How Do California Wrongful Death Claims Work?

How Do California Wrongful Death Claims Work?

person comforting a family member

Losing a loved one is devastating. When a victim dies due to negligence, the survivors may bring a wrongful death lawsuit under California law. If you lost a loved one in an accident caused by another party, it’s crucial to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney.

At Sycamore Accident Lawyers, our compassionate and experienced team is dedicated to helping surviving family members secure justice and compensation. We provide expert guidance, handle legal matters, and offer our support during this difficult time. Contact our Riverside personal injury law office at (909) 703-2420 for a free consultation.


What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a legal action filed by the survivors of an individual who has died as a result of another’s negligence or wrongful act. Wrongful death claims aim to provide financial compensation to the deceased’s family members or estate. To win wrongful death settlements, the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s actions were directly responsible for the death and that they have suffered quantifiable damages as a result.

Wrongful Death vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits

While both wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits involve harm caused by another party’s negligence or misconduct, there are key differences between these civil lawsuits. An injured party can seek a personal injury claim to recover compensation for their injuries, pain, and suffering.

In contrast, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by the survivors or estate of the deceased to recover damages for their losses. A wrongful death action is a civil lawsuit that allows the family or estate of a deceased person to sue the person or entity responsible for their loved one’s death.


Types of Wrongful Death Cases

Car Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of wrongful death claims. Traffic fatalities are on the rise in California. In 2021, there were 4,285 traffic deaths, a 7.6% from 2020. When a driver’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct leads to a fatal accident, the deceased’s family can file a wrongful death claim.

Bicycle Accidents

When a cyclist is killed due to another party’s negligence, the surviving family members can pursue a wrongful death claim to recover damages. Common causes of bicycle accidents in Riverside include distracted or impaired driving, failure to yield, or defective road conditions. In Riverside County, there were 292 bicycle accident injuries and fatalities in 2021.

Pedestrian Accidents

Pedestrian accidents often result in wrongful death cases when a pedestrian is struck and killed by a vehicle. These incidents frequently occur due to driver inattention, speeding, or failure to obey traffic signals. In 2021, there were 477 pedestrians who sustained serious and fatal injuries in traffic accidents across Riverside County.

Truck Accidents

Due to the sheer size and weight of trucks compared to passenger vehicles, truck accidents can cause catastrophic injuries and fatalities. The complexity of these cases often involves multiple parties, including the truck driver, trucking company, and potentially vehicle manufacturers. Proving liability will require in-depth investigations, including reviewing driving logs and maintenance records and employing accident reconstruction experts. An experienced truck accident attorney can help you gather compelling evidence to support your claim.

Rideshare Accidents

Rideshare accidents involve vehicles operated by drivers for companies like Uber or Lyft. When these accidents result in fatalities, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against the driver and potentially the rideshare company. A Lyft and Uber accident attorney can help you determine liability and hold the responsible parties accountable for your damages. 


Who Can Be Held Liable for a Car Accident?

wrongful death suit

In a car accident wrongful death lawsuit, several parties can be held liable depending on the circumstances:

Negligent Drivers

Typically, the driver who caused the accident is held responsible. Liability may arise from actions such as speeding, reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, texting while driving, or other forms of distracted driving.

Vehicle Manufacturers

The manufacturer can be held liable if the accident was caused by a defect in the car, such as faulty brakes, steering issues, or other mechanical failures.


When the driver is an employee performing work-related duties, the employer can be held responsible under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. This applies to cases where the accident occurred while the employee was performing tasks within the scope of their employment.

Government Entities

Government bodies responsible for road maintenance and safety can be held liable if the accident was caused by hazards such as potholes, missing guardrails, inadequate road signage, or other dangerous road conditions.


Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The Surviving Spouse

The surviving spouse of the decedent is typically the first in line to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. They are considered primary beneficiaries and have the right to seek compensation for the emotional and financial losses resulting from their partner’s death.

The Registered Domestic Partner of the Decedent

In California, registered domestic partners have the same rights as spouses to file wrongful death suits. They can pursue compensation for the loss of companionship, financial support, and other damages.

The Deceased Person’s Surviving Children

The surviving children of the deceased can also file a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes both minor and adult children, who may seek compensation for the loss of parental guidance, emotional support, and financial dependency.

The Decedent’s Parents

If the deceased has no surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children, the parents of the decedent may be eligible to file a wrongful death suit. If the parents were financially dependent on the deceased, they may pursue compensation for their losses.

Minors Who Were Dependent on the Decedent

Minors who were dependent on the deceased for financial support, such as stepchildren or grandchildren, may also have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These claims focus on the loss of financial stability and emotional guidance provided by the decedent.

A Personal Representative of the Deceased Person’s Estate

A personal representative or executor of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate. This ensures that the deceased’s beneficiaries receive appropriate compensation for their losses and that the estate’s interests are protected.


What Compensation Can I Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim?

medical expenses

In a wrongful death lawsuit, plaintiffs can recover various types of compensation, including:

  • Medical bills: This includes any medical bills and healthcare costs that were incurred from the time of the injury until the decedent’s death. It covers hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and other related medical treatments.
  • Funeral and burial costs: The funeral and burial expenses associated with the decedent’s funeral and burial or cremation services are recoverable. 
  • Lost income and benefits: Compensation for the financial support that the decedent would have provided to the family if they had lived. This includes the decedent’s expected earnings, retirement benefits, and other employment-related benefits.
  • Loss of household services: The value of services the decedent provided, such as childcare, cleaning, cooking, and maintenance. 
  • Loss of companionship: Compensation for the emotional loss suffered by the family members due to the absence of the decedent’s companionship, affection, and guidance.
  • Emotional support: This covers the psychological impact and emotional distress experienced by the family members due to the loss of their loved one.
  • Parental guidance: For the children of the deceased, this includes compensation for the loss of parental care, guidance, and nurturing that the decedent would have provided.


How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help Your Case

wrongful death lawyer

Wrongful death attorneys play a crucial role in navigating the complexities of a wrongful death claim. They provide legal expertise, gather essential evidence, and build a strong wrongful death case to prove liability and damages.

Your personal injury lawyer will negotiate with insurance companies to recover a fair wrongful death settlement. If the other party’s insurance company is unwilling to offer a fair settlement, a trial lawyer can represent you in court to pursue the compensation you deserve.


Proving Liability in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

To recover compensation in a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must establish the following factors to prove liability.

Duty of Care

The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. For example, drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely and obey traffic laws to protect others on the road. Therefore, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant had a legal obligation to operate their vehicle in a reasonable manner to avoid an accident or causing harm to other road users.

Breach of Duty

Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty of care.


The plaintiff must also prove causation, meaning that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused the decedent’s death. This requires a clear connection between the defendant’s actions and the fatal outcome.


Finally, the plaintiff must show that they have suffered damages as a result of the wrongful death. This includes economic damages, such as medical and funeral expenses, and non-economic damages, like emotional pain and suffering.


Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

The wrongful death statute of limitations is the legal time frame within which the surviving family members must file a lawsuit. Generally, this allotted period is two years from the date of the deceased’s death. 

If the plaintiffs do not file a claim within this time frame, they may lose their right to seek compensation. However, there are exceptions and specific circumstances that can alter this timeline, such as cases involving government entities or minors. Consulting a wrongful death attorney promptly ensures that all deadlines are met and the claim is preserved.


Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys Today

If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct, it is crucial to seek legal assistance to navigate the complexities of a wrongful death claim. Our experienced wrongful death attorneys at Sycamore Accident Lawyers are dedicated to providing compassionate and skilled representation to help you secure the compensation you deserve.

Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn how we can support you through this difficult time.