According to California's wrongful death law, a wrongful death is characterized by, “a cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” As discussed previously, it occurs when a wrongful act by one person directly leads to the death of another.
While medical malpractice addresses cases of medical negligence specifically, a wrongful death can result from may different circumstances, even those unrelated to medical professionals, such as death caused by the following examples:
In most cases, the person who files a wrongful death claim is the closest relative of the person who died and is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim in court. These people can include:
- The decedent’s spouse
- The decedent’s children
- The decedent’s registered domestic partner
- The decedent’s grandchildren, if the decedent’s children are deceased
- any minors who were at least 50% dependent on the deceased for financial support
- Any individual entitled to the decedent's property, according to California's intestate succession laws
Moreover, a successful wrongful death case will involve proving:
- The death of an individual
- That the negligence or reckless actions of the defendant caused the death
- That the surviving family members have suffered financially and emotionally
The plaintiff must provide convincing evidence to the jury that there was a connection between the negligent act and the cause of death. If they are successful in doing so, then the allegations against the defendant would be considered more likely to be true than not true, which will result in the plaintiff recovering damages.
The statute of limitations in California for both a wrongful death claim and a survival action is two years. The clock begins ticking in a wrongful death case on the date of death. When it comes to survival actions, the decedent’s estate has exactly two years to file from the later of:
- The date of the injury, or
- Six months after the death.
However, there are exceptions to the statute of limitations. This is classified as a “discovery rule.” If the cause of a deceased victim’s death was not obvious when they died and was later found out, this could extend the time period for the victim’s family to file a wrongful death lawsuit from the day the negligent act was discovered.
Also, in any case where the government or one of its employees was at fault for a wrongful death, you are given 6 months to sue them. The case will be dismissed if the family exceeds the given time period.