top of page

Death Cases

In California, wrongful death laws allow surviving family members or the estate to sue for damages when someone dies due to someone else's negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions. Statute Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 sets forth the law.

Damages may be paid as a result of a settlement of verdict for burial and funeral expenses for the decedent, amount the decedent would have earned as income, pain and suffering and disfigurement of the decedent, and compensation for their loss of companionship and support.

Generally, these cases are similar to the causes of action for "loss of consortium" under California law. The concept of loss of consortium refers to situations in which a spouse or registered domestic partner has been deprived of the companionship and intimacy of a living partner due to a wrongful act.

Under California Civil Code Section 377.30, wrongful death suits are commonly followed by "survival" causes of actions. A wrongful death action is brought on behalf of the victim's estate to compensate for losses suffered by the victim (as opposed to the family) as a result of the wrongful act.

Loss of consortium is not eligible for punitive damages in the State of California. To recover punitive damages from a wrongdoer, you need a survival cause of action.


Wrongful Death Cases Filing 

Wrongful Death Cases Filing 

Families (or their personal representatives) can file a lawsuit against the following members of the deceased person's family: the surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, grandchildren (if the deceased person's own children are deceased), minor children (like stepchildren) who were dependent on the deceased for at least 50% of their financial support, and others who would have been entitled to the deceased's property due to California's laws on intestacy.

Liability For Wrongdoers 

Liability For Wrongdoers 

A California wrongful death action can be brought for any type of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongful act. Among the wrongful acts that are causes of death are (without limitation): car accidents (including being hit by a drunken driver), pedestrian "knock-downs", "slip-and-fall" accidents, murder and manslaughter, elder abuse or neglect, child abuse or neglect, and medical malpractice.

California allows heirs to sue under “strict liability” if their loved one died from a dog bite, mauling, or defective product, regardless of negligence. Even if a person has been acquitted in a related criminal case, he or she could be found liable for wrongful death.

Recoverable Damages

Recoverable Damages 

Loss of support is the purpose of compensation in wrongful death cases in California since heirs can reasonably expect to receive support from the deceased if they had lived. The payment of settlements is usually made as a lump sum (all at once) or as a structured settlement with periodic payments.

Compensation damages can cover both economic and noneconomic losses. In order to recover such damages, the plaintiff must be alive at the time of the wrongful act or the deceased individual's life expectancy at the time of the wrongful act.

Health, lifestyle, and occupation are all considered relevant factors when determining life expectancy by a jury.

Economic Damages

Economic Damages

“In California, economic damages include (without limitation) the financial support the deceased would have provided for the family, the loss of gifts or benefits that could have been expected from the deceased, funeral and burial expenses, and the reasonable value of household services the deceased could have provided.

“Non-Economic” Damages

“Non-Economic” Damages

"Non-economic damages" encompass, without limitation, compensation for the loss of the victim's society, companionship, protection, affection, moral support, training, and guidance. Plaintiffs can also sue for pain, suffering, or disfigurement as of 2022.

For wrongful death cases in California, noneconomic damages cannot be fixed. According to the evidence and common sense, a jury can award any amount that is reasonable. In some states, noneconomic damages do not include amounts for heirs' grief, sorrow or pain and suffering caused by the death of their loved ones.

Punitive Damages For Heirs 

Punitive Damages For Heirs 

According to California law, heirs cannot recover punitive damages in wrongful death cases. The exception is if the defendant has been convicted of felony homicide for which the deceased was killed. The estate of the decedent may be able to collect punitive damages in a "survival action."

Survival of Action 

Survival of Action 

Under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30, wrongful death lawsuits are sometimes consolidated with a so-called "survival action."

As opposed to a wrongful death lawsuit, a survival lawsuit permits the heirs to sue on behalf of the deceased's estate.

Surviving survivors may sue on behalf of their estate for two types of losses: claims unrelated to the murderer's death, claims the deceased would have been entitled to sue on had he lived, and claims related to the murderer's injury, provided the victim survived it for at least some time (however brief).

The main difference is that in a survival action, punitive damages can be awarded. Furthermore, these two kinds of actions can be tried together if the same wrongful act lies at the root of both.

Statute Of Limitations

Statute Of Limitations For Wrongful Death Lawsuits 

Two years is the California statute of limitations for wrongful death and survival actions. Generally, the two-year time limit to sue a responsible party accrues (starts running) on the date of death in a wrongful death case.

To bring a survival action, the estate has a two-year time limit from the date of death or six months after the date of injury.

A wrongful life suit involves a child suing for personal injury and medical malpractice because they were born with life-altering birth defects due to the doctor's or another party's mistake. Children, and victims are unable to fully live their lives because of these challenges. A wrongful life lawsuit may be filed against doctors, surgeons, and mental health institutions as defendants.

In birth injury cases, children can only recover compensation for the losses related to the birth injury, unlike in most other personal injury cases. Among the possible compensation are medical expenses associated with treating the birth injury, future medical bills related to the special care that the child will require, non-medical services the child will require, like wheelchairs and special education, as well as home modifications necessary for accommodating the child's disabilities.

Pain and suffering are not recoverable in wrongful death cases for children.


A wrongful life claim is different from a wrongful birth claim. A parent or parents of a child born with severe medical issues may file a medical malpractice suit against the hospital or doctor who failed to diagnose a serious medical condition in the fetus.

In wrongful birth claims, parents can seek the same damages that children can claim in wrongful life claims.

Wrongful Life 

Wrongful Life 

Children born with birth defects or abnormalities file wrongful life actions in nearly all jurisdictions. A doctor's negligence led to a child being born with life-altering difficulties, which affect the child's quality of life and/or hinder their lives in some way.

Abnormalities in children can be caused by malpractice in both the prenatal and postnatal periods.

Pre-conception malpractice is usually a result of the doctor failing to detect genetic conditions in the parents. A life-altering medical condition is born to the child as a consequence of the defendant's negligence. Doctors who commit malpractice after a child is conceived often fail to diagnose a congenital defect in the fetus. A birth injury affects a child for the rest of his or her life after birth. 


For children to succeed in these lawsuits, most states require that they show they have suffered especially severe injuries.

A wrongful death lawsuit might be filed if a child is born with certain congenital or birth conditions, such as hereditary deafness, Tay-Sachs disease (a genetic disorder that destroys nerve cells and leads to death in early childhood), and congenital hydrocephalus or spina bifida.

Defendants in Wrongful Life Cases 

Defendants in Wrongful Life Cases 

Most wrongful life suits are filed against doctors, physicians, or other healthcare providers whose negligence caused a child to be born with a life-altering disability. If the malpractice happened at work, the doctor's employer, usually a clinic or hospital, may also be liable through vicarious liability.

In wrongful death lawsuits, people outside the medical profession are not liable. It is not the duty of these people or companies to keep children safe or healthy.

Compensation Awards

Compensation Awards For Wrongful Life Cases 

Children in wrongful life suits are only entitled to compensation for losses associated with the birth injury. Damages commonly consist of medical expenses for treating the birth defect, future medical care bills relating to future special care or treatment the child will need, specialized non-medical care, such as wheelchairs or special education, and home modifications to accommodate the child's disabilities and injuries.

There is a very significant difference between this kind of compensation and general damages in other cases of personal injury. Besides medical expenses, plaintiffs can also recover lost earnings capacity, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

Wrongful Birth 

Wrongful Birth 

Wrongful birth suits are distinct from wrongful death claims.

The parents of a child born with a serious medical condition may have a wrongful birth claim against a healthcare provider or hospital.

Parental complaints allege that defendant's medical providers or defendant institution misdiagnosed the child's condition or provided negligent genetic testing and counseling about the likelihood of the fetus having a birth defect. When the defendant's negligence or alleged misdiagnosis results in the birth of a child with abnormalities, the baby will need extensive medical care (which will result in significant medical expenses).

In addition to alleging negligence, the parents of a child in a wrongful birth case typically assert that they were not able to make an informed decision about their child. Specifically, if they knew of a defect, either a wrongful pregnancy would have been avoided or the pregnancy would have been ended (usually in the second trimester as opposed to the first).


It is important to note that a wrongful death lawsuit differs from both wrongful birth and wrongful life lawsuits. As a result of someone else's negligence or recklessness, a deceased's family members sue for damages. 

bottom of page