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How to Ace the Essential Elements of a Successful California Wrongful Death Claim

Losing a loved one can be painful, hurtful, and difficult regardless of the circumstances. But when a death is caused by an avoidable accident, the grief can be even greater. Although filing a wrongful death claim can help bring closure and compensation, a lot goes into making the claim successful.


Wrongful death claims in California are governed by the Code of Civil Procedure. This code preserves the right of a survivor of a wrongfully killed person (a decedent) to sue for redress after such death.

The suit is not on behalf of the decedent though. It is directly for the benefit of the survivor and is meant to compensate them for loss they have suffered due to the wrongful death.

Of course, being entitled to sue and succeeding in your lawsuit are often two very different propositions. This is why it is important to get a qualified California wrongful death lawyer involved in the case as early as possible. This way you have the best opportunity of securing the outcome you desire.

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, our wrongful death attorneys have helped hundreds of clients navigate the waters of wrongful death cases. We have helped many of these clients, with cases just like yours, recover compensation that is worth millions of dollars.

Below, our experienced wrongful death attorneys will explain what goes into a successful California wrongful death claim and how you can go about it.

Wrongful Death Claims in California

Wrongful death claims can arise from varying circumstances. It would ordinarily arise when a person is killed due to an avoidable accident or in instances of an intentional wrongful act done by another person.

Some of the instances where such a claim can arise include the following:

  • Automobile or motorcycle accident fatalities
  • Birth injuries leading to death
  • Fatal premises accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Nursing home and assisted living abuse that leads to death
  • Intentional violence, such as shooting or stabbing that leads to death
  • Product defects that lead to fatal accidents
  • Occupational exposure and hazards, which include work hazards arising from government employment
  • Fatal accidents from supervised activities including day care and field trips

In any one of these situations, you would be entitled to file a wrongful death claim as the survivor of the decedent. Although this would depend on whether you are listed as one of those that have the right to sue under the Code of Civil Procedure.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to file a survival action on behalf of the estate of the decedent. Once you meet with your wrongful death attorney, they will be able to explain if your case meets the criteria for an additional survival action.

In order to succeed in your wrongful death claim though, there are several elements that must be shown.

3 Elements to Prove in a Wrongful Death Case

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

The elements that must be proven in a wrongful death claim are those legal hurdles that should be crossed in the case. They are basically legal criteria that must be shown in your case.

However, this does not mean that once the elements are shown to exist in your case, it is automatically successful. Nobody can tell with certainty if your case will end up successful as there are many variables involved. But it is certain that if these elements are not present in your claim, your chances of succeeding will be much slimmer.

There are three basic elements that you are expected to show. We will explain them one after the other below.

  1. A Death Must Have Occurred
    Although this seems obvious, it is still an element that must be proven to the court. Ordinarily, death will be proven by the aid of a death certificate issued by the relevant county coroner.

    While proving death will be pretty straightforward in some cases, in other cases, it can be quite tricky. This is because there are some situations where it will not be clear whether death has occurred.

    For instance, if a plane was carrying your loved one and it goes missing, there will be a bit of a question mark over the death. Until the destroyed pieces of the plane are recovered or a body is found, it will be almost impossible to tell whether death has occurred.

    In some situations, a person may be legally declared dead if the requisite amount of time has passed without them showing up alive. This goes to show that proof of death is not always straightforward.

  2. The Death Must Have Been Caused by the Wrongful Act of the Defendant
    If death is proven, it must then be shown to have been caused by the intentional, reckless, or negligent act of the defendant. In showing this, three areas of proof are often important: duty of care, breach of duty of care, and causation arising from that breach.

    • A duty of care: When a person owes another a duty of care, it means that they must be careful with that person. It means they must not do anything to wrongfully harm that person, nor must they wrongfully fail to act when they should. For instance, a motorist owes every other motorist a duty to drive carefully on the road. He or she should not drive in a manner that would put everyone else in danger.
    • Breach of duty: Once a duty of care is established, it must be shown that the duty was breached by the defendant. There are many situations that would amount to a breach of duty. However, in all of these situations, it would involve doing an act that is contrary to the duty. For instance, an employer owes his employee a duty to provide a safe working environment. If the working environment becomes unsafe due to the fault of the employer, then there is a breach of duty.
    • Causation: It is not enough to only show that the duty was breached. One must go further to show that the breach of duty was the direct or major cause of the death of the decedent. So, if the decedent was hit and killed by the vehicle of another driver who was reckless, there would be a clear case of causation.
  3. The Survivor Must Have Suffered a Loss
    After all the elements listed above have been proven, you must then show that you have suffered a loss due to the death of the decedent. This is often a tricky part of wrongful death claims because the proof you provide here must be compelling.

    In some cases, it can be easy to show loss here. For instance, if the decedent was your spouse and provided significant financial support for the household, you have a clear case of loss. You would be able to show the financial hardship that the death has caused to your family.

    Other losses you can prove include the loss of love and affection you would have continued to enjoy from the decedent. Loss of physical support, guidance, protection, and inheritance are other losses you can prove. Importantly, you can also prove any expenses you have incurred as a result of the death, such as funeral or burial costs.

A Successful Claim Starts With a Skilled Wrongful Death Lawyer

The task of proving a wrongful death claim is not an easy one. You would have to develop an appropriate case strategy, retain experts, obtain a lot of documentation, and speak to witnesses. These are all tasks that must be carefully done.

A qualified wrongful death lawyer will be indispensable to helping you pursue your claim to a successful conclusion. You can rely on their experience to obtain the compensation you deserve.

If you have a loved one that has been wrongfully killed, you can increase your chances of a successful claim by getting in touch with us at West Coast Trial Lawyers. Our lawyers will help you understand your rights and how you can pursue your wrongful death claim.


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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