Losing a loved one due to the wrongful actions or negligence of someone else leaves deep scars on a family that will never heal. Having someone ripped from your lives unnecessarily and with no warning is a shocking experience, and there’s no amount of money that can make that hurt go away. However, in California, as in most states, survivors can hold the responsible party accountable—financially at least—for their actions. While this is little solace, wrongful death claims help families recover from financial stress that is caused by the death while also penalizing the person responsible (which may help deter the repeated wrongful action or negligence in the future).
There are many different scenarios that may lead to wrongful death, including:
- Intentional acts, such as murder or manslaughter
- Negligent driving, including driving while intoxicated, speeding, and careless driving
- Unsafe premises that result in falls down unsafe stairways or electrocutions from dangerous or faulty wiring
- Medical errors, including failure to diagnose, surgical error, prescribing unsafe medications, or other careless actions
- Dangerous products that cause harm, including vehicles and machinery that are manufactured with unsafe or faulty parts
Bear in mind that it is sometimes the case that a wrongful death claim, which is a civil tort, may be filed around the same time or after a criminal proceeding related to the death. Even if the at-fault party in the death is acquitted of criminal charges, the wrongful death claim can still proceed and very often will be successful since the burden of proof is not as great in civil court as it is in criminal court. One example of this is when professional athlete O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murder of his wife and her friend but was ordered to pay out a wrongful death claim by the families of the victims in that case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Close family members and heirs of the decedent can file a wrongful death claim under California law, with the goal being to compensate them for their losses incurred by the death of a loved one. Under state law, people who are entitled to file a wrongful death claim are those who would have been in line to inherit from the decedent if the decedent died intestate, which is to say, without a will. This includes:
- The wife or husband of the decedent or the decedent’s domestic partner (if the partnership was a registered one)
- Any living children of the deceased
- The children of any deceased children
If the deceased died unmarried and with no living children, then the siblings or other relatives of the decedent may file a claim. If the deceased had stepchildren that depended upon him/her for support, they can also file, as can any minor living with the deceased for longer than six months prior to the death and who received more than half of his/her support from the deceased.
Keep in mind that a survivorship claim may also be filed for survivors who do not fit the criteria above. Discuss your particular situation with our California wrongful death attorney to determine the merit of your case and what legal options are available to you during the distressing time.