Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? A Guide for Family Members and Surviving Heirs

Without a doubt, the unexpected death of a loved one is one of life’s most difficult tragedies. When this loss is the result of someone else’s negligence or misconduct, the pain is often accompanied by a sense of injustice and a myriad of unanswered questions. In California, the legal concept of wrongful death offers answers and a path forward for families affected by loss.

Wrongful death claims are legal avenues designed to provide justice and financial support to families of people whose lives were cut short because of someone else’s poor judgment or negligence. As a surviving family member, understanding your rights is crucial. California has intricate laws in place to protect the rights of wrongful death victims and their families.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit offers a path to recover compensation for the financial and emotional toll of your loved one’s untimely passing. But the legal process can be overwhelming, especially when you’re grappling with grief. That’s why it’s important to work with an attorney you trust to help you navigate the legal options you have before you. Knowing who can file a wrongful death claim in California, what kinds of compensation may be available, whether there are any caps on wrongful death claims, and how settlements are distributed among surviving family members can help you make informed decisions during this difficult time.

Who Is Entitled to Wrongful Death Benefits in California?

Wrongful death laws recognize the profound impact that an unexpected death can have on a family, not just emotionally but also financially. The intent behind a wrongful death claim is to provide some level of financial relief to those most directly affected by the loss.

Generally, California law allows the deceased’s immediate family members to claim wrongful death compensation. This typically includes the victim’s spouse, domestic partner, and children. In cases where the victim has no surviving spouse or children, the right to file a wrongful death claim can extend to additional relatives – parents or siblings, especially if they were financially dependent on the victim.

Wrongful death compensation can cover a range of expenses and financial impacts, from funeral and burial costs to the loss of income the victim would have provided had they lived.

The process of filing a wrongful death claim in California can be complex, often involving legal nuances that require careful navigation. Because the stakes can be so high, the person responsible – or their insurance companies – may try to deny wrongdoing. That’s why it’s critical to work with an experienced attorney who can help guide you through this challenging time. When you have a good lawyer in your corner, you ensure that your rights are protected at every turn and you receive the full compensation you’re entitled to under the law.

California’s statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is just two years after the time of death so it’s important to get started on your case as soon as possible.

Can You Get Pain and Suffering for Wrongful Death in California?

Under a new law as of 2022, surviving family members can recover non-economic losses such as pain and suffering damages. Before this law came into effect, California was one of only a handful of states that did not allow family members to recover these damages.

Wrongful death claims are often filed hand-in-hand with a survivor’s claim. Despite arising from the same incident, these claims have different purposes. Wrongful death claims compensate surviving family members for their losses. In contrast, survivor’s claims are meant to compensate for any losses suffered by the victim in the time between their injury and their death. As of 2022, this includes any pain suffered by the victim before they passed.

Is there a Cap for Wrongful Death Claims in California?

Many states have caps or limits on the amount of compensation that you can recover in a wrongful death case. However, California does not impose a cap on most wrongful death claims. That means there is no legal limit to the amount of money that can be awarded for things like lost future income, medical expenses incurred before death, or non-economic damages like a spouse’s loss of companionship.

In addition, you can also receive punitive damages on both your behalf and the behalf of your loved one. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the responsible party for especially reckless, careless, or malicious behavior, and to deter that behavior from happening again.

The fact that California doesn’t limit damages in this way underscores the state’s recognition of the significant impact that wrongful death can have on a family. This allows juries and courts to award damages that truly reflect the full extent of the loss suffered. However, even without a limit, any settlement you receive will depend on the specifics of your case, including factors like your loved one’s age, earnings, and the circumstances of their death.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Distributed in California?

Once you reach a settlement or receive a court award, the distribution of funds is generally determined either by the court or through the terms of your settlement agreement.

In most cases, a wrongful death settlement will be divided among the eligible family members according to their relationship to the deceased and the financial impact the death has had on them personally. For example, a spouse may receive a larger portion to account for lost income that would have contributed to joint living expenses. Similarly, minor children may receive compensation that reflects the loss of parental guidance or support that they would have received had their parent not passed away.

Distributing the funds of a wrongful death case can sometimes be a complex process, especially in families with complicated dynamics or multiple eligible family members. This is another point where legal guidance is often invaluable to ensure that the distribution of funds is fair, covers your needs, and is in accordance with California law.

At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, our experienced lawyers champion your best interests at every point in the process. We work on a contingency fee basis so you don’t pay legal fees unless we win your case – which means we’re just as invested in your success as you are. Contact us now to get started with your free case consultation.