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Who can file a wrongful death action?

If you are a California resident whose loved one died as the result of someone’s negligence or malice, you may be thinking about filing a wrongful death suit against the person who you believe caused your loved one’s death. In order to be qualified to bring this civil action, however, FindLaw explains that you must be a surviving family member of the decedent.

California law defines a surviving family member as one of the following:

  • The decedent’s spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent’s child
  • The decedent’s grandchild by a child of the decedent who predeceased him or her
  • Someone who would inherit from the decedent if he or she died without leaving a will
  • Someone who at the time of the decedent’s death was dependent on him or her or upon his or her spouse, child, stepchild or parents
  • A minor who at the time the decedent died had lived in his or her household for the past six months and was dependent on him or her for at least one-half of their support

What you must prove

You must prove all four of the following things to be successful in your wrongful death suit:

  1. The decedent died
  2. His or her death was caused by the defendant’s negligence or intent to harm him or her
  3. You are suffering financial injury because of the decedent’s death
  4. A personal representative has been appointed for the decedent’s estate

What damages you can recover

If you are able to prove all four of these things by a preponderance of the evidence, you may be able to recover any or all of the following money damages from the defendant:

  • The amount of the decedent’s medical bills
  • The amount of the decedent’s funeral and burial expenses
  • The salary or wages that the decedent reasonably would have been expected to earn during his or her remaining life had he or she not died
  • Your loss of the decedent’s financial support
  • Your loss of the decedent’s love, affection, companionship, etc.

You should not take this information as legal advice. It can, however, help you understand the wrongful death process and what to expect.

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