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What Is a Civil Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A family member getting injured or dying is already bad enough because the family has to deal with the complex emotions associated with both. However, things get even worse when they die due to the actions of another person or entity. It is understandable for families to want the responsible party to be held accountable and to be compensated for their loss. One way of doing both is filing a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

What is a Civil Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit, meaning the defendant can also face criminal charges after the lawsuit. A death is considered wrongful when it happens due to the actions of another. They can also occur when a party does not uphold their duty of care to another. A great example of this is a doctor who ignores a patient’s symptoms and the patient later passes away due to their injuries or illness.

You should also know that each state defines wrongful death slightly differently and has different statutes of limitations, and the amount of time you have to file the suit. The statute of limitations for filing wrongful death lawsuits in California is two years. This means family members should contact a wrongful death lawyer in California as soon as possible to start the process.

The best wrongful death lawyers also help families unearth the evidence they need to strengthen their cases, establish liability, and get the compensation they deserve. They can help them get medical records, police records, surveillance camera footage, eyewitness statements, and other evidence pertinent to the suit.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

You should know if you are legally allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit before contacting a wrongful death law firm. The California Code of Civil Procedures outlines who can sue, and the judge will deny any claims made by people not on the list.

Surviving Spouses

A surviving spouse can file a claim for the death of a loved one. California defines a spouse as someone legally married to the deceased at the time of their death. However, there is an exception.

California law also allows putative spouses to file. A putative spouse is a person who entered into an invalid marriage that they thought at the time was valid. However, the circumstances surrounding this marriage mean it was null or nullable.

Putative spouse situation often arises in the case of bigamy where a person marries two people. It can also arise in situations where a person did not ensure their divorce was finalized before remarrying. In this situation, their first marriage is still legal, so their second one cannot be.

Domestic Partners

Domestic partners registered as such under California Law can also file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Children and Grandchildren

The decedent’s children and stepchildren can also file a wrongful death. The rights of a putative spouse also extend to their children, so any children they had with the decedent can also file a wrongful death lawsuit. Before filing, talk to the best wrongful death lawyers and explain your situation. They will then file the suit correctly, noting you as the child of a putative spouse married to the deceased.

Sometimes, the victim’s children might have died, which makes their grandchildren able to file the suit instead.


The decedent’s parents and legal guardians can also file a wrongful death claim.

Filing as a Minor

California law allows minors to bring a wrongful death suit. However, they must have lived in the victim’s household for at least 180 days before their passing. They must have depended on the deceased for at least half their life.

They are also allowed to file if they depended on the decedent for over half their life. This happens in cases where an adult takes care of a child and then later passes away.

Wrongful Death Alongside Personal Injury

Many people do not know that they can also file a personal injury case before, during, or after a wrongful death lawsuit. Because these are civil cases, double jeopardy does not apply as it would in criminal cases. However, contact a wrongful death attorney in California first if you want to file concurrent lawsuits so they can show you how to do it correctly.

Whether you file a wrongful death lawsuit or one alongside a personal injury one, you must prove negligence. This means showing that the defendant had some duty of care to the defendant and that they did not uphold it. Wrongful death lawyers CA can also show that the defendant’s actions caused an injury that led to their death.

Criminal Trials

As mentioned, the state can pursue a case against the defendant even when they are fighting a wrongful death lawsuit. Because these are separate cases, a jury can find the defendant responsible for the victim’s murder even if they are found not guilty in their criminal case.

It can also be frustrating to learn that some traffic accidents do not meet the threshold of wrongful death or crimes because they are deemed as accidents. This means the defendant might not face criminal prosecution in such situations, leaving the family with only the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Other situations that can lead to wrongful death lawsuits and/or criminal charges include:

  • Product liability – A defective product that causes death provides grounds for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. However, they are often more likely to end up as part of a class action lawsuit because defective products typically lead to multiple deaths
  • Workplace accidents – A breach of an employee’s duty of care to employees can lead to workplace accidents that cause wrongful death
  • Medical malpractice – Medical malpractice remains one of the most common reasons for wrongful death suits. The reason many people do not hear about these cases is that they are settled quickly out of court to protect doctors and hospitals

A loved one’s death is one of the most devastating things one can face. The pain and grief can be worse if their death is due to the actions of another. You have the right to file a lawsuit to get compensated for your loss, and there are wrongful death lawyers in California such as ourselves standing by to help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys today to get the process started.