Elements of a California Wrongful Death Suit

family member at funeral service of wrongful death victim

In order for a wrongful death suit to be successful, there are certain elements that need to be present. It is important for the surviving family to understand all of these elements before pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Element 1: Did the Wrongful Death of a Human Being Occur?

The answer to this question must be yes. A death had to have occurred and must be proven to have been caused directly by the actions of someone else, and not another cause. The death must also be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Element 2: Did a Willful or Negligent Act Cause the Wrongful Death?

The act must be proven to have been negligent, reckless, willful or intentional. An example may be a driver that rear ended and killed someone while being distracted by a cell phone.

Common causes of wrongful death claims include:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Car or other motor vehicle accidents
  • Criminal actions (stabbings, shootings, blatant violence)
  • Occupational hazards and exposure (such as asbestos)
  • Supervised activities (field trips, school, daycare)

Element 3: Has a Loss Been Suffered by the Survivor?

The loss of income or monetary support provided is the most common and provable type of loss. The loss of the deceased’s income would cause grave financial hardship on the surviving family. In addition to damages caused by financial loss, the surviving party could also get awarded losses related to:

  • Loss of love/affection
  • Loss of physical support- Physical help can be assigned a dollar value. If the deceased provided all of the yard work, for example, a landscaper may need to be hired now.
  • Funeral or burial costs
  • Loss of a caretaker, protection, guidance, inheritance, etc

Typically, punitive damages are not awarded unless the defendant is convicted of felony murder that is connected to the victim’s death. Additionally, medical bills are typically not recovered, but can be pursued under a separate survival action claim.

Element 4: Statute of Limitations

In the State of California a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years from the date the death occurred.

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and meet all of the above criteria, you may have the means to file a claim. Contact Sacramento wrongful death attorney Frank Penney for a free consultation.

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