Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Lawsuit In California?
When someone is injured by the negligent act of a third party, they can file a personal injury lawsuit to seek monetary damages. Of course, if the victim is actually killed as a result of the negligent act, they can no longer take such action. But California law does permit certain heirs and family members to pursue their own legal remedy known as a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Rights of Spouses, Children, and Other Heirs of a Deceased Victim
A wrongful death lawsuit is a special type of personal injury claim recognized by California law. But not just anyone can sue for wrongful death. Section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedure determines who has the legal right–known as standing–to bring such a claim. Those with standing include:
- the victim’s spouse or domestic partner;
- the victim’s children, or the issue of any deceased children (i.e., the victim’s grandchildren);
- any minor children who were dependent on the victim for at least half of their financial support; for example, a stepchild who lived with the victim;
- anyone else who would be entitled to inherit the victim’s property under California’s intestate succession law.
It should be noted that merely being in a close or dating relationship with the victim is not sufficient to confer standing in a wrongful death case. But there are situations where someone may be able to assert standing as a “putative spouse.” This refers to a person who had a good faith but mistaken belief that they were lawfully married to the deceased.
To give one hypothetical example of how this situation might arise, say John and Susan were married in what they both thought was a legal ceremony. But it later turned out that John’s divorce from his first wife was not final at the time of the ceremony. This means that John committed bigamy as a matter of law when he married Susan, rendering their marriage legally voice (or voidable). If John is subsequently killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, Susan could still assert her standing as putative spouse, even if she was not technically married to John at the time.
Another thing to understand about wrongful death lawsuits in California is that the personal representative (executor) of the victim’s estate may actually file and pursue the lawsuit on behalf of all persons with standing. This often makes it easier to coordinate cases where there are multiple heirs, Any damages obtained are then distributed to all of the heirs. In many wrongful death cases, the parties are able to reach a financial settlement, which will specify how much each heir will receive and on what terms.
Speak with a California Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
A wrongful death lawsuit certainly cannot bring back a loved one who has been lost. But a successful lawsuit or settlement can help bring family members a measure of financial security after suddenly and unexpectedly losing a family member due to negligence. If you have additional questions and would like to speak with an experienced Monterey wrongful death attorney, contact the Allen Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation.