The loss of a loved one is a tragic event for any family to endure. California law allows those suffering from the unfortunate death of a loved one to seek compensation if it is discovered that the death was caused by the actions of another. No one’s life should be exterminated early, and those suffering that loss should be provided an opportunity for compensation based on the negligent and intentional acts of others. 

Moody Law has been representing clients and their families in wrongful death cases and other personal injury cases since 2019. For diligent and effective legal representation after the traumatic loss of a loved one, please get in touch with our office today. Our wrongful death lawyer can review your case information and provide a strategy to address your loved one’s tragic loss. 

What is Considered a Wrongful Death? 

A wrongful death occurs when a party or party’s actions or omissions cause another person’s death. Unlike criminal cases, where the party that has allegedly caused the death of another is held criminally culpable for the person’s death, a civil wrongful death suit provides the decedent’s surviving family members to obtain financial compensation for the person’s death. This allows families to regain some financial loss associated with the death of their loved one. 

All wrongful death claims contain three standard elements, regardless of the circumstances of the case. These elements include: 

  1. The wrongful death of a person due to the actions of another. 
  2. Evidence that shows the acts or omissions of another was directly related to the accident that led to the person’s death. 
  3. The surviving family and the decedent’s estate suffered monetary loss due to the decedent’s death. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Although certain factors must be considered when filing a wrongful death action, the most critical factor is the death of a person caused by the actions of another person or entity. Theoretically, any form of death that can be attributed to the acts or omissions of another would be considered a form of wrongful death. Nonetheless, many wrongful death actions are commenced after a finding that the person died due to one of the following causes. 

Automotive Accidents 

Most California wrongful death attorneys have handled automotive-related accidents throughout their practice. According to a study conducted by the California Highway Patrol, 3,438 traffic crashes resulted in a fatality, with 3,737 people killed. These are typically caused when one or more drivers fail to abide by the rules of the road, which can include speeding, failing to signal, disobeying traffic signs, engaging in distracting activities while driving, and using intoxicating substances.  

Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents 

Similar to automotive accidents, bicycle and pedestrian accidents are common in California. These accidents typically include a bicyclist or pedestrian tragically being hit by an operator of an automotive vehicle. 

Products Liability

Product liability is a legal theory that imposes civil liability on the creator or manufacturer of a commercial product or goods that has harmed a consumer. A wrongful death occurs in a product liability case when consuming or using a product. The three most common examples of products liability are outlined below: 

  • Design Defect: the fundamental design of a product causes harm to the consumer. 
  • Manufacturing Defect: an issue in the manufacturing process causes a defect in the product, which harms the consumer. 
  • Failure to Warn: the producer of the product failed to apply a warning label to the product to advise consumers of the product’s potential dangers. 

Some of the most common product liability cases include death caused by pharmaceutical companies that used toxic chemicals in their medication and failed to prevent contamination of medication used for humans properly. 

Premises Liability 

Premises liability occurs when an owner, controller, or lessee of a property fails to fix a defect in the property or fails to warn trespassers or patrons of the defect. Common examples of a premises liability case can include failing to secure an attraction that can cause harm to children (disassembling a trampoline to prevent neighborhood children from using it unsupervised) or failing to address a spill in a grocery store. 

Construction Accident 

Construction accidents can occur when the property owner or a hired developer/contractor fails to adequately secure equipment or address defects on the construction site. Common examples of construction accidents can include:

  • Falling equipment and materials.
  • Failing to prevent environmental issues.
  • Failing to secure proper permitting and oversight of the site. 
  • Failing to prevent unauthorized access to the job site. 

Animal Attacks and Other Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal concept that attributes all legal liability to one party based on a set of particular circumstances, regardless of the facts. One of the most common forms of strict liability is injuries that involve animals, scarce and exotic animals. Regardless of the circumstances, if a person is killed after exposure to an animal, the animal’s owner is held strictly liable for the person’s injury, including damages incurred from their death. 

Medical Malpractice 

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or other health care provider or facility fails to provide adequate care. Medical malpractice can happen when a doctor fails to properly diagnose an illness or track the use of medical devices during an operation properly. Medical malpractice can also occur in many nursing homes or assisted living facilities where the staff cannot provide adequate care resulting in neglect or abuse. 

Workplace Injury

In certain circumstances, an employee’s or independent contractor’s death at a job site could fall under a wrongful death action. In many cases, an employee’s initial injury is covered under workers’ compensation, but certain factors may allow the family to bring a wrongful death claim against the employee’s former employer.  

Intentional Act 

A wrongful death can occur when a person acts intentionally, maliciously, or with a callous disregard for human life. Types of acts that can lead to a wrongful death action can include: 

  • Murder. 
  • Manslaughter. 
  • Armed robbery. 
  • Home invasion. 
  • Kidnapping. 
  • Assault and battery. 

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Action? 

Not everyone related to or associated with the decedent can commence a wrongful death action to recover damages. Under Section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, the following family members and representatives may bring a civil wrongful death action against a responsible party or parties: 

  • Decedent’s surviving spouse
  • Decedent’s surviving domestic partner
  • Decedent surviving children 
  • Decedent’s surviving grandchildren if the decedent’s spouse and children are deceased 
  • Surviving stepchildren of the decedent, if the stepchild or step children could account for at least 50% of the financial support from the decedent
  • Legal guardians on behalf of the children or stepchildren 
  • Family members that have a claim to the estate of the decedent if the decedent died intestate (without an executed estate planning tool in place) 

Proving Wrongful Death in California

Most wrongful death claims arise from the same novel legal theory: negligence. Negligence occurs when a party or parties fail to adhere to a standard of duty of care prescribed to reasonably prudent people in the same or similar situations. This means that persons or entities conducting the same or similar activities must maintain a certain level of care. 

To prove negligence, a plaintiff must prove four individual factors, which include: 

  • Duty: did the defendant have a reasonable duty of care prescribed to them when engaging in such an activity?
  • Breach: did the defendant breach their prescribed duty of care? 
  • Causation: did the defendant’s actions or omissions cause the events that led to the plaintiff’s injury?
  • Damages: did the plaintiff suffer monetary loss as a result of the accident? 

What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Survival Action?

Not only can certain family members pursue a civil case against the party that caused their loved one’s death, but designated persons can also bring a separate action on behalf of damages incurred to the deceased person’s estate in a survival action. 

A survival action allows the deceased person’s estate to bring a civil action. Unlike a wrongful death action that seeks to compensate the surviving loved ones in light of the decedent’s abrupt and unforeseen absence, the survival action seeks explicit compensation for the damage caused to the heirs of the decedent’s estate. 

The representatives of an estate can seek compensation for two issues involved with the decedent’s death, including the monetary loss suffered by the estate beneficiaries and injuries incurred by the plaintiff for a short period between the time of the injury and their death. 

How Long Can A Plaintiff Wait to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

California law establishes a limit on the amount of time the family member of a loved that has recently died of an accident can file a wrongful death case, which is called a Statute of Limitations (SOL). SOLs are designed to prompt parties that have been subjected to some harm to pursue their case within a reasonable timeframe. 

Under typically wrongful death actions, a plaintiff has two years to file a claim against another party for wrongful death. Under survival actions, the plaintiff can file the action within two years of the date of the injury that led to the person’s death or six months after the person has died–depending on the circumstances of the case. 

Types of Damages Available in Wrongful Death Cases 

Unfortunately, no amount of money can bring back the absence of a loved one. Nonetheless, the purpose of any wrongful death lawsuit is to provide some compensation to the surviving family of the deceased. 

Damages are calculated by either looking at the decedent’s life expectancy at the time of their death or the life expectancy of the plaintiff bringing the suit–whichever is shorter. All compensatory damages awards, whether through a jury trial verdict or settlement amount, generally fall into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic Damages 

The first type of damages typically allowed in a wrongful death jury trial verdict or settlement is economic damages. Economic damages are the tangible costs related to the death of an individual, which can include the following: 

  • Calculation of the financial contribution the decedent brought and would have brought to the household, notably household income 
  • The decedent’s general value to the household can include contributions and services provided by the decedent (chores, errands, child-bearing, and child-rearing)
  • Calculation of any inheritance the decedent would have been eligible to obtain throughout their lifetime that is no more extended option due to their death 
  • Costs associated with the burial and interment of the decedent

Non-Economic Damages 

Non-economic damages are associated with the intangible costs of the decedent’s absence from the household. These can sometimes be difficult to quantify because they are subjective. Generally, these types of damages include: 

  • Loss of companionship 
  • Loss of consortium 
  • Loss of community engagement and civic participation
  • The physical and emotional stress is caused by the absence of a loved one
  • Pain and suffering damages incurred by the decedent in the period between the accident and their death

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are used as a form of punishment or deterrence based on the actions of a liable party. Punitive damages are generally prohibited in most wrongful death and personal injury cases. Nonetheless, there are two exceptions to the rule. 

First, punitive damages are allowed if the person that caused the decedent’s death is convicted of felony murder. Many states provide an exception for acts that are intentional, malicious, or callous in nature. However, California’s only exception is whether the wrongdoer is charged and convicted of murder. 

The only other way a plaintiff may recover punitive damages from the wrongdoer is through a survival action, which is outlined above. Survival actions can only be brought via the decedent’s estate.  

Proceeding with a Wrongful Death Claim

All wrongful death claims start once it becomes clear that a decedent did not die from natural causes. Every family or estate should consider contacting an experienced California wrongful death attorney when they suspect their loved one was killed because of the actions of another. Below is a summary of what to expect during a wrongful death claim case. 

Fact Investigation

During and after the initial consultation, an attorney will conduct a fact-finding investigation to determine the circumstances that led to a person’s death. This includes the collection of documentation and interviewing witnesses and other involved parties to the case. The attorney is determining what the ultimate cause of the death was and whether the death can be attributed to the actions of another. 

Pre-Trial Litigation 

If it becomes clear that the person died because of the negligent, reckless, malicious, or intentional acts of another, the wrongful death attorney can file a lawsuit on their client’s behalf. The case will be filed using a complaint that will briefly list the factual and legal claims being made against the defendant. The defendant will also be served notice of the lawsuit. 

Once filed, both sides will commence filing motions to address factual, legal, and procedural issues with the case. During pre-trial litigation, both sides will also engage in the discovery process to trade relevant documentation and other evidence surrounding the case. The parties will also depose eyewitnesses and other key parties to explain the circumstances that led to the person’s death. 

Wrongful Death Trials 

Once the pre-trial litigation has concluded, the parties will commence preparing for trial, which includes filing motions about the introduction and exclusion of specific evidence, jury selection, and other procedural matters. During the trial, both parties will conduct opening statements, examine and cross-examine witnesses, introduce physical and document evidence, and issue closing statements at the end of the trial. 

Once the trial concludes, the jury or judge assigned to preside over the matter will rule on the facts and issue a verdict or opinion on the matter. The parties will have a chance to file additional motions and preserve objections on specific rulings made at the trial for a possible appeal. 


Settlement is a vital part of any wrongful death action because it is more likely than not that the matter will settle before trial. Throughout the pre-trial litigation and up until the eve of the trial, the parties will engage in regular discussion about possible settlements. Many families, including those filing wrongful death actions, understandably want justice for the death of their loved ones. Nonetheless, trials often present unique problems for one side or the other that prompt serious settlement discussions. 

In reality, trials present a certain level of uncertainty for both the parties involved and their legal counsel. It is an attorney’s job to zealously advocate for their client. However, sometimes a client’s best interest is to settle a compensation claim rather than risk losing their case at trial. 

If parties agree to settle, the defendant’s insurance provider will likely cover the cost of the settlement either by direct payment to the plaintiff or via reimbursement after the defendant has paid the plaintiff–either the family members bringing the wrongful death claim or the estate depending on the type of action. In most cases, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not consider settlements from wrongful death cases as a form of taxable income. 

Contact a Wrongful Death Accident Lawyer Today

Moody Law provides effective legal representation to our clients that have recently suffered a traumatic loss of a family member due to wrongful death. To learn more about services or request a consultation, please utilize our online form to contact us today.