Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

wrongful death lawyer orange county

It is heartbreaking losing someone you love, especially if the death was caused by someone else’s actions. It is arduous if you are now left alone to care for your young children. Can you file suit against the people or entity responsible for your loved one’s premature death? Yes.


Wrongful death claims in California occur when a person dies as a result of a wrongful act (intentional or reckless) or negligence of another person or entity (defendant). Code Civ. Proc. § 377.60. It is a civil lawsuit brought by the deceased person’s (decedent) surviving family or personal representative against the defendant for reasons similarly asserted in a personal injury case. The wrongful death claim may be filed concurrent with the defendant’s criminal case.


In California, the following people related to the decedent are permitted to file a wrongful death claim:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Domestic partner – the decedent and domestic partner must have a registered domestic partnership
  • Children
  • If dependent on the decedent, then the:
    • Putative spouse – surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who believed in good faith that the marriage was valid
    • Children of the putative spouse
    • Stepchildren
    • Parents
  • A minor who resided with the decedent for at least 180 days prior to the decedent’s death and was dependent on the decedent for at least a half of the minor’s support
  • Personal representative of the decedent’s estate (e.g. executor or administrator)


As with any lawsuit, you must prove that you have a legally protectable stake or interest, called standing or locus standi, to file the wrongful death claim. A wrongful death lawyer in Orange County explains that you must prove that you have one of the permitted relationships with the decedent to file suit. Proof may be beget by:

  • Legal documents of marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Birth certificate showing you are the child of the decedent and/or surviving spouse.
  • Legal document granting you as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
  • Witness testimony, including your own, about your relationship with the decedent.


The defendant’s fault is solely expressed in money damages for economic and non-economic losses. The damages (or compensation) are typically divided between the estate for losses associated with the death and the surviving family members for the personal losses they suffered as a result of the death.

Estate’s losses: 

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical and hospital bills for the decedent’s final illness or injury
  • Lost income, including potential income that the decedent would reasonable have been expected to earn in the future had the decedent lived
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering prior to death

Surviving family member’s losses: 

  • Value of household services
  • Loss of anticipated financial support
  • Loss of love, community, attention, affection, moral support and guidance.

Damages do not include the loss or damage the decedent sustained or incurred prior to death or any punitive or exemplary damages the decedent would have been entitled to. Code Civ. Proc. § 377.61.


Every civil action has a time limit where plaintiffs must file suit or the action ceases to exist. This is called the Statute of Limitations. A wrongful death attorney in Orange County cautions that you have two years from the date of the decedent’s death to file a wrongful death claim in California.


It is stressful trying to battle against the wrongdoers to obtain must needed monetary compensation for the loss of a loved one. Our attorneys can evaluate your claim, determine the best course of action, and if necessary, assist you with your wrongful death claim so that you can focus on your family and coping with the unexpected loss. Contact a skilled and experienced wrongful death lawyer Orange County with Russell & Lazarus APC at (800) 268-9228.

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