Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Lawsuit After A Car Accident In California?

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Matthew D. Easton - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Matthew D. Easton

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The heirs and close family members of the deceased may bring a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal car accident in California.

Specifically, these parties have the right to sue for wrongful death:

  • The deceased person’s spouse
  • The deceased person’s living children
  • The personal representative of the deceased’s estate
  • Stepchildren of the deceased if they depended on the deceased for support
  • Parents of the deceased if they depended on the deceased for support
  • The children of the deceased’s child if that child is no longer living
  • The deceased person’s siblings and other relatives if the deceased had no surviving children
  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse from a dissolved marriage if the spouse depended on the deceased for support
  • The domestic partner of the deceased if the partnership was legally registered
  • Any minor who depended on the deceased for at least half of the minor’s support and who lived with the deceased for 180 or more days prior to the death

Can Multiple Wrongful Death Lawsuits Be Brought For The Same Death?

No. In California, only one wrongful death lawsuit can be brought for a death, but multiple individuals can be part of the lawsuit, and the various plaintiffs may all have the same or different attorneys representing them.

What Is A Survivorship Claim?

A survivorship claim is separate from a wrongful death claim, but often these two claims are brought in the same lawsuit.

A survivorship claim can lead to compensation for various expenses that the deceased incurred prior to the death. If the death resulted from someone else’s negligent or reckless driving, a survivorship claim can lead to compensation for things like medical expenses, ambulance fees, and loss of earnings while the deceased was hospitalized. In certain, more rare circumstances, the survivorship claim may pursue punitive damages for any fraudulent or malicious conduct of the at-fault party leading to the accident. Having an attorney experienced in handling wrongful death and survivorship claims is crucial to determining what kinds of damages can be pursued in a given case.

The personal representative of the deceased’s estate can bring a survivorship claim, and any resulting compensation will go to the deceased’s estate. The personal representative then distributes the compensation to the deceased’s heirs.

Usually, expenses resulting from the death itself – funeral and burial expenses, for example – are included in the wrongful death claim rather than the survivorship claim.

The damages awarded in wrongful death claims are generally more substantial than damages awarded in survivorship claims, but both types of claims can lead to much-needed financial support for grieving family members.

Must the wrongdoer be convicted of a crime for me to bring a wrongful death lawsuit?

No. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, not a criminal prosecution. After a fatal car accident, the drunk, reckless, or negligent driver may be prosecuted for manslaughter or homicide, but a criminal conviction is not necessary for the family of the deceased to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. In fact, civil legal action in the form of a wrongful death claim may be the only way a grieving family can obtain the compensation they need for funeral expenses and other costs resulting from the death. In these cases, the importance of strong, skillful, and compassionate legal counsel cannot be overstated.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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