What is wrongful death?

If one of your loved ones has passed away due to the negligence of someone in California, such as a doctor, a nursing home or a distracted driver, you may have a wrongful death action. Wrongful death also can be the result of malice, such as murder. In these cases, the civil action for wrongful death is completely separate from any criminal prosecution. It is not necessary that the perpetrator be convicted of a crime for you to be successful in your wrongful death suit.

As FindLaw.com explains, in a California wrongful death suit you are suing someone for monetary compensation for the loss of your deceased loved one. Of course, no amount of money can make up for your loss, but it can provide you with needed funds, especially if your loved one was the breadwinner in your family. It also may give you a sense of justice.

Who may file

You may file a wrongful death action if the deceased person was your spouse, domestic partner or parent or if you are someone who would have been entitled to inherit from the decedent had he or she died without leaving a will. You also may file such a suit if you were financially dependant upon the decedent or if you are a minor who resided with the decedent for at least six months prior to his or her death and were dependent on him or her for at least half of your support.

What you must prove

In California, you must prove the following four things to be successful in a wrongful death suit:

  1. A human being died.
  2. The death resulted from the negligent act(s) of someone or from the intent of that person to cause harm, but not necessarily death, to the decedent.
  3. You and/or other family members suffered financial injury because of the death.
  4. A personal representative has been appointed for the estate of the decedent.

Unlike in a criminal case where the alleged perpetrator must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, your wrongful death action is a civil case. The standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence that the person you are suing is liable for the financial damages suffered by you and/or others. This information is provided for educational purposes, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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