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Survival Action vs Wrongful Death Lawsuits

What Is the Difference Between Survival Action and Wrongful Death Cases?


Survival action and wrongful death are strictly governed under state law. Basically, both actions exist due to the state approving laws that permit these two claims.

Survival Action vs Wrongful Death

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

  • Survival action permits the estate to receive damages the deceased victim would have gotten if they were alive. This is only applicable in situations where the victim survived for a short-period of time after the incident that resulted in their death. This includes penalties, punitive damages, or exemplary damages that the decedent would have received if they had lived.Timing also plays an important role. For example, an individual suffered a serious spinal cord injury after getting into a car accident due to their defective vehicle falling apart while on the road. The individual was physically unable to go back to work and passed away months after the incident took place. Survival action will allow the estate to be awarded damages that the decedent could have been given starting from the date of the injury until the time of their death. This includes medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related losses. Now, if the individual passed away immediately after the crash, then the estate would be entitled to pain and suffering, if it can be proven.
  • Wrongful death allows the victim’s surviving family and other parties to be entitled to damages. This includes:
    • Funeral and burial expenses
    • Medical expenses and hospital bills
    • Loss of financial support
    • Loss of consortium
    • Loss of the victim’s services had they been alive
    • Loss of love, protection, affection, and support

    Wrongful death cases may be awarded to the:

    • Significant other. The deceased victim’s spouse or registered domestic partner typically files a claim for lost companionship and emotional distress due to the victim’s death.
    • Children. Generally, minor children would be awarded damages for the lost benefits, comfort, and support from losing their parent(s).
    • Parents. Parents who have minor children that died may receive damages for experiencing emotional distress and the lost relationship of their children.

    Punitive damages may also be awarded if there is proof of the suspect exhibiting acts of negligent and reckless behavior that resulted in the victim’s death. However, these damages are not given in a wrongful death lawsuit. This may only apply in a survival cause of action on behalf of the decedent’s estate.

Statute of Limitations

Survival action. If the deceased victim passed away immediately after the negligent act was committed, then the plaintiff will be given a two year time period starting from the date of the wrongful act or six months from the initial date of the decedent’s death.
Wrongful Death. The plaintiff is given two years from the date of when the incident occurred to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, the discovery rule may be applied. According to the discovery rule, the statute of limitations in a wrongful death case will not begin until the decedent’s surviving family members find out about the death. Additional time will be added to allow the family to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Other types of statute of limitations for a wrongful death case include:

  • Medical Malpractice. Under a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff will be given three years starting from the date of when the death occurred to file a claim or one year after the plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the death, whichever one comes first.
  • Public or Government Entity. If a wrongful death was caused by a public or government entity, then the statute of limitations will be six months starting from the initial date of death.

Available Damages

Accidents happen. If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Below is a brief explanation of damages. Damages are a type of monetary award that is determined by a court of law to help compensate an aggrieved individual for any losses or injuries sustained as a result of someone’s negligence.

Economic Damages
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses that a dollar amount can readily be attached to. Economic damages are calculated by determining the amount of out-of-pocket losses an aggrieved individual has or will expect to incur as a result of their injuries.

A few examples of economic losses include:

  • Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages

Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out-of-pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Punitive Damages
The third type of damages a California court may award are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended as punishment and are only awarded when a defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. Punitive damages are relatively rare and in fact were only incorporated in 5 percent of all verdicts.

Furthermore, there is no real set standard for calculating and awarding punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion and will vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case.

Limitations for Damages in California 
For the most part, there is no real cap on compensatory damages following a personal injury claim. This means that courts are able to award any amount they feel is appropriate and reasonable.

However, the only exception is regarding medical malpractice cases. In these cases, the limit for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses is $250,000.

Contact Us

If your loved one was a victim of wrongful death, West Coast Trial Lawyers has experienced wrongful death attorneys that will help you recover financial and emotional compensation for the damages you have suffered. This includes medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation at our firm. No fees are charged until your case is settled. Reach out to our legal team 24/7 by calling (213) 927-3700 or emailing [email protected].


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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