Personal Injury Law Blog

California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: An Overview

When a loved one dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, surviving family members may wonder what options they have to hold the negligent party responsible. In some cases, surviving family members of the deceased can sue the party responsible for their loved one’s death to recover damages.

At Goltzer & Lieb, LLP, we understand the difficulty of grieving the loss of a loved one in these circumstances. We are committed to helping the families of accident victims hold the responsible party accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Contact a wrongful death lawyer at our office today for a free consultation.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

The California wrongful death statute allows certain surviving family members to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the deceased. The parties who may bring the wrongful death claim include the deceased’s surviving:

  • Children,
  • Spouse,
  • Domestic partner, and
  • Issue, or descendants, of any children of the deceased who are no longer living. 

“Domestic partner” means any person involved in a registered domestic partnership, as described by the California family code, with the deceased at his or her time of death. In limited cases, the parents, legal guardians, or siblings can bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. 

A California wrongful death attorney can help you determine if you’re entitled to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of your loved one. 

What Is Wrongful Death? 

Wrongful death claims arise when someone dies as a result of the negligence of someone else. In other words, if someone else’s wrongful act or neglect caused your loved one’s death, you can pursue monetary damages. This includes when the death occurs because of a defective product.

What Are Common Causes of Wrongful Death?

Wrongful deaths can occur in almost any situation that poses a risk of death. Common causes of wrongful deaths include:

  • Car accidents,
  • Motorcycle accidents,
  • Industrial accidents,
  • Slip and fall accidents,
  • Manufacturing defects,
  • Assault,
  • Boating accidents,
  • Train accidents, and
  • Asbestos exposure.

Any death caused by the negligence, gross negligence, or intentional act of someone else can give rise to a wrongful death claim. 

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims involve analyzing whether the party responsible for your loved one’s death acted wrongfully or neglectfully. In some cases, proving a “wrongful act” can be relatively easy, such as with a criminal act where the at-fault party intentionally committed the act. Proving wrongful death can be difficult and very fact-specific in other cases.

In most wrongful death cases, you must prove that the responsible party acted negligently. Proving negligence can be difficult, especially for individuals without a legal education that covers the theory. 

To have a successful wrongful death negligence claim, you must prove the following elements: 

  1. The responsible party owed the deceased a legal duty to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances; 
  2. The party breached their duty; 
  3. The breach caused harm to the victim that resulted in his or her death; and 
  4. You suffered actual damages as a result of your loved one’s death.

If any of these elements are not satisfied, the wrongful death claim will not succeed. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help establish proof of all four elements, so your claim can succeed.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death in California?

The wrongful death statute of limitations allows surviving family members to bring their claims for up to two years after the death of their loved one. If the wrongful death claim isn’t filed within the two year time frame, you can lose your right to file the claim entirely. If you attempt to file a wrongful death claim after the California statute of limitations has expired, your case will likely be dismissed. 

The Discovery Rule

The California statute of limitations on wrongful death includes a limited exception that allows the time period to be paused if the family members could not have reasonably known about their loved one’s death. California refers to this exception as the “discovery rule.”

The two-year statute of limitations period begins once the family members reasonably should have known about the death.

If you lose a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you cannot afford to waste time. Contact our office as soon as possible to avoid potential issues regarding the California statute of limitations on wrongful death. 

Suing a Government Entity

If your loved one’s wrongful death was caused by a government entity or employee, you have only six months from the date of your loved one’s death to file the wrongful death action. This exception can arise if your loved one died as a result of a car accident with a government-owned vehicle or an accident caused by a federal or state government employee.

Minors Pursuing Wrongful Death Claims

If you are a minor and plan to bring a wrongful death claim for the death of a parent, there is another exception to the two-year statute of limitations. In this case, you have to file the wrongful death claim within two years of turning 18 years old. Instead of starting at the time your parent dies, the clock starts as soon as you turn 18.

Other Exceptions

California has other limited exceptions to its statute of limitations for personal injury claims, including:

  • When the defendant leaves the state after the accident, the statute of limitations begins once the defendant returns to the state;
  • When the plaintiff is in prison at the time of their loved one’s death, the statute of limitations starts when the plaintiff gets out of prison; and
  • When the plaintiff is mentally ill or in a coma, the statute of limitations period begins when the plaintiff is declared legally competent.

Despite these narrow exceptions, it is always recommended that you reach out to a wrongful death attorney right away to discuss your case.

Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney in California Today

Losing a loved one can inflict an emotional and financial toll on a family, especially when the death is unexpected. Pursuing a wrongful death action against the person responsible for your loved one’s death can help you stay afloat financially and provide the closure you may need.

Insurance companies typically offer surviving family members settlements that pale in comparison to what you’re really owed. This is not surprising considering that insurance companies make more money by convincing grieving family members to accept low-ball settlement offers. 

Our team of wrongful death attorneys at Glotzer & Leib, LLP, can protect you from the insurance company’s frustrating, overbearing tactics and negotiate with them on your behalf to ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Joshua W. Glotzer, our managing partner, has earned respect throughout the Los Angeles area as one of the most experienced and effective attorneys in practice.

With over fifty years of experience serving the Los Angeles area, we’re committed to giving our clients the tools they need to secure the compensation their family deserves. Contact our office today to start your free virtual consultation.

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