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How long to file a wrongful death case?

California wrongful death statute of limitations


How long do you have to file a wrongful death case in California?

One of the most difficult experiences in life is losing someone you love, and that loss is often compounded when your loved one dies unexpectedly from someone else’s negligence. Dealing with that loss while grappling with the fact that their death could have been avoided is almost too much to bear.

While no amount of money can ever make up for the loss of someone you love, it can help ease the financial burdens you’re left with in their absence. Understanding the laws surrounding wrongful death lawsuits in California is an important 1st step toward recovering compensation and putting your life back together.

What is a wrongful death?

A wrongful death is a death that occurs as a direct result of the actions of another person. There are many causes of wrongful death, including negligence (such as a car accident), medical malpractice, product liability or an intentional act of violence.

The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to provide compensation to the victim’s surviving family members for the losses incurred as a result of their loved one’s death.

Liability in a California wrongful death lawsuit

Wrongful death lawsuits are based on liability. In order to file a wrongful death suit, it’s necessary to prove that the party responsible for the death is, in fact, liable. For example, if a person died as a result of a car accident that was caused by reckless driving, it would have to be proven that the other driver was directly responsible for the accident.

To recover damages in a wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:

    • Duty of care. The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim to prevent injuries and death. In the example of a car accident, the plaintiff would 1st have to establish that the driver who caused the accident was obligated to follow the rules of the road and ensure they were driving safely.


    • Breach of duty. After the plaintiff establishes a duty of care, they must prove that the defendant breached that duty. In the car accident scenario, driving recklessly equates to breaching the duty of care, as the defendant disregarded the rules of the road and failed to drive safely.


  • Causation. Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that as a result of the breach of duty, the defendant caused the car accident that directly led to the victim’s death. In the case of the car accident, the plaintiff must prove that by driving recklessly, the defendant caused the crash that killed the other person.

In all wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show that the defendant is liable for the death of the victim.

Who can file a wrongful death claim in California?

In California, only certain people are legally allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These people may include:

    • Spouse or domestic partner


    • Children


  • Parents (if the deceased was a minor)

If none of these family members exist, ​​the next person in line to inherit the deceased person's property (such as a sibling) would also be eligible to file a claim. In addition, those who can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased (such as the deceased’s parents, grandparents or stepchildren) may also be eligible to file a California wrongful death lawsuit.

What is the statute of limitations for a California wrongful death case?

In California, there is a specific period of time in which you must file a wrongful death claim in order to recover compensation. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations.

In general, California law limits the time you have to file a wrongful death case to 2 years from the date of the victim’s death. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule. For example:

    • Medical malpractice. If the death was caused by medical malpractice, the lawsuit must be filed within 3 years of the date of death or 1 year after the date of discovery that the death resulted from medical negligence.


  • Government entities. In wrongful death cases brought against a government entity or employee, the statute of limitations is only 6 months after the date of death.

Anyone who plans on filing a wrongful death lawsuit must do so within a timely manner. Failure to file before the statute of limitations expires in your case will result in an inability to recover compensation. An experienced wrongful death attorney can advise you on the specific time limits for your case and ensure that all the necessary forms are filed on time.

What damages are recoverable in a California wrongful death case?

The victim’s surviving family members can recover certain damages from a wrongful death lawsuit. These may include both economic and non-economic damages, such as:

    • Funeral and burial expenses


    • Medical expenses incurred before the person’s death


    • Loss of future income the person would have earned if they’d survived


    • Value of household services the person would have provided if they’d survived


    • Loss of companionship


  • Pain and suffering

In addition to the above damages, you may also be able to recover compensation for the pain and suffering that your loved one endured from the time of the accident until the time of their death.

Punitive damages, which are meant to punish a defendant and deter others from similar behavior, may also be awarded in cases involving malice, oppression or fraud. Your attorney can advise you as to what damages may be available in your specific case.

When to contact a California wrongful death attorney

California wrongful death lawsuits can be complicated, and it’s vital that you follow all necessary filing deadlines to ensure you don’t miss your chance to be compensated. Depending on the situation, there may be more than 1 party liable for damages in your case. An experienced wrongful death attorney understands the laws and can help determine liability to get you the full compensation to which you're entitled.

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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