Wrongful Death


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In California, Wrongful Death is a lawsuit for the dependents of a loved one for the personal losses they have suffered as a result of that loved one’s death.  It is not a lawsuit that looks at the pain and suffering suffered by the one that passed away, it looks at the losses the dependents of the individual now suffer. In California, the basis for the right to bring a Wrongful Death suit is controlled by statute, specifically California Code of Civil Procedure §377.60.
In order to recover in a Wrongful Death suit, two elements must be satisfied:

  1. The death of the person must have been caused by the “wrongful act or neglect of another.” (The statute covers the negligent act of another and homicide); and
  2. The suit must be brought by those who have standing. Standing in the legal sense means eligibility. The statute defines who is eligible.

Who is Eligible?

  1. The Decedent’s Personal Representative;
  2. The Surviving Spouse, Children, and the children of deceased children;
  3. Domestic Partners: defined in the Section 297(a) of the Family Code – “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.”
  4. Those who would be entitled to decedent’s property by intestate succession- assuming there are not surviving heirs listed above.
  5. Putative Spouse: A putative spouse is one who legitimately believed they were a legal spouse, but in reality the marriage was not legal;
  6. Parents – if they can show they were financially dependent;
  7. Step-Children – even if they were not formally adopted by the deceased;
  8. Other Minors – if they can show they lived with the deceased for the 180 days prior to death and the deceased provided at least 50% of the minors support.

As long as the lawsuit is brought by an eligible party, and the cause of death was due to negligence or it was intentional, a valid Wrongful Death claim is established. Under California Code of Civil Procedure §377.61, the amount damages potentially recoverable are as stated:
“damages may be awarded that, under all the circumstances of the case, may be just.”

Potential damages include the amount of money that was currently being provided by the deceased and the amount that could reasonably be expected in the future as well as damages for the loss of comfort, care, protection and consortium. The latter damages will be in the discretion of the jury to decide, an expert witness can help establish the amount of future financial benefits that could reasonably have been expected, specifically an economist or an expert in the deceased’s occupation.

This is sensitive subject, and this website is attempting to explain the law of a Wrongful Death action. That is the focus of the website, but that does not mean we are not sympathetic to the underlying realities of this situation. Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer Michael Rehm offers its condolences to anyone who is viewing this website after losing a loved one.

For more information on how the law applies, and other causes of actions that can be brought in conjunction with a Wrongful Death suit, call (916) 476-9781 to speak directly to Sacramento Wrongful Death Attorney Michael Rehm.