Who Can Sue for Damages in A California Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The National Safety Council reports that there were 3,680 motor vehicle deaths in 2016. This is more than tragic and heartbreaking for thousands of California families. Given Hackard Law’s strong presence in disputed estate litigation, we are often asked whether we can represent one or more family members in a wrongful death lawsuit. Our counsel and consideration starts with whether the family member meets California’s requirements of standing to bring the claim for wrongful death.
We all must start with what is a “wrongful death” under California law? A wrongful death is the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another. It is California’s public policy to compensate survivors, deter future conduct and provide a “limitation, or lack thereof, upon the damages recoverable.” (Barrett v. Superior Court (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d, 1176, 1185.)
A lawsuit or “cause of action” for wrongful death of a person may be asserted by the “decedent’s personal representative” or a person identified with standing in the relevant statute. (California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60. )
A personal representative is defined in California’s probate code as an “executor, administrator, administrator with the will annexed, special administrator, successor personal representative” or a public administrator. (Probate Code Section 58.)
Persons identified with standing under California law include: the deceased person’s surviving spouse; the deceased person’s domestic partner; and the deceased person’ s surviving children.
If there is no surviving person in the deceased person’s line of descent, then a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought by anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession”; that can include the deceased person’s parents, or the deceased person’s siblings, depending on who is living at the time of the deceased person’s death.
People who can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased person, and they were the deceased person’s “putative spouse” and children of the putative spouse; the deceased person’s stepchildren, and the deceased person’s parents also have standing under California law. (California Code of Civil Procedure Section 337.60.)
Life experience and my decades of practice teach me that the wrongful death of one person may present standing and lawsuit coordination issues between the estate and family members. We’ve been involved in cases where the estate, a spouse, a child by a previous spouse and other relatives were all part of a wrongful death resolution.
Hackard Law exists to serve people in the major urban areas of California. If you have a question with regard to standing or other issues in a wrongful death action in Los Angeles, Sacramento, or Alameda, call us at Hackard Law (916) 313-3030. We’ll be happy to help you.