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)