Category: Comparative Fault

Earlier this summer, an infant died in a single-vehicle crash in West Covina. According to reports, the infant’s mother, who is not believed to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, veered off of the road and struck a pole. The precise cause of the accident, and whether other cars may have contributed to the crash, is still under investigation.

Unfortunately, the infant’s death was likely avoidable. Police explain that the child was riding unrestrained in the vehicle’s front passenger seat. Safety regulations in California require small children to in a rear-facing child safety device. Had the infant been secured in a car seat, the accident may have not had such a tragic end.

Comparative Fault in California

It’s never easy to lose a loved one, especially as the result of an unexpected accident. In many wrongful death cases, family members of victims have the right to recover monetary damages from the person who caused the accident. Things can become complicated when a victim or parent contributes to the death of their own child.

Can the Mother Recover Damages If Someone Else Shares Fault?

Let’s say that another driver contributed to the fatal West Covina crash. Perhaps the driver became distracted and veered into the mother’s lane. The mother lost control of her vehicle and ran into a nearby pole. In this scenario, the other driver appears to be 100 percent at fault for the accident. Can the mother recover damages for the loss of her child?

While the mother didn’t cause the accident, she did create the situation that put her child in harm’s way. Allowing the child to ride in the front of the vehicle created a significant risk of injury and death. In fact, the mother’s behavior was negligent because she violated a law that is intended to prevent the kind of harm that occurred. This is known as “per se negligence.”

In California, Vehicle Code Section 27360 requires children under the age of 2 to “ride in a rear-facing car seat.” Children must be “secured in a manner that complies with height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.” A child may be excluded from this requirements if they weigh 40 pounds or are at least 40 inches tall. Permitting a child to ride in the front seat while not secured in a car seat is a direct violation of this law.

Since the mother contributed to her child’s death, she is also to blame. Her own fault can prevent her from recovering compensation for her loss.

Can Family Members Sue the Mother For the Loss of the Child?

Yes. In California, anyone who contributes to an accident can be liable for damages. Since the mother was negligent and created the situation that put her child in harm’s way, she could be on the hook for damages sustained by other family members. Wrongful death lawsuits can be initiated by parents, grandparents, blood relatives, and individuals who rely (or may rely) on the victim for financial assistance.

In order to successfully recover compensation from the mother, the family member would have to prove:

  1. The child’s death was caused by the mother’s negligent behavior, and
  2. The surviving family members suffered an injury as a result of the death.

The family members can establish the mother’s liability by establishing negligence per se. Once negligence has been proven, the family must simply show that the negligent acts were a substantial factor in the child’s death.


Have you recently lost a loved one in a West Covina accident? Are you struggling to understand your legal rights and options? Contact our personal injury lawyers for assistance today.