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A pair of family members grieving a loved one taken from them by wrongful death

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Losing a loved one is often a difficult, painful experience. When that loss is due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, however, it can be even more devastating.

In times such as these, you may feel powerless, but you’re not. There is a legal recourse that you can pursue. Wrongful death lawsuits that allow certain individuals to seek compensation for their losses, while holding accountable the parties responsible for said losses.

Who are these “certain individuals?” Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California? Who can’t? What criteria must be met? These are all important questions to consider before initiating a wrongful death lawsuit.

Fortunately, Kiesel Law has the answers. To help you make sense of the often confusing and challenging experience of pursuing wrongful death litigation, we’ve created this helpful guide. Here, you’ll find information about what a wrongful death lawsuit entails and how to initiate one, as well as the answer to the most important question: Who can bring a wrongful death claim in California?

Want to speak directly with one of the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Kiesel Law? We’re always here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation!

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Before diving into the eligibility criteria, it’s essential to understand what exactly a wrongful death lawsuit is. Simply put, wrongful death lawsuits are legal actions brought by the surviving family members or representatives of a deceased person against a party whose negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions caused the death.

One example of a potential wrongful death situation is if a person dies due to the use of a defective pharmaceutical product. In these and other cases, the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek compensation for the damages suffered as a result of the loss, including financial and emotional losses.

A lawyer explaining to a client who can bring a wrongful death claim in California

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

In California, the state’s wrongful death laws are governed by California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 et seq. These laws specify who can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Eligible parties include:

  • Immediate Family Members: Spouses, children, and parents of the deceased person are typically the first in line to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These individuals are presumed to be the most affected by the loss and are given priority in seeking compensation.
  • Domestic Partners: California law also allows registered domestic partners to file wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their deceased partner. This recognition reflects the importance of domestic partnerships in today’s society.
  • Financial Dependents: If a person was financially dependent on the deceased, they may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can include children, stepchildren, putative spouses (those who had a good faith belief that they were married to the deceased), and other individuals who relied on the deceased for financial support.
  • Personal Representatives: In cases where the deceased did not have immediate family members or dependents, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim. This representative is typically appointed in the deceased’s will or by the court if there is no will.

Who Can’t File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

While California law provides a framework for eligible parties to file wrongful death lawsuits, there are individuals who are not permitted to file such claims.

Ineligible parties include the following:

  • Distant Relatives: Distant relatives such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings who were not financially dependent on the deceased are generally not eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. California law prioritizes immediate family members and financial dependents in these cases. If a relative is not entitled to the deceased’s property under California’s laws on intestate succession, they cannot bring a wrongful death claim.
  • Friends and Non-Relatives: Friends, acquaintances, and individuals who had a personal relationship with the deceased but were not financially dependent on them typically cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.
  • Former Spouses: In most cases, former spouses who were legally divorced from the deceased at the time of death are not eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there are exceptions if there was a legal obligation, such as child support, that still existed.

It’s also worth noting that government entities, such as the state or federal government, are generally immune from wrongful death claims. There are some exceptions, but pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against a government entity can be complex and may involve additional legal requirements.

Close-up of a ticking clock, symbolizing the time limit for claiming wrongful death in California

What is the Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

It’s crucial to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Generally, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person’s death.

Failing to meet this deadline can result in the loss of the right to pursue a claim. That said, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when a loved one dies due to medical malpractice, in which case the time limit is three years.

Kiesel Law Can Help You Seek Justice for Wrongful Death

Wrongful death lawsuits are a legal avenue for seeking justice and compensation when a loved one’s death is caused by another party’s negligence or wrongdoing. Understanding who can bring a wrongful death claim in California is crucial for those facing the difficult decision of pursuing legal action during a time of immense grief.

If you believe you may have a valid wrongful death claim, you’re not alone. The experienced and knowledgeable attorneys at Kiesel Law are ready, willing, and able to guide you through the process. We’ll ensure your rights are protected so you can get the compensation you deserve.