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Wrongful Death California: How to File Your Claim

Posted by Timothy J. Ryan | Jul 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

The death of a loved one is tragic.

The death of a loved one at the hands of another, whether through negligence or wrongdoing, is devastating.

If someone you love has been killed due to someone else's misdeeds, you have legal rights. This kind of death is called “wrongful death.” California law provides protections for survivors.

While the last thing you may want to think of right now is legal proceedings, wrongful death California law doesn't have to be complicated.

We're here to walk you through what you have to do to file a wrongful death claim in California.

Wrongful Death California Law

Before you can bring a suit for wrongful death, California law requires that certain requirements be met.

First, who is eligible to bring such a suit? Secondly, what actually qualifies as a wrongful death?

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?

In California, a wrongful death suit can be brought by certain family members, non-family members with a claim to succession of certain property It can also be brought on by those financially dependent upon the victim. These include:

  • A spouse, putative spouse, or domestic partner
  • Children or step-children
  • Parents
  • Siblings of the deceased

As familial ties become less close, whether or not you are able to sue for wrongful death becomes a more complicated question. It's one you should speak to a lawyer about.

What Qualifies Under Wrongful Death California Laws?

Wrongful Death Laws vary from state to state. It is important to know what qualifies under California laws before you file your suit.

A wrongful death is defined as death caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another.

This can mean medical malpractice, murder, or vehicular homicide, among other things.

Things that do not qualify:

  • The death of a fetus in utero
  • The death that is the result of the victim's wrongdoing
  • Suicide (provided no other party should have been providing care)

Differences Between Wrongful Death and Homicide

Homicide and Wrongful Death are separate charges, brought in separate courts. They can be, but are not always, brought simultaneously.

Homicide is tried in criminal court, and charges are brought by the state. The penalty for homicide is usually prison time.

Wrongful Death is a civil suit and is heard in civil court. The charges are brought by the family of the deceased or their representative, and the punishment is strictly monetary.

If a homicide or other criminal trial is bring brought against the accused, a civil trial for wrongful death can also be pursued simultaneously.

How to File Your Claim

Once you have determined if you are able to sue, it's time to file your suit.

It's important to maintain as level a head as possible. While the death of a loved one is an emotional experience, the legal system is anything but.

1. Obtain and Make Copies of Documentation

You are going to need evidence and lots of it.

Gather everything you can, from police reports to hospital records. This is going to help your lawyer put together a convincing case.

Make copies of everything and back all of it up on a flash drive just in case.

2. Gather Financial Records

While you're gathering documentation, make sure to put together a record of financial hardships resulting from wrongful death.

This can include hospital bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses.

It's also helpful to think about non-monetary losses. These can include emotional suffering or damage to a property.

3. Secure a Lawyer

You'll want to have a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in wrongful death California law.

Make sure you thoroughly check credentials and past cases. This way, you ensure you are getting a lawyer who knows how best to present your case.

A lawyer will help walk you through the next few steps. They can assist you from filing a complaint to deciding whether to bring in expert witnesses to gathering any extra evidence.

4. File a Complaint

This is the official filing of the case, and will usually be done for you by your lawyer.

The defendant's council will put together a response, and the case will then proceed from there. There are several ways for the case to be resolved at this point.

The first would be summary judgment. As the plaintiff, this is not at all in your best interest.

Summary judgment finds in favor of the defendant by asserting that the plaintiff does not have enough evidence or plausibility to win the case.

You can avoid this by having your lawyer file a response to the request for summary judgment.

As for the second and third ways the case can resolve…

5. Decide Whether to Settle or Go To Trial

Once everything else is in place, you will have to decide whether to settle out of court or go to trial.

Typically, a defendant would rather settle than face trial. Often, settlement terms can be very attractive. They can also save you the emotional burden of going through a full trial.

This is something to discuss with your lawyer, but often, settling out of court is a good option. You are still awarded compensation for your loss — without the long, drawn-out lawsuit process.

If you opt to go to trial, you will begin with pretrial motions prior to your court date.

Once your court date arrives, your lawyers will deliver their statements, present and cross-examine witnesses, and make their case to the jury.

The jury will then deliberate and find in favor of either you or the defendant.

If you win the case, a judge will award you a certain amount to be paid by the defendant. If you lose, you may look into appealing the court's decision.

What if the Defendant Doesn't Pay?

In a perfect world, the defendant would pay you and you could move on with your life.

Since that is almost never the case, you'll need to look into your legal options in-detail.

No one ever wants to be in the position of having to sue for wrongful death.

But knowing how to file your case may be the first step on your way to closure. Let us help you through this horrific experience. Contact us today.

About the Author

Timothy J. Ryan

Personal injury attorney Timothy J. Ryan has helped California injury victims recover more than $1 Billion since 1981. Tim is on the board of governors for the Consumer Attorneys of California and received the 2020 award "10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys" for client satisfaction.


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Timothy J. Ryan & Associates

Timothy J. Ryan & Associates has earned a national reputation for aggressive client advocacy and real results for grieving families. If you have questions about your loved one's death, you can obtain a free consultation from attorney Timothy J. Ryan. Call (714) 898-4444 to get help today.