A wrongful death action is a lawsuit in which someone who has lost a loved one seeks financial compensation if they died because of negligence or deliberate action by another party. This type of action is separate and independent of any criminal case that may be pursued against the same defendant arising from the same misconduct or maliciousness that caused the death of the loved one.
You can obtain compensation from a successful wrongful death action even if the person you are suing has been convicted in a criminal case in which he was charged for causing your loved one’s death.
Your wrongful death lawsuit can proceed in civil court and conclude successfully with or without a conviction of the defendant in criminal court. Also, the civil wrongful death action can be brought up against the person who directly caused the death or a corporation that is deemed responsible for the death.
California no longer provides immunity for family members who cause injuries or death to others in the family. This means that you can sue a family member for the death of a loved one if you choose.
However, keep in mind that many auto insurance policies or even homeowners policies have family exclusion clauses. Since insurance companies are the ones providing the compensation for wrongful death claims (in the large majority of situations), you cannot collect compensation if the insurance company will not cover harm caused by a family member. A wrongful death lawyer can review your policy and advise you on your options.
California law recognizes only certain individuals as having the right to bring wrongful death action:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- The domestic partner of the decedent
- The surviving children of the decedent, whether adopted or biological
- The “putative spouse” who is financially dependent on the decedent
- The stepchildren who are financially dependent on the decedent
- The parents who are financially dependent on the decedent
If the decedent has no next of kin or survivor, a wrongful death action may be brought by any person entitled to the decedent’s estate under California’s “intestate succession” laws, or the state’s hierarchy of rules on how to distribute property to a person’s next of kin should the person die without a will.
Wrongful death claims can arise from any number of accidental deaths, in addition to intentional acts such as assault. The most common accidents that often lead to wrongful death actions in California include the following:
- Automobile accidents
- Unsafe or defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Premises accidents
Wrongful death lawsuits can be extremely challenging and complex to prove, and defendants, especially insurance companies, put up stiff defenses because the financial stakes are often high. For this reason, if you believe you have a wrongful death case involving the death of a loved one, an experienced Pomona wrongful death lawyer can help guide you through this complex process.