When someone’s actions cause the death of another person, whether it’s an act of negligence or malice, surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim to recover compensation for their loss. In California, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent's death.
In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff must prove the existence of the following elements:
- A person died
- The death was caused by either another party’s negligence or intent to cause harm
- Surviving family members are suffering financial hardships as a result of the death
- A personal representative of the decedent's estate has been appointed
Wrongful death, similar to other civil claims, only requires a “preponderance of the evidence” in determining liability. The deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, surviving children, or anyone who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession can bring a wrongful death claim.
Damages available in a wrongful death claim include:
- Expenses related to medical bills for the care of the deceased person right before his or her death
- Expenses related to funeral, burial, etc.
- Lost income, including potential income the deceased individual would reasonably have been expected to make in the future had he or she lived
- Loss of companionship, affection, etc.
- Loss of financial support