California Wrongful Death Laws
If you have read the previous page about wrongful death claims, the following is intended to give an overview of additional information specific to California. Like all information in our web pages, it is only general information and not intended as legal advice. You are advised to consult with a California Wrongful Death Accident Attorney about your specific claim.
Under California law for wrongful death, each heir identified in this code section is allowed to recover monetary damages on his or her own behalf for the loss suffered due to the victim's (decedent's) death.
Only the persons named in CCP Section 377.60 are permitted to bring a wrongful death action. While clearly a surviving spouse and children may bring a claim, some of the rules are very complicated and if you think you may be entitled to bring a wrongful death claim you immediately should consult with a California Wrongful Death Accident Attorney about your rights in your specific case.Who Qualify as Victims in Wrongful Death Claims in California?
The victim's death must be shown to be caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. Thus, the responsible party must have been a substantial factor or probable cause of death. This comes up in medical malpractice actions where if the decedent's chance of survival was 50% or less prior to the alleged wrongful act, then it would be mathematically not probable that the health care provider caused the death. Thus, such claims may not be actionable.
The death of an unborn child or fetus is NOT actionable in California under its wrongful death law. The California Supreme Court has held that, "A fetus is not a person within the meaning of our wrongful death statute until there has been a live birth" [See: Justus v. Atchison (1977) 9Cal3d 564, at 579-580].
The death from a justifiable homicide is NOT actionable in California under its wrongful death law. For example, if a victim is killed while committing a felony, it would prevent the victim's family from bringing a wrongful death action. California Penal Code Sect. 197.
The death may be by suicide when the responsible party owed a duty of care to the victim and the responsible party's act or omission was a substantial factor in causing the suicide.Parties to Wrongful Death Suit in California
All possible claimants must be joined in a single wrongful death action. There can not be more than one suit against the responsible party, so under the California "one action rule", all claimants must join in one suit. One purpose of this rule is to avoid the responsible party having to defend more than one suit. Another purpose is to avoid inconsistent results which could occur from more than one action.
Thus, a claimant who is not joined as a party to a wrongful death suit could be barred from bringing a separate suit against the responsible party.
To avoid this unfair result, the heirs who file suit have a mandatory duty to include all known heirs. Any heirs who do not want to be included, should be named as defendants. Further, any heirs who intentionally omit a claimant may be responsible to such claimant. Thus, if you bring a wrongful death claim, it is important to advise your California Personal Injury Attorney of all possible heirs.Statute of Limitations in California Wrongful Death Claims
There are at least three (3) statute of limitations (time deadlines to settle or take certain legal action) to be concerned with in wrongful death claims in California:
- In most situations, within two (2) years of injury or death. Calif. Code of Civil Procedure, Sect. 335.1
- If based on health care provider negligence (medical malpractice), three years from date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered the injury, whichever occurs first. Calif. Code of Civil Procedure, Sect. 340.5.
- If based on any government tort liability, including a car accident with a Los Angeles City vehicle or medical malpractice at a county or state hospital, like LAC + USC Medical Center or the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, then a government claim usually must be filed at the proper location within six (6) months of the injury.
There are many rules and procedures to comply with in wrongful death claims, and you should consult with a California wrongful death attorney about your specific case as soon as you can.