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Wrongful death is defined as the death of an individual arising from the wrongful act or negligence of another.

In the state of California, a wrongful death affords the victim’s surviving family the opportunity to bring a civil suit to seek damages from the responsible party. The defendant in a wrongful death case, the alleged responsible party, can be a person, business or other type of organization. There are many types of organizations that can be sued for wrongful death, and even more ways that a person can leave this world before their time, resulting in a multitude of laws that could affect your specific case.

Below you will find information on wrongful death laws that apply in most cases. We would like this to serve as a starting point for individuals interested in securing information on the process. Keep in mind that it is very important to act quickly, please consult a personal injury attorney immediately following a suspicious injury or death.


Understanding who can bring suit in a personal injury situation is fairly obvious; the individual who was hurt requires compensation for medical bills and other damages, and thus will be the individual who is afforded the right to bring suit. When dealing with a wrongful death suit however, the situation is not as clear. The individual who sustained the injury (and subsequently died as a result) will, for obvious reasons, no longer be capable of bringing suit. That individual is known as the decedent, and the responsibility for bringing suit generally falls with the decedent’s surviving family. In certain situations, suit can be brought by a non-family member.

Below is a list of parties that are eligible to bring a wrongful death suit in California:

  • Surviving Spouse or Domestic Partner
  • Children
  • Putative Spouse – defined as a person who cohabitated with another to whom they entered into marriage in good faith, but for some legal flaw (such as the existence of a prior marriage) the marriage was actually invalid
  • A minor that is not the decedent’s child if that minor had legally resided in the decedents home for 180 days and was dependent on the decedent for at least half of their support
  • The decedent’s personal representative on behalf of those authorized to bring the suit

If you have specific questions about wrongful death laws in California, contact our personal injury attorney for free consultation about wrongful death and other injuries.

Statute of Limitations

There are three main statutes of limitations to consider regarding wrongful death claims in California, and they differ mainly by the type of defendant in the case.

  • Calif. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1 – Suing parties have 2 years from the date of the act/injury that caused death to bring suit.
  • Calif. Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.5 – If the wrongful death was associated with healthcare provider negligence (also known as medical malpractice), suing parties will have three years from the date of injury, or one year from the date the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered the injury, whichever occurs first.
  • If the wrongful death was caused by a public entity, it will be also be governed by the statute of limitations set forth in the California Tort Claims Act. The act requires that any party file a claim with the proper authority within 6 months of the injury/act that caused the wrongful death.

The statute of limitations listed above are also affected by what is called the “Discovery Rule”. The discovery rule is applied in situations in which the cause of death was not immediately attributed to a single event, and will reset the beginning of the statute of limitations period to coincide with the day the causal relationship was discovered, or reasonably should have been discovered. As an example, imagine an individual who goes to the hospital for a surgery, and a mistake is made that leads to the individual’s death 6 months later. Surviving family members may not immediately realize that the death was caused by the surgery. In this scenario, the statute of limitations would begin when the plaintiffs discovered the surgical mistake to have been the cause of death.

Speak With A Personal Injury Attorney About Your Wrongful Death Questions

Contact our Sacramento personal injury attorney to discuss your wrongful death concerns. We offer a free initial consultation where you can get honest answers to your questions and learn more about your rights in these matters. Please call (916) 357-6767 or send us an email to schedule an appointment.

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