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Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in california?


Learn who’s entitled to damages and what compensation may be available

Anyone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one knows how difficult the grieving process can be, especially if their death was the result of someone else's negligent or intentional act. After you begin to get over the initial shock, you may start to wonder if the responsible party can be held accountable and who can file a wrongful death claim. This article will address those questions and discuss the damages that may be available in a California wrongful death lawsuit.

What is a wrongful death claim?

A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit brought against someone due to negligence that results in the death of another person. Wrongful death actions can be filed by people related to the deceased and may include compensation for medical bills, funeral costs, loss of companionship, loss of income and more.

In California, wrongful death claims are common for families who have lost a loved one due to another party's negligence. There is a statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims in California, which is generally 2 years from the date of the person's death, so it is important to seek legal representation soon after an accident has occurred to ensure you don’t miss your chance to be compensated.

Who can file a wrongful death claim?

Wrongful death laws determine who is allowed to file a claim on behalf of the deceased victim. Generally, only close family members are allowed to file wrongful death claims. However, there are exceptions to this rule depending on the specifics of your case.

The spouse

The spouse of the victim may file a claim for the loss of his or her partner. A spouse is defined as a person who is legally married to the victim at the time of their death. If the spouse was separated from the victim at the time of their death but not officially divorced, he or she might still be eligible to file a claim.


The surviving biological or adoptive children of the deceased may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California, even if they’re adults at the time of the death.


If a minor child dies in an accident, their parents may be able to file a wrongful death claim. Parents can receive compensation for medical expenses and funeral costs, as well as compensation for the loss of companionship.

Parents of adult children may also have standing in some cases, although this usually depends on if the deceased had any other dependents or if the parents were dependent on the deceased for support.

Other family members

Parents and spouses are not the only family members who can file a wrongful death claim in California. Siblings and grandparents may also be entitled to compensation if they were financially dependent on the victim at the time of their death.

Exceptions to this rule

If none of these people exist, under California law, other family members who are considered heirs of the deceased person's estate may be able to file a wrongful death claim. In cases where multiple family members have potential claims to the deceased’s estate, it’s always wise to consult an attorney early on in the process to help you understand your rights.

What wrongful death damages are available in California?

The term "damages" refers to the monetary compensation that may be paid to a person or their family as a result of injury or death. Damages for wrongful death may include:

Medical expenses

The deceased person's estate can recover medical expenses incurred prior to death. These include treatment and other costs related to the accident, as well as any illnesses or injuries suffered by the deceased from the time of the accident until their death.

Lost earning capacity

If your loved one was working at the time of their death, you may be able to recover the income that they would have earned if they had continued living.

Loss of consortium

This is the loss of companionship and affection that a spouse, parent or child experiences when another family member dies. Spousal loss of consortium is often the most significant damage award in a wrongful death case.

Pain and suffering (for family members)

Family members who have lost a loved one may be able to recover damages for their own pain and suffering as a result of their loved one's death. These damages are awarded on an individual basis rather than as part of an aggregate award, meaning that each family member can recover damages separately for their pain and suffering.

Funeral and burial expenses

If you are the personal representative of a deceased person's estate or if you are named in their will, you may be able to recover funeral and burial expenses. A wrongful death claim can also reimburse the deceased's estate for costs related to the funeral and burial.

Punitive damages

These are designed to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior in cases where an act was malicious, fraudulent or intentional.

When to contact a wrongful death attorney

While no amount of money can ever make up for the loss of someone you love, it can help ease the financial burdens you face moving forward. In order to receive compensation, it’s vital that you file all necessary documents before the statute of limitations expires or you’ll be barred from ever pursuing your case. Contacting an experienced wrongful death lawyer can make the process easier and give you peace of mind that someone is fighting for the best interests of you and your family.

If you’ve lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence, contact the experienced wrongful death attorneys at MVP Accident Attorneys. We pride ourselves on helping families throughout California and Texas recover compensation after the death of a loved one, and we’d love to help you too.

Our firm focuses exclusively on personal injury and wrongful death cases, so we understand the laws and can work to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation.


brett sachs2
Brett Sachs

Brett S. Sachs graduated from Michigan State University College of Law with Cum Laude Honors. While attending Michigan State, Brett was awarded for his service in the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented prisoners of the Michigan Department of Corrections from injustices brought upon them. Learn more.

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