Hi, my name is David Gammill — injury lawyer.
Over 190,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of wrongful death incidents annually. The period after losing a loved one can be characterized by serious emotional distress and financial hardship. If the death was a result of the legal fault of another party, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit for recovery of damages. However, the person filing the suit must be qualified to do so. So, exactly who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California?
Here’s what you need to know.
Simply put, a wrongful death lawsuit is a claim filed by the immediate family members of the deceased against a person or entity who could be held liable for the death of their loved one. The lawsuit allows surviving family members to recover damages for their loss. To file a successful claim, you need to prove that:
Before pursuing damages following the death of your loved one, you need to know who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, this right is reserved for immediate family members because they are usually the most affected by the victim’s death. In California, there are several people who are allowed to file a suit. Below are the individuals who are eligible as plaintiffs, listed in order of priority.
If the deceased person was legally married at the time of their death, the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner will have the primary right to file a wrongful death claim. However, the surviving spouse may be denied the right to prosecute the case by the court if they are deemed not legally competent. The party may also choose to waive their right of priority.
If there is no surviving spouse, the surviving children of the decedent can file a lawsuit. This includes biological children, fully adopted children, and stepchildren. If the children are minors, the court will appoint a guardian to file and pursue a wrongful death claim on their behalf. Grandchildren may also file a suit if the decedent’s children are deceased.
Minors who lived with the deceased may have a right to seek compensation even if they are not legal children. However, these minors must have lived in the household for at least six months. In addition, they must have been dependent on the deceased for care and relied on the decedent for at least half of their financial support.
Parents who can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased have a right to bring a claim. Also, in the case that the deceased is a minor or unmarried with no children, the right of priority to pursue a claim will pass to their surviving parents.
If none of the above family members survives the deceased, individuals entitled to inherit from the decedent according to California intestate succession laws have a right to file a suit. In order of priority, the eligible plaintiffs are parents (irrespective of dependency), siblings or children of departed siblings, grandparents, and finally, children of any spouse who passed away.
In cases where none of the relatives entitled to the deceased’s property is available, any of the victim’s next of kin will be eligible to file a wrongful death suit.
Oftentimes, there are numerous people who are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it can be difficult for one lawyer to represent all the plaintiffs without conflict. In such a case, claimants can consider having a personal representative of the decedent’s estate file a single action on behalf of all the parties in interest. This will help to simplify the case. The settlement will then be distributed in line with the California wrongful death statute.
If you believe your loved one’s death was due to someone else’s negligence, consult a California wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. According to the California statute of limitations on wrongful death, a claim must be filed within two years of the victim’s death. If you do not file a claim within the stipulated period of time, you could lose your right to pursue financial compensation.
Now that you know who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, you will be in a better position to ensure your case is handled properly. However, wrongful death cases can be very complex. Consider hiring a dedicated lawyer to handle the lawsuit. This legal expert will negotiate on your behalf and represent you in court if necessary to ensure you obtain sufficient compensation. Call today for a free case review.