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When is a Fatal Car Accident Considered a Wrongful Death in California?

May 12, 2021 Posted In

The death of a family member can be a devastating and emotional time for anyone, and surviving family members may be left shocked, heartbroken, and angry. In the interests of justice and with the goal of recovering money to compensate your family for the loss of your loved one, you want to pursue legal action. Before you do so, however, it’s important to ask yourself a few crucial questions, paramount of which is whether or not the case is considered “wrongful death” in the eyes of the law. 

If your loved one passed away in a fatal car accident, it’s essential to contact an experienced car accident lawyer who may be able to help you determine whether you have a case for recovery. The biggest difference between a standard car accident and one that’s considered wrongful death is the cause. Wrongful death is considered the sudden death of a person caused by the negligence of another. If there’s no other party to blame for the events of the accident, you may not have a viable wrongful death case. Here’s what you need to know.

What Makes a Fatal Car Accident Wrongful Death?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the victims’ family may seek compensation for the financial losses they’ve suffered as a result of the death. They may also pursue a case as a way to seek justice against the negligent behavior that claimed the life of their loved one. But was the accident truly a case of wrongful death? In California, a claim for wrongful death may arise if an individual dies as a result of the fault of another, including:

  • Negligence-based incidents like car accidents
  • Medical malpractice, and
  • Intentional acts

Drivers owe a duty of care to other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians on the road. When they breach that duty of care, they’ve acted negligently. In this circumstance, a wrongful death lawsuit may be an appropriate way to recover damages such as funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of services and consortium. An experienced wrongful death lawyer will best be able to tell you if you have a wrongful death claim—one in which the at-fault driver showed negligent or reckless behavior—based on the circumstances of the accident.

Common Causes of Car Accidents in Wrongful Death Cases

Car accidents can be caused by many factors. Some of the negligent actions that can cause car crashes include:

  • Distracting driving (i.e., texting while driving)
  • Driving without a valid driver’s license
  • Driving while fatigued
  • Drunk driving
  • Running a red light or stop sign
  • Failing to yield
  • Speeding

It’s also crucial to note that multiple parties may be found liable for contributing to the accident in many wrongful death cases. For example, the at-fault driver could have been driving in a car that was not well-equipped to handle the snowstorm he was driving in due to a manufacturer error. Or the minor behind the wheel that caused an accident may have been served alcohol by a bartender who chose not to ID.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Once you’ve determined that you’re eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim, you may be wondering who’s entitled to file. California’s wrongful death law—which is stated in the Code of Civil Procedure 377.60—allows surviving family members to sue for damages, including the following:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent’s surviving children
  • The decedent’s grandchildren, given that their immediate children are also 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.

Contact the Skilled Wrongful Death Lawyers at Danko Meredith

If someone you love died in a car accident resulting from someone else’s wrongful act, we invite you to contact the knowledgeable and sympathetic wrongful death attorneys at Danko Meredith. Enduring a complicated legal and financial process is likely the last thing you want to navigate when you’re grieving your loved one’s death and celebrating their life. Let an experienced wrongful death lawyer fight for justice on your behalf. When you need legal assistance, Danko Meredith is here to help. 

Danko Meredith has 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 stand 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 to all of our clients who deserve justice. For a free consultation, give us a call at (650) 453-3600 or complete our contact form today.