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What is a wrongful death lawsuit in California?

In most cases of personal injury, the victim sues the responsible party for compensation to cover the financial consequences of the accident. What happens, however, if the person does not survive? Can someone else sue by proxy?

The answer is yes, though the process is not the same as for a normal personal injury case. Instead, a surviving member of the victim's family can open a wrongful death lawsuit to seek damages.

What constitutes wrongful death?

According to California law, wrongful death happens due to someone else's wrongful actions or negligence and falls under the category of a civil suit (as opposed to a criminal case due to homicide and other related acts). Common causes of wrongful death claims include motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, unsafe premises, defective products and workplace accidents.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?

The people who may qualify to sue include the following:

  • Spouse or registered domestic partner
  • Children or step-children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Anyone who is a beneficiary of the estate

Who is eligible depends on the decedent's familial and financial circumstances, and the estate must also have representation. The statute of limitations for filing a claim is two years.

What happens in a wrongful death case?

First, the family (or plaintiff) must hire an attorney, who will pursue an investigation to gather all the information and evidence surrounding the death and deal with the insurance companies. Upon the plaintiff's court submission of the complaint, the responsible party (or defendant) must reply within a certain time frame. Both parties will go through the discovery process, which entails accessing and reviewing each other's evidence. The parties may try to work out a settlement, or the case may go to trial or arbitration. Appeals may also be a possibility.

What damages are available for recovery?

The family may receive compensation for the deceased's medical bills, funeral costs and lost income. They may also obtain damages for the loss of financial support and companionship. Any additional awards depend on the specifics of the case.

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