Wrongful Death Claims and Your Rights

When a close family member dies because of the neglect of someone else (a careless driver, a negligent doctor, etc.) you may be entitled to pursue a claim for wrongful death.  Wrongful death claims in California are governed by a number of statutes which lay out the rules for recovery in such cases.  

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in California

The statute in California setting forth who may bring a wrongful death action is somewhat complicated.  (Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60) It generally says that the spouse, domestic partner and/or children (sometimes grandchildren) may bring an action for wrongful death.  However, the rule becomes more complicated when none of these family members are alive when the decedent passes, and the claim then must be pursued by someone who would be entitled to the decedent's property under the rules of "intestate succession."  Most commonly, wrongful death claims are brought by the spouse, children or (in their absence) the parent(s) of the deceased.

Damages Recoverable in California

Under California law, only certain economic and noneconomic damages can be recovered in a wrongful death action.  Most people assume that the noneconomic damages include the "value" of the deceased's life.  Instead, the noneconomic damages are measured by the loss of the love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support, training and guidance the deceased would have provided their family member had they lived.  It is the value of the relationship the adult decedent had with their family member that is measured.  However, the damages are slightly different when the parents are bringing a claim for the death of a minor child.  

When the death is caused by a negligent health care provider (such as a doctor or a nurse), the rules governing recovery are different.  The maximum recovery for noneconomic damages in the context of a malpractice case is $250,000.00, and this has been the law in California since 1976.  This arbitrary (and most would argue unfair) limitation was imposed by the enactment of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA).  This limitation applies whether the decedent was a minor or an adult.

The economic damages recoverable in a wrongful death action in California include the financial support, if any, that the decedent would have contributed to the family, the loss of gifts or benefits that would have been received, the funeral and burial expenses incurred, and value of household services that the deceased would have provided.

If you believe a close family member was lost because of the neglect of someone else, you may be entitled to bring an action for wrongful death and recover compensation for the losses you have suffered.  Consultation with an experienced injury attorney can help you obtain the compensation you and your family deserve.


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