Woman and Man at Funeral With Candles in the BackgroundThe most tragic car accident is one where a victim dies from their injuries. Unfortunately, this can happen when a negligent driver engages in unsafe driving practices, like speeding, talking on a cellphone or texting, driving when intoxicated, and more.

If a family member was killed in an auto crash, nothing can take away the grief and intense heartbreak you are feeling over the loss of your loved one. The pain can be even more intense if their death was caused by a negligent driver.

While nothing can bring your family member back, you can obtain a sense of justice and receive compensation for your loss from the at-fault motorist by filing a wrongful death claim with their insurance company. Our San Diego auto accident attorney explains how these actions work in California.

What Is a Wrongful Death Action in California?

In our state, wrongful death is caused by the negligence of an individual, business, or other entity. A wrongful death action is a civil claim to recover damages to compensate someone for the loss of their loved one. In some situations, the negligent party could also face separate criminal charges. 

Wrongful death claims are typically filed when the death is caused by the following:

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case?

Only certain people can pursue a claim for compensation if a family member dies in a car accident. They include:

  • The victim’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The victim’s surviving children
  • The victim’s grandchildren if their child is deceased

If there are no family members listed above, anyone who would be entitled to the victim’s property under California’s intestate succession laws can file a wrongful death action. This can include the deceased person’s parents or siblings. 

In addition, some individuals who were financially dependent on the decedent at the time of the crash can pursue a wrongful death claim. They include:

  • Putative spouse, which is someone who had a good faith but mistaken belief that they were married to the victim
  • Children of the putative spouse 
  • Stepchildren
  • Victim’s parents 
  • Legal guardian of the deceased, if the parents are deceased 

What Compensation Can You Recover in a Wrongful Death Action?

The types of compensation awarded in a wrongful death case are different than the ones an individual would seek for their injuries if they survived the auto collision. Types of damages that surviving family members can recover include:

  • Financial loss of household services provided by the victim
  • Anticipated financial losses of the surviving family member in the future
  • Loss of companionship, affection, relations, and emotional support from the deceased family member
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Spouse or partner’s loss of intimacy with their loved one
  • Loss of the victim’s guidance

In addition, the estate of the victim may have a separate claim against the negligent driver for other losses, such as the medical expenses incurred for their injuries before their death.

What Is the Statute of Limitations to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Under California law, wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within a certain deadline, called the statute of limitations. This time period is two years from the date of the victim’s death, which may be different than the date of the car accident. If a wrongful death civil lawsuit is not filed within the statute of limitations, surviving family members would lose their right to pursue their right to damages in court.

If you lost a loved one in an auto crash caused by a negligent driver, you need the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer to fight for the compensation you deserve. I am here to collect the evidence you need to win your case, negotiate your settlement, and file a wrongful death lawsuit if the insurance company refuses to treat you fairly.

Mark Blane
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San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer | California Car Accident Attorney