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Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

The definition of wrongful death under California law is a death that stems from the neglect or wrongful act of someone else. A wrongful death claim is a legal action that could give surviving family members recourse for damages suffered because of the death. These include economic and noneconomic damages. Most states, including California, limit who can file wrongful death claims. Under state law, only certain parties have the right to sue for wrongful death.

Relatives Entitled to Wrongful Death Settlements

The family members who can legally sue for wrongful death are as follows:

Surviving Spouse

The deceased person’s (decedent) surviving spouse or domestic partner may file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. A domestic partner refers to someone in a registered domestic partnership with the decedent. A spouse may need proof that he or she was the decedent’s spouse, such as a marriage certificate or witness testimony. A surviving spouse has the right to file for wrongful death in all 50 states. A spouse may have the right to recover damages such as loss of consortium, loss of the decedent’s love and companionship, mental anguish, and lost income from the deceased spouse.

Surviving Children

Adult children of the decedent bear the right to file wrongful death claims for the death of the parent. If the deceased person had minor surviving children, the spouse can file a claim on behalf of the children. Minors may only file for wrongful death in California if they resided in the deceased person’s house for the previous 180 days and if they depended on the person financially, for at least 50% of the minor’s support.

In most cases involving a surviving spouse and children, the courts guarantee the spouse a certain percentage of any compensation award, regardless of the number of children. If there are multiple adult children, they may decide among them who will act as the representative to file the claim. They can then split any compensation among them and other dependents.

Any Dependent

If the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, or someone else in his or her line of descent, the right to file a wrongful death claim goes to anyone the law may entitle ownership of the decedent’s property by intestate succession. Intestate succession is the order of a person’s heirs when he or she has no estate plan. Dependents could include the deceased individual’s parents, siblings, and stepchildren.

Putative Spouse

A putative spouse, or a spouse that cohabited with the deceased person without a legal marriage, could have the right to file for wrongful death if he or she can prove financial dependence on the decedent. The same is true of any children of the putative spouse. The courts will ask for proof of financial dependence, such as paystubs or bills. A putative spouse could also be someone living with the decedent with a void marriage, who believed the marriage was valid in good faith.

Can You File a Wrongful Death Claim?

If you recently lost someone close you and believe you have grounds to file a wrongful death claim in Orange County, speak to an Irvine wrongful death lawyer that focuses on this practice area. Filing a claim could be the only way to obtain the financial recovery you and your family need to move forward after a tragic loss. Find out if you have the right to file a claim during a free legal consultation.