Here Are California’s Wrongful Death Laws

If a person caused the death of someone, regardless if it was due to negligence, or malice, surviving family members could submit a wrongful death claim with the goal of receiving financial compensation for their loss. Due to the standard of proof in a wrongful death case being less strict than criminal cases, it’s common for a defendant to be acquitted of murder or even manslaughter while still being liable for wrongful death. Continue reading to learn more about California’s wrongful death laws, as well as who is eligible to submit a claim and what damages can be awarded.

Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims can be filed for multiple reasons, such as medical malpractice, being exposed to harmful chemicals at work, and criminal activity. Regardless of the reason, the plaintiff must be able to prove the following:

  1. A human being died;
  2. This death was caused either by another’s negligence or another’s intent to cause harm (not necessarily death);
  3. Surviving family members are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death; and
  4. A personal representative for the decedent’s estate has been appointed.

Wrongful death and similar civil claims just require a “preponderance of the evidence” when determining liability, which isn’t as high of a standard compared to the requirement for a guilty verdict where the prosecution must determine guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Official California Wrongful Death Laws 

Statute California Code of Civil Procedure § 377.60
Statute of Limitations 2 years (§34-11-2-4)
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim (a) The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.

(b) Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, “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 decedent was valid.

(c) A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support.

Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Claim
  • Expenses related to medical bills for the care of the deceased right before his or her death
  • Expenses related to funeral, burial, etc.
  • Amount of money the deceased reasonably would have earned had he or she remained alive
  • Loss of financial support (re: surviving family members)
  • Loss of companionship, affection, etc. (re: surviving family members)

(CCP § 377.61)


Orange County Wrongful Death Accident Information

Accident Resulting in Paralysis

The diagnosis of paralysis following an accidental injury is frightening to accident victims and their families. Despite the great advancements made in medicine, particularly in microsurgery and diagnostic imaging of the spine and spinal cord, it is often months later before the final extent of paralysis can be determined.

Paralysis is due to a disruption of the nerve cells in the spinal cord. This disruption blocks electrical impulses arising in the brain that normally travel down the cord to the nerve cells in the rest of the body. These nerve cells are responsible for movement and also carry information back to the brain.

Injuries to the spinal column, the bones of the neck and back and the discs that separate the bones from one another, almost always accompany paralysis. An injury can cause the bones and discs to become displaced and either press against the spinal cord or even cut completely through the cord itself. Penetrating injuries such as gunshots, knife wounds, and those caused by shrapnel from explosions are usually responsible for cutting injuries to the spine and spinal cord. In some cases, surgery can relieve pressure on the cord and a slow recovery of some function is possible, Unfortunately, if the cord is cut entirely or even partially, the chances of recovery from paralysis are destitute.

Paralysis after an accident means that the victim will require a lifetime of medical care, assistive technologies (wheelchairs, lifts, ramps, etc. by an accident) and modifications to his or her living area to accommodate these technologies. Medical expenses can soon exhaust the lifetime benefits of most health insurance policies, and gaining disability benefits under Social Security can often take over a year.

Those who have been involving in an accident, and their families, should contact an attorney practicing personal injury law as soon as possible after the accident occurs to discuss the victim’s legal options regarding compensation for injuries and future medical expenses and other costs that will eventually arise. Retaining the services of a personal injury lawyer is the only way to assure that the people living with paralysis will have their legal rights to compensation for their injuries protected.

Obtaining Justice in a Hit and Run Accident Case

If you have been injured in a hit and run accident, you are not alone. Hundreds of people are injured each year in California in a hit and run accidents, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. Part of obtaining justice in a hit and run accident case involves obtaining optimal compensation for your losses, damages, and injuries.

Compensation in a California Hit and Run Accident Case

If you have been injured in a California hit and run accident case, the nature and extent of compensation to which you are entitled to depend on the facts and circumstances of the accident. With that understood, there are some types of losses, damages, and injuries that commonly are compensable in a California hit and run accident case. This include:

  • pain and suffering
  • medical bills and expenses
  • permanent injury or disability
  • permanent disfigurement
  • lost wages

Because of the nature of a hit and run accident, California law may permit you the ability to seek what are called punitive damages in a lawsuit. Punitive damages represent additional compensation when the conduct of the person who caused an accident is considered to be particularly reckless.

Punitive damages are designed to not only provide additional compensation but also to punish particularly egregious conduct. Fleeing the scene of an accident often is considered to be this type of egregious conduct.

California Statute of Limitations in a Hit and Run Accident

California law includes what is called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations provides a specific timeframe by which a lawsuit in a hit and run accident case must be filed. If you are the victim of a hit and run accident in California, you must file a lawsuit within three years from the date of the accident.

If you fail to meet the deadline established by California law, the consequences are likely case ending. If you do not get a lawsuit filed within the timeframe established by the statute of limitations, you will probably be precluded forever from pursuing a lawsuit to obtain the compensation to which you otherwise would be entitled.

Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer

The best course you can take to protect your rights and interests is to take a proactive approach when it comes to retaining the services of a California personal injury attorney. As a general rule, a personal injury lawyer does not charge a fee for an initial consultation with an injured person.

Government Vehicle Accidents

Car accidents are abundant in California, due to busy roadways and distracted drivers. While it is never pleasant dealing with injuries from an accident, it can be even more difficult if government vehicles are involved. The following is an overview of the law as it pertains to government vehicle accidents and what to do if you were injured.

Filing A Claim

The law does not allow drivers in California to file a lawsuit against government agencies in every instance. If you were injured in an accident where there was a faulty traffic signal or road sign, you cannot sue the government for compensation. However, you can seek compensation against the government if you can prove the at-fault driver was negligent. Since this can be confusing, it is best to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to protect your rights.

Statute Of Limitations

There is a certain amount of time the law allows for the filing of personal injury lawsuits. In a typical car accident case in California, injured drivers have 2 years to file a lawsuit in court. However, when one party is in a government issued vehicle and an employee, the law only allows 6 months for filing. Failure to adhere to this time frame could cause your case to be thrown out of court.

Before filing a lawsuit in court, you must first file a claim with the government agency involved in the accident. If the agency refuses to provide compensation, you have another 6 months to file the case in court.


The law allows injured drivers to sue for certain damages after an automobile accident. Some things that you may be compensated for are:

  • Cost Of Alternate Transportation
  • Hospital Fees
  • Doctor Visits
  • Therapy Costs
  • Cost Of Medical Devices Such As Crutches Or Wheelchairs
  • Loss Of Income
  • Future Lost Income If You Are Disabled Due To An Accident

Contact a personal injury attorney if you have been involved in an accident with a government employee. During an initial consultation, an attorney will examine your case and advise you in the best way to move forward with your case. Hiring an attorney is an important part of any personal injury case, but especially when a government agency is involved because they will be represented by experienced attorneys.

Distracted driving and the need for a personal injury lawyer

Distracted driving is now a major menace which poses serious threats to drivers, other motorists and persons on the roadways. The distracted driving statistics are startling, with about 3, 179 people killed in 2014 and 431, 000 injuries in the same year. Distracted driving is an issue for drivers of all ages. However, it is more of a concern among young drivers under the age of 21. If you or a loved one have been victims of an accident as a result of distracted driving, you need to seek legal aid from a personal injury attorney.

Types of distracted driving:

• Texting
• Using a smartphone or cell phone
• Talking to passengers
• Reading
• Watching a video
• Eating or drinking
• Grooming
• Adjusting a CD player or radio

Text messaging poses a greater danger because it involves manual, visual and cognitive attention. Statistics show that a driver who is texting is six times more likely to cause an accident when compared to a drunk driver.

The need for a personal Injury Lawyer

As evidenced, distracted driving can cause serious injuries and even fatalities. Personal injury lawyers have extensive experience and an in-depth knowledge of the law. These attorneys work with the best interests of the client in mind. They investigate the circumstance surrounding the crash. They gather information by interviewing witnesses so as to establish fault. They also help victims file a personal injury claim.

Personal injury cases may appear direct, however, proving negligence can be a complicated process. As a victim, you need an aggressive attorney who will ensure that you receive sufficient compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, emotional trauma and the pain you have incurred.

Injuries can have far-reaching consequences both in the short and long term. Many victims have had to grapple with heavy medical debts and financial obligations as a result of accidents. There is a period in which you need to file a personal injury claim. Again, you can be assured that the insurance provider will not be willing to part with money without a fight.

Personal injury cases can be settled outside of court. For this, you need a lawyer with expert negotiating skills. However, if the parties fail to agree then the matter is taken before a court. You need a lawyer who has dealt with insurance adjusters before. The lawyer will articulate your case in court and work to secure you fair compensation for your injuries and losses.

Cell Phone Related Car Accidents

Car accidents are on the rise in California due to heavy traffic flow and distracted driving. According to the California Office Of Traffic Safety, 80 percent of all car accidents involve some driver inattention. Below is an overview of California personal injury law and how it can help you if you have been hurt in an accident due to distracted driving.

The Effects Of Distracted Driving

According to the Center For Disease Control or CDC, there are three different types of distracted driving:

  • Cognitive Or Not Focusing On Driving
  • Visual Or Not Watching The Road
  • Manual Or Removing Your Hands Off The Wheel

Accidents while using cell phones are more common in people 20 years old and under. Drivers traveling at 55 mph can drive the length of a football field in the amount of time it takes to look at their cell phone.

Time Limits

The law sets a specific amount of time in which a personal injury claim can be filed after a car accident. In California, people who are injured must file a lawsuit within two years after the accident date. Failure to do so may result in the case being thrown out of court.


If you are hurt in an accident due to someone talking or texting on their cell phone, you may be able to recover certain expenses. Some things you may be able to obtain a settlement for are:

  • Ambulance Transport Fees
  • Emergency Room Bills
  • Doctor Visits
  • Transportation Costs
  • Lost Income

What A Lawyer Can Do

Personal injury law is complex and is best handled by an experienced lawyer. A few things a lawyer can do for you during this process includes:

  • Gather Evidence
  • Talk To Experts
  • Negotiate With Insurance Companies
  • Obtain Police Reports
  • File Court Documents
  • Represent You At Trial

If you have been hurt in a car accident caused by a distracted driver, contact a personal injury lawyer for advice. During a consultation, a lawyer can go over your case and let you know how if he can help you recover compensation for your injuries.

What Should I Do If I Get In A Car Accident?

It is essential that you know how to handle a car accident because it is not a matter of if, but when.  Over two million people are injured in car accidents each year in the U.S. alone.  In the year 2010, car accidents had cost the U.S. economy over 250 billion in damages.  Lawmakers and police try to enforce safe driving habits, but drivers are now facing more distractions than ever before.

The first action to take when involved in a car accident is to pull immediately. Even if the collision is minor, never leave the scene, police could consider fleeing the scene as a hit-and-run.  If flares are available, place them around the area of the crash and turn on your emergency lights to warn other drivers of the accident.

If you or the other driver are uninjured, contact police so that a report can be made. It is required by some insurance companies to file a claim.  If the officer asks questions you do not know or are unsure about, do not answer them.  Makes sure that the police report is as accurate as possible, give the officer every detail possible.

If you happen to have access to a camera take pictures of your vehicle, the other person’s vehicle, as well as the area of the accident.  Be sure to take photos of any injuries sustained in the crash.  Some car accident the police are not able to respond.  So that leave you responsible for collecting the information from the other driver.  Collect their phone numbers, names, and addresses of all occupants including the passengers.

Be sure to report the collision to your insurance immediately, some insurances require a claim to filed immediately after the crash occurred.  It is good also to check in with your doctor for injuries that may not be apparent right away.  Most people involved in car accidents do not notice injuries up to two to three days after an accident had occurred.

Contact a personal attorney immediately for a consultation being involved in an accident.  An Orange County personal injury attorney can ensure that you and your family are rightfully protected.


Personal Injury Lawsuits

Document the Incident by Police Report

Call the police as soon as possible to have an officer come to the scene of a personal injury incident. The officer will take down your contact information, the other parties’ contact information, any witnesses contact information, and all of your statements. The officer will also do some investigation by taking statements from the parties and the witnesses and may even do some analysis of the area where the incident took place and may provide a written conclusion in the report as to who is at fault.

Go to the Doctor

If possible you should go to see a doctor the same day your injury occurred and you should obtain as many documents as possible from the doctor’s office or hospital when you leave so you can give this information to your attorney.

Go to a Personal Inury Attorney – No Statements to Insurance Company

If the person who caused your injuries has insurance the insurance company will call you as soon as they can to get you to provide them with a recorded statement over the telephone. Do not provide a recorded statement, because the things you say in the statement may be used against you in Court in the future. You should seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney at your earliest opportunity, because once you are represented the insurance company cannot contact you and must only communicate with your attorney. Also, most, if not all, personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis so there are not upfront fees for retaining one.

Continue Medical Treatment

Do not ignore your injuries, because you run the risk of the injuries getting worse. You should continue receiving medical treatment until you have fully recovered from your injuries. Even if your treatment will extend years into the future part of your recoverable damages will be the future cost of such treatment.

File a Lawsuit if Necessary

If the insurance company will not settle your claim for a reasonable amount then have your attorney file a lawsuit against the person who injured you. In California you have 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit, but don’t wait until the last minute to file. It’s a good idea to file at least 6 months prior to the end of your 2 year post-incident period.

Most Cases Settle

Most cases settle prior to filing a lawsuit. Even if you file a lawsuit the case will still most likely settle prior to going to trial. Don’t set your expectations too high, because your lawyer has a lot of incentive to get as much money as possible for you, because they get a percentage of your settlement (33% to 40%) and therefore the more they get for you the more they earn. So your attorney will do the best they can for you, but you have to be realistic.