In California, a wrongful death typically refers to the death of a person that is caused by the actions or negligence of another person. This is a civil lawsuit filed by one or more people who were related to the deceased and is separate from any criminal charges filed by the state against someone. The results of a criminal case can potentially strengthen a civil wrongful death suit, but they are otherwise completely separate. Family members can typically file a claim in California for a loved one.
California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 sets forth precisely who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim in the state. It begins by establishing that the claim may be filed by the deceased person’s spouse, domestic partner, and surviving children. This is pretty straightforward and makes sense. If someone is killed by the negligence of a driver under the influence of marijuana, a narcotic or alcohol, for example, then the deceased’s wife or husband can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver.
If there is no surviving person in a line of descent from the deceased, in other words, no one such as a wife or child, then a suit can be brought by anyone who is entitled to the deceased party’s property under “intestate succession.” This refers to the parents and siblings of the deceased, even if he or she was an adult, so long as the party is entitled to property from the deceased. This is why the parents of Ron Goldman were able to file a wrongful death civil suit against O.J. Simpson.
The Civil Code also allows for certain other people to file a claim if they can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased person. Specifically, it allows for stepchildren and parents who were financially dependent on the deceased to file a lawsuit. There is also a provision that the “putative spouse” and his or her children who were financially dependent can file a claim. The law defines a putative spouse as someone who was in a void or voidable marriage with the deceased but who believed that the marriage was valid.
In most cases there is a two-year statute of limitations within which a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed. If a government entity is responsible, the time limit to file a claim may be as short as six months, and the statute of limitations may be substantially shorter than two-years. In other cases, there may be a one year statute of limitations. It is important for parties who have the right to file do so as soon as possible. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of someone else and want to file a wrongful death lawsuit, contact a wrongful death attorney at the Law Office of Renee J. Nordstrand today at (805) 962-2022. We can discuss your case and help you understand your time deadlines and options.