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Wrongful Death Claim vs. Criminal Case

Losing someone you love is incredibly challenging. This is especially true if your loved one lost their life because of the actions of someone else. In some cases, the family members and the estate of an individual may be able to recover compensation and closure for their loss, either through a wrongful death claim or a criminal case related to the loss of life. However, there is a difference between wrongful death claims in civil court and the criminal process a person could face.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

In the state of California, a wrongful death claim is a case that arises through civil court action (Code of Civil Procedure 377.60). These claims are a cause of action “for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

Wrongful death claims can arise in a variety of ways in California, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Traditional vehicle accidents
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Pedestrian or bicycle accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Defective product incidents
  • Premises liability incidents
  • Swimming pool or hot tub accidents
  • Intentional acts of violence (shootings, stabbings, assaults)

Under California’s wrongful death laws, surviving family members or the estate of the deceased are allowed to file wrongful death claims in order to recover monetary compensation for their losses.

What Happens in a Criminal Death Case?

When a person loses their life due to the intentional criminal actions of another individual, it is up to law enforcement officials and state prosecutors to file homicide or manslaughter charges against the alleged guilty party. These charges are filed in the criminal court system, and the ultimate goal is to prove the other party’s guilt and hand down an appropriate punishment.

Surviving family members do participate in the decision of whether or not to file criminal charges in these cases, though they can offer victim impact statements. The goal here is not to recover monetary compensation for the family members, but rather to seek “justice” for the deceased. 

Can You File a Wrongful Death Claim if There is a Criminal Case?

It is certainly possible for there to be both a criminal murder/manslaughter case and a wrongful death claim in civil court for the same death. In our list of common causes of wrongful death claims above, we mentioned “intentional acts of violence.” Family members and/or the estate of the deceased may be entitled to compensation for their losses if another person intentionally causes a loved one to lose their life.

In fact, family members can file a civil wrongful death claim regardless of whether or not criminal charges are filed against an individual or even if the individual is found not guilty. In most cases, a civil wrongful death case will be paused or tolled until after the criminal case related to the death has reached a conclusion (charges dropped, guilty verdict, not guilty verdict, etc.). 

If you have lost a loved one due to the careless, negligent, or intentional actions of another individual in Riverside or throughout California, we encourage you to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. A Riverside wrongful death attorney can examine the facts of your case and help you figure out the best steps moving forward for your situation.