What is a Wrongful Death Case in California?

Carmen D. Lade

A wrongful death case is a case where a person dies due to the intentional or negligent act of another, or entity. The law allows relatives, domestic partners, and persons who depend upon the wrongful death victim for support to sue for wrongful death. The issue of who can sue for wrongful death is covered below.

Wrongful death cases are traditionally amongst the most emotionally charged cases in personal injury.

Wrongful death cases can take many forms. For instance; a loved one could be killed in a car or motorcycle accident that was not their fault; a loved one may have been killed due to excessive use of force by the police or a private security agency; a loved one may have been killed due to a dangerous condition on public or private property, including defective roads or improperly placed road signs; a loved one may have been killed due to the defective construction of a building on real property; an unborn child may have died due to the negligence of a doctor, or due to an assault and battery on the mother; a loved one may have been killed due to a defective product, or negligent repair.

A wrongful death case can arise when someone was injured in an accident, and then subsequently dies as a result of their injuries.


The present Statute of Limitations for filing a lawsuit for wrongful death in the State of California is two (2) years from the date of the accident or incident causing the wrongful death. If you do not file a lawsuit within two (2) years, you lose your right to sue! CCP § 335.1

There are exceptions to the above rule if the wrongful death was caused by the negligence of a doctor or health care provider, or due to building defects.

If the defendant to the wrongful death action is a governmental entity, a claim must be filed with that governmental entity within 6 months from the date of the accident. If the entity rejects the claim, you must then file a lawsuit within six months from the date of the rejection.


A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the victims personal representative on their behalf:

(a) The victims surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and offspring of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving children of the victim, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the victim by intestate succession (a person dying without a will).

(b) Whether or not qualified under (a) above, if they were dependent on the victim, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. ‘Putative spouse’ means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the victim was valid.

(c) A minor, if, at the time of the victims death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the victims household and was dependent on the victim for one-half or more of the minor’s support.

As you can see, there are many people that may qualify to sue for wrongful death. Our law firm handles wrongful death cases, and can tell you whether or not you have the right to sue for wrongful death.

Compensation That You Are Entitled To In a Wrongful Death Case WRONGFUL DEATH DAMAGES

Financial Support – The financial support, if any, that the person who was a victim of wrongful death would have contributed to the family during either the life expectancy that the victim had before [his/her] death or the life expectancy of the person who is suing, whichever is shorter.

The Loss of Gifts and Benefits – The loss of gifts or benefits that the person who is suing would have expected to receive from the victim of a wrongful death.

Funeral and Burial Expenses – The cost of funeral and burial expenses.

The Reasonable Value of Household Services – The reasonable value of household services that the victim would have provided

The loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support that the victim would have provided.

The loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations with the victim.

The loss of training and guidance of the victim.


Punitive damages (punishment damages) are awardable to the victims estate in an action by the estate representative based on the cause of action the victim would have had if he or she had survived. an example of a case or the estate of a victim can sue for wrongful death with punitive damages would be intentional homicide.

Copyright 2006

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