Who Can Sue For A Wrongful Death in California?

Attorney and client reviewing paperwork

Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult experience. Regardless of your relationship with the deceased, it is only natural to want to learn more about your options and whether or not you are eligible to file a lawsuit. Read on to learn more about eligible parties who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in California, intestate succession, how to proceed with multiple eligible parties, and the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit in California.

Parties Who May Sue for a Wrongful Death

Parties eligible to sue due to wrongful death are outlined in the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 CCP, which is California’s wrongful death statute. These parties generally consist of people who were related to the deceased. Eligible parties include:

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner;
  • Children of the deceased; or
  • Grandchildren (if the children are also deceased)

In some cases, other people can be eligible as well, such as parties who were considered financially dependent on the person who is now deceased. This can include “putative spouses,” which is a term to describe individuals who believe “in good faith” that their marriage was valid. Parties can also include stepchildren or children of a putative spouse, minor children who lived with the deceased for at least 180 days before the incident, or parents or legal guardians of the deceased.

Intestate Succession in California

Wrongful deaths often happen unexpectedly, and without warning, so the deceased may not have a will in many cases. When the deceased does not have a will, living spouse, living children, or living grandchildren, California outlines a hierarchy of individuals to receive inheritance under its laws of intestate succession. This can extend eligibility to include previously excluded family members, such as siblings.

Remember that this information is specific to California, and laws will vary based on your state.

What Happens When There Are Multiple Eligible Parties?

As multiple people are often eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit for the same instance, it is important to recognize that California has a “one action rule.” In sum, all eligible parties must join together as multiple plaintiffs in the same lawsuit to prevent the defendant from being sued multiple times by different people.

For this reason, any eligible party who files a wrongful death lawsuit in California is also obligated to include all other known eligible parties in the lawsuit. In addition, any finances rewarded from the lawsuit will be given to all eligible parties and be split amongst themselves.

The process of identifying and including all known eligible parties and dividing a settlement can be extremely complicated. For this reason, it is important to consult with an attorney who is highly experienced with wrongful death lawsuits.

Pay Mind to Statute of Limitations

Once you have determined your eligibility as a party, understand your state’s statute of limitations. For example, in California, the standard statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is two years from the date of the death. Generally, once these two years have passed, it is safe to assume that a lawsuit may no longer be filed. However, there are limited exceptions to this rule, such as the “discovery rule,” which can apply to cases where the cause of death was not immediately known.

Discuss Your Options

If you are an eligible party, consider speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney. A personal injury skilled in handling wrongful death lawsuits can help make the best case and earn the compensation you deserve. Our lawyers have years of experience handling wrongful death lawsuits – give us a call at (213) 252-1070 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.