Losing a loved one is devastating, especially when their death could have been prevented. Under the law, if someone else’s negligent or reckless actions cause the death of another, they can be held legally responsible by the victim’s surviving family.
In California, survivors can file two different types of lawsuits after the death of a loved one: a wrongful death lawsuit or a survivor action. In some cases, you could file for both. If your claim is successful, you can recover damages in the form of monetary compensation.
After suffering the loss of a loved one, filing a lawsuit isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But these legal claims are an important way to support the families of victims by holding the responsible party accountable for their actions – and getting justice for your loved one.
But these two types of lawsuits work differently. Even though the legal claims come out of the same incident, they compensate for separate things. The only way to know the best way forward for you is to talk to a personal injury lawyer about your case as soon as possible – before the statute of limitations passes and you lose the chance.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate a victim’s family for losing their loved one. A wrongful death claim works to right a wrong done to the surviving family members. After all, you’ve lost someone close to you and you deserve justice too.
In a successful wrongful death lawsuit, you would get damages based on:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost income that your household would’ve otherwise earned
- The cost of childcare if the victim was the primary child caretaker
- Non-economic damages like grief and loss of companionship
In California, you generally can’t recover damages based on emotional distress in a wrongful death lawsuit. But you may be able to file an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the same person you’re suing for wrongful death.
You may be able to get punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit only if you can prove that your loved one passed away because of a felony homicide – or intentional killing. Punitive damages exist to punish someone for especially bad behavior causing a death.
While nothing can undo what happened, a wrongful death lawsuit can get your family the support you need to rebuild after your loved one’s death.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
California generally gives families just 2 years after a loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. But the time limit may actually vary from 6 months to 3 years depending on the type of case. For example, wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice or hospital negligence must generally be filed just 1 year after discovering the cause of death.
If you miss the statute of limitations, you could lose the chance to file a claim forever. To make sure you meet the deadline, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after your loved one’s death.
What Is a Survival Cause of Action?
In contrast to a wrongful death lawsuit – which focuses on the family’s losses – the purpose of a survival action is to right any wrongs done to the victim before they passed away.
In a survival action, the victim’s family gets compensation in the victim’s place. If the victim had survived, they would’ve gotten this compensation themselves in a personal injury lawsuit.
In a California survival action, family members can get damages to compensate for any losses the victim suffered after they got injured and before they passed away, such as:
- Economic damages like medical expenses to treat their injuries
- Lost income from becoming unable to work after the injury
- Any bills or expenses related to the victim’s injuries while they were alive
- Non-economic damages like the victim’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement
Unlike in a wrongful death lawsuit, you can get punitive damages in a survival action. These punish the responsible party for morally reprehensible behavior.
Survival actions are extremely important because they help get justice for victims. Without survival claims, a bad actor who injures someone could just drag out a personal injury case until the injured person passes away – then get away without any consequences.
Even after someone passes away, they still have rights. A survival action keeps the responsible party accountable for the full extent of the harm they caused the victim before they died.
Who Can File a Survival Action in California?
You could have a survival action if your loved one didn’t pass away immediately from their injuries – even if they lived for just a few hours after they got injured.
Survival actions can be filed by a victim’s successor, spouse, sibling, child, parent, an otherwise nearest living relative, or a representative of their estate. Survival actions are usually successful in cases involving negligence or malpractice of some kind.
The best way to know if you’ve got a case is to talk to a personal injury lawyer.
Statute of Limitations on Survival Actions in California
Similar to wrongful death lawsuits, there’s a time limit for filing survival actions. The statute of limitations may vary from 6 months to 3 years depending on the type of case you have. That’s why it’s important to get started early with a strong legal strategy.
If you have both a wrongful death and a survival cause of action, you could potentially file them at the same time. Your attorney can help shape the best strategy for your case.
Losing someone close to you can be an extremely difficult time. A settlement agreement that compensates you properly for all of you and your loved one’s losses can help support your family for the future. An experienced lawyer can help you get justice while you focus on your grief and recovery. Contact us now to get started with a free case consultation.