
  • Death caused by public or government entities: The limitation period here is much shorter. You will only have 6 months from the date of death to file your lawsuit. The rule applies to deaths of both adults and minors.
  • Asbestos-related death: For this category of wrongful deaths, the limitation period starts to run within 1 year of the date of death. If the decedent knew that they would die from asbestos exposure, the time begins to run from the date that they knew or should have known death would result.

The rule regarding limitation of action shows that you do not have a very long time to decide if you want to sue. As such, if your loved one has been wrongfully killed, you need to speak with a lawyer immediately. They can listen to you and help assess your chances of obtaining compensation.

Get in Touch With Us

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, our wrongful death attorneys will help you acquire the compensation you deserve for your losses, which includes medical bills, funeral and burial costs, emotional distress, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and more. With the decades of experience that our lawyers have built up, we have helped many clients like you understand how the law affects their case.

If you want to know more about how wrongful death statutes work, please contact us by calling (213) 927-3700 or emailing [email protected].

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