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Basics of Wrongful Death Cases in California

wrongful death

Personal injury incidents are never pleasant events, and neither are they always events from which the victim can walk away. Some personal injury accidents result in fatal injuries to the victim, most often the result of head trauma, spinal cord injuries, falls, and/or blood loss from cuts, lacerations, and/or amputations. When a fatal personal injury case is believed to be caused by the careless actions of another, that case may be referred to as a “wrongful death” case.

Wrongful death cases are especially tragic given that not only has an individual lost his or her life, but the decedent’s surviving family members must find a way to forge ahead while dealing with their grief and a litany of unanticipated expenses. While a successful wrongful death case will not undo the decedent’s fate or erase the surviving family’s grief, it can help the surviving family members to obtain monetary damages to assist them in meeting their financial challenges.

Three Things You Need to Know About Wrongful Death Cases in California

Wrongful death lawsuits can be quite complex and differ in several important regards from a “typical” personal injury case. Be aware that a wrongful death lawsuit in California must:

  • Be brought within (at most) two years of the decedent’s death. The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is typically the same as that for personal injury lawsuits. In some instances it can be as little as 6 months, but normally cannot be brought beyond 2 years. If the wrongful death arises out of medical negligence, then California’s medical malpractice statutes apply, bringing with them a variety of different time limits, normally no more than 1 year.  The intricacies of the laws surrounding these time limits are why you should not delay after the death of a loved one.  If you fail to file your case in time, your case will likely be dismissed.
  • Be filed by a qualified family member. Only the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner, children, or other close relations may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Parents and stepchildren can only file a wrongful death suit if they were financially dependent upon the decedent. If there are no qualifying relations who can bring a wrongful death suit, then anyone who would receive the decedent’s property under the laws of intestate succession can bring the suit.
  • Be prosecuted on behalf of the decedent and the surviving family. That is, wrongful death lawsuits should seek to compensate the surviving family members not only for the losses the decedent incurred before death (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) but also for the losses the surviving family members themselves experience (loss of the decedent’s company and presence, funeral and burial expenses, etc.). A monetary damages award from a wrongful death case may not be sufficient if it does not take into account both sets of losses.

Seek Professional and Compassionate Assistance with Your Wrongful Death Claim

Heiting & Irwin, your Riverside wrongful death attorneys, are available to assist and guide you following the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. We are compassionate but zealous advocates: We will pursue compensation for your family through skilled advocacy and representation. Contact us as soon as possible following your loved one’s death so we can begin the process of investigating and opening your claim. Call us at (951) 682-6400, or contact us online today for prompt assistance.


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