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Who Has Rights in a California Wrongful Death Case?

Posted by Timothy J. Ryan | Nov 09, 2015 | 0 Comments


Wrongful death suits are some of the most difficult cases for attorneys and families.  Any personal injury case is hard from the perspective of the level of effort and the rigors of the law, but when someone has died the emotional stakes are incredibly high.

In California, when someone dies as the result of negligence or a wrongful act by a person or business entity then the family may file a wrongful death claim.  Each wrongful death claim is taken to the court that holds jurisdiction by the attorney and survivors (or those representing the estate) and will be heard on the merits of the case and judged against the laws and statutes governing it.

Wrongful Death is a Civil Lawsuit not a Criminal Case

Wrongful death is a civil lawsuit.  The fact that a criminal case may or may not be ongoing does not prevent the civil case from being filed or empower the survivor's to file.

In these cases fault is a monetary expression, not a custodial one as would be the result of a successful homicide case.  Further on this subject, even if the case is proven in a civil court, unless there is a criminal case also in effect, the damages will be financial/monetary only.

Fault in a civil case does not have criminal repercussions, nor does the outcome of a criminal case determine the results of a civil one.  At times, a family will use the civil courts when a criminal case is either lost or a prosecutor has decided to pass on charging the individual in the death of the person.

In the now famous OJ Simpson case, despite him being acquitted in the death of his wife, a civil court found him liable for her death and forced him to pay damages.

Who May File in California

Every state is different when it comes to civil law.  In California only certain people may file a wrongful death suit because they are shown to have adequate interest:

  • The deceased person's surviving spouse
  • The deceased person's child or children
  • The deceased person's parents (if the child is minor or they were dependent)
  • The deceased person's domestic partner (the legalization of gay marriage may have an effect on this in the future)
  • The deceased person's stepchildren (if they were financially dependent)

Limiting who may file in these cases prevents abuse of the system, and prevents competing lawsuits and claims.  Typically, in a wrongful death case a family acts as a single unit to file on the behalf of their loved one—and that is usually what is occurring with these claims.

Very few people in a wrongful death case are filing because they want money.  Regardless of the wording of the claim, people file because their loved one is gone and they want some type of justice.

Who can enjoy money that arrived as the result of the death of their parent, spouse or child?  Each dollar spent will be spent with a wish that they could trade that money for just one more day with their loved one.

Wrongful death cases are very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.  No one does it for the money.  They do it because they are grieving.  This is why it is so important when we take on a wrongful death case that we ensure our clients are aware of what these cases can do and what they can't, and that we are guardians of their trust, as well as, the case.

Want a free case evaluation? Call (800) 838-6644 to speak with a Timothy J. Ryan & Associates wrongful death attorney about your case.

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.