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What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Death Wrongful death is a civil claim that may be filed when a person’s death was caused by another’s wrongful acts or negligence. The claim is filed by the survivors of the person or by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. If the suit is successful, the court will order the wrongdoer to pay money damages to the deceased person’s survivors.

When Can You Bring a Claim?

A wrongful death suit may be brought whether or not there is also a criminal case. The person’s death, however, must have been the result of the negligence or wrongful actions of another. That negligence or act must have been a substantial factor or probable cause in the person’s death. For example, in a medical malpractice claim, if the victim was likely to die anyway, a wrongful death claim will probably not be successful.

A fetus is not a victim for wrongful death claim purposes until there has been a live birth. Additionally, justifiable homicide, such as killing another in self-defense, also does not qualify as a wrongful death.

Who May File?

In California, only certain people may file a wrongful death suit, including:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • A domestic partner;
  • Any surviving children or other descendants; or
  • If there are no surviving descendants, then anyone who would inherit the decedent’s property by intestate succession (e.g. parents, siblings, etc.).

If they can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased person, other parties can also bring a wrongful death claim, including:

  • A putative spouse, meaning the spouse of a void or voidable marriage made believing it was valid, and the putative spouse’s children;
  • Any stepchildren; or
  • The deceased’s parents.

Additionally, any minor who lived with the decedent for at least the past 180 days or was financially dependent on the deceased person may file a wrongful death claim.


Damages in wrongful death claims are different from regular personal injury damages, since the suit is not brought by the deceased person. Instead, it is brought by those who suffered as a result of the person’s death or to compensate the estate for losses caused by the death. Damages pertaining to the estate may include:

  • Funeral expenses;
  • Medical and hospital bills relating to the fatal injury or illness; and
  • Lost income.

Damages to compensate for suffering caused by a person’s death can include compensation for:

  • Loss of training and guidance;
  • Loss of financial support;
  • Loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations; and
  • Loss of love, emotional support, affection, attention, etc.
Statute of Limitations

Most wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of the death. Beyond that time, the parties lose the right to file. For medical malpractice claims, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury, or one year after the injured person discovered or should have discovered the injury, whichever comes first. If the claim is against the government, parties have six months to file.

The death of a loved one is difficult enough to bear without knowing that another’s actions caused that death. Though money damages cannot undo the wrong, an attorney can help you recover compensation for wrongful deaths caused by others. Do not hesitate to reach out to the experienced San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. today to discuss your potential case.

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