What constitutes wrongful death in California?

In California, as in most states, a wrongful death claim arises when one person dies due to the fault of another individual or entity including but not limited to negligence based accidents like motor accidents, medical malpractice and intentional acts such as elder abuse or assault. 

California’s wrongful death law allows the surviving family members or legal heirs to sue for damages when a person dies as the result of someone else’s wrongful act, whether the act was negligent, reckless or intentional. 

A claimant has two years from the date of the deceased persons passing to start a claim for wrongful death. 

The liable party’s insurance company is the entity that pays for a wrongful death lawsuit. If the liable party was uninsured, then they are personally responsible for paying any damages you receive.

The types of damages that can be awarded for wrongful death include economic damages such as  the value of financial support the victim would’ve otherwise contributed to his/her family over her or his lifetime; the cost of funeral services and burying the victim; and the value of gifts or benefits that the victim’s heirs and successors in interest would have realized, had the victim lived her or his expected lifetime. And non economic damages such as loss of companionship, pain and suffering.

wrongful death

How do you prove wrongful death in California?

For a defendant to be found guilty in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiffs will need to meet the same types of burden of proof required of the victim if the victim was still alive. There are four elements that are involved in a wrongful death case as defined by law. The surviving members who are filing a lawsuit or submitting a claim will have to prove each of these elements.


In wrongful death cases, we must prove that the death was caused either by part or in whole by the negligent actions of the defendant. Negligence basically means carelessness, so in order to prove someone was negligent then you need to prove they were careless.

Breach of Duty

In order to be successful in the case of wrongful death, your legal team will need to be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty to the victim. For example, motorists have the duty to drive safely and follow and obey traffic laws. Medical health providers and doctors have a duty to maintain a person’s health.


Additionally, to prove that the duty of the defendant was breached towards the victim, the plaintiff in the lawsuit will also be required to prove how the negligence of the defendant caused the death of their loved one. This can be done through medical records or accident reports.

wrongful death case


In order to prove a wrongful death case, the death of the victim will also need to generate quantifiable damages. This may include:

  • Hospitalizations
  • Medical expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Loss of income and/or potential earnings 
  • A loss of protection, guidance, or companionship
  • Pain and suffering of the victim before their death

If you believe that you may have a case for wrongful death then the expert wrongful death attorneys at Stalwart Law can help you.

* The articles provided on the Stalwart Law website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used as professional legal advice or as a substitute for legal consultation with a qualified attorney.  

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