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Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

by Jeffrey Travis Roberts on Feb. 11, 2019

Accident & Injury Wrongful Death Accident & Injury  Personal Injury 

Summary: When does a family member have the right to file a wrongful death claim?

Only persons named in California’s Code of Civil Procedure may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. While a surviving spouse and children may bring a claim, some of the rules pertaining to this are very complicated. In addition, California operates under a “one action rule” which means that all possible claimants must join together to form a single wrongful death lawsuit. This is done so that a responsible party does not need to defend against several possible legal actions.

A Wrongful Death Must Be Shown to Be Caused by a Wrongful Act or Negligence

In California, attaching negligence means attached a responsible party to the act and showing that they were a substantial factor or a probable cause of the victim’s death. While this concept might be easy to prove if a person is killed as a result of being struck by a drunk driver, it gets fuzzy in other wrongful death cases.

For example, in a wrongful death medical malpractice suit, if the decedent’s chance of survival was estimated to be less than 50% or less prior to the negligent or wrongful act taking place, then it can be proven that the health care professional did not cause the death. As such, claims of this kind stand a much greater chance of being successful.

Other Types of Deaths that Are Not Actionable in California

Under wrongful death laws, the California Supreme Court has made several rulings about what is an actionable wrongful death and what is not.

The death of an unborn child or fetus is not actionable. The court ruled that “a fetus is not a person within the meaning of our wrongful death statute until there has been a live birth.”

A justifiable homicide is not actionable. For example, if a person is killed while they are committing a felony, perhaps during an armed robbery or burglary, then the courts have ruled a victim’s family may not bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

Suicides may be actionable if it can be shown that the responsible party had a duty of care to the victim and that their actions or inactions were proved to be a substantial factor in the cause of the suicide.

Obviously, rules and laws concerning wrongful death lawsuits are complicated, and it is best to consult with an experienced wrongful death lawsuits attorney in Anaheim as soon as possible to help you best decide what legal options you may pursue.

Roberts Law Firm serves clients in the California cities of Newport Beach, Orange, Santa Ana, Irvine, Anaheim, and Riverside as well as serving clients throughout Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

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