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What Are the Steps of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

April 14, 2021 Posted In

An accident can occur in the blink of an eye, but the effects can last for a lifetime. The death of a loved one at the hands of another at-fault individual often goes beyond grief, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering. While no amount of money can replace a family member, a successful wrongful death lawsuit can offer justice and help cover costs related to lost wages, medical expenses, funerals, and other losses.

A wrongful death lawsuit, in simple terms, is a legal means to pursue justice for a deceased loved one and obtain compensation for your family’s losses. Of course, dealing with the minutiae and stress of a lawsuit can be difficult for those who must endure the loss of a loved one. It’s crucial, in this case, to have an experienced and sympathetic wrongful death lawyer who understands the effect that this can have on a family. Here’s some info about how wrongful death lawsuits work in California.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

California’s wrongful death law—which is stated in the Code of Civil Procedure 377.60—allows surviving family members to sue for damages when a person dies as a result of another individual’s wrongful act, whether that act was negligent, reckless, or intentional. However, before you can pursue a case for recovery, it’s important to note California’s restrictions on those who can file a wrongful death claim.

California’s wrongful death statute states that the following people are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state’s civil courts:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent’s surviving children
  • The decedent’s grandchildren, if their immediate children are deceased

If there’s no surviving person in the deceased’s line of descent, a lawsuit may be submitted by anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.” This can include the deceased’s parents or siblings.

5 Steps to Take During a California Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Once you determine that you have a legal right to seek damages against a defendant, filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California is relatively straightforward. While every case is different and may follow a unique pattern of steps, here’s a standard set of guidelines that may help steer you through California’s wrongful death process.

Identify the Party Responsible for the Death

Under California law, wrongful death is caused by the intentional or negligent act of another person. Most wrongful death lawsuits assert negligence, which means a failure to exercise reasonable care that resulted in the victim’s death. A knowledgeable lawyer may be able to help you identify this individual.

Investigate the Accident and Death

Your lawyer will begin by obtaining persuasive evidence to convince a jury that someone else is responsible for your loved one’s death. They will also need some sense of whether you contributed to their accident in some way. In California, the victim’s contributory negligence doesn’t bar a wrongful death lawsuit, but it will minimize the amount of compensation you may be able to receive.

File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If the defendant or their insurer refuses to settle, your lawyer will likely proceed to file a complaint in civil court. This complaint will provide important facts such as the date and time of death, what caused it, and sometimes the amount of compensation your lawyer is requesting.

Engage in Fact-Finding for the Lawsuit

Most lawsuits have a lengthy process called “discovery,” which is the fact-finding phase. Discovery can take months and is often the most prolonged phase of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Attend Mediation or the Wrongful Death Lawsuit Trial

The California courts usually try to resolve disputes without using trials. Accordingly, your judge might demand that you attend a settlement conference overseen by a retired judge or lawyer serving as a mediator. If an agreement is reached, the parties will draft a settlement agreement and submit it to the judge.

If mediation and settlement fail, you and your lawyer will go into court to pursue a case for compensation. Each side in a trial can introduce witnesses and cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. Following the trial, the jury will retire to deliberate and eventually come to a conclusion.

Contact the Experienced California Wrongful Death Attorneys at Danko Meredith

No amount of monetary compensation will ever replace your loved one, but a successful wrongful death lawsuit can help you stay financially afloat during a difficult time while bringing the responsible parties to justice. At Danko Meredith, our knowledgeable lawyers will make this process easier for you. With our experience and passion, we can thoroughly investigate the accident, and we may be able to provide evidence to prove that another party was responsible for your loved one’s death so that your family can be fully compensated.

We’ve been named one of the Best Law Firms in America by US News & World Report, and our award-winning lawyers are consistently listed among California’s elite. We care about you and will be by your side throughout the entirety of the legal process. No matter the complexity or size of the case, we’ll commit our full attention and resources to our clients who deserve justice. For a free consultation, give us a call at (650) 453-3600 or complete our contact form today.