Written by: Portrait Photo Of Chad M. Prentice Chad M. Prentice

Few things are as devastating as losing a loved one in an accident. While nothing can truly compensate the surviving family members for their loss, a California wrongful death attorney can hold the parties responsible for the victim’s death accountable. 

If you’ve lost a loved one in a tragic accident, you must file your wrongful death claim before the statute of limitations expires. Maho | Prentice represents surviving family members in wrongful death claims on a contingency basis. That means that the victim’s survivors do not have to pay out of pocket for our professional legal services. Call today for a free consultation with an experienced wrongful death attorney

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What Is the Statute of Limitations?

California’s wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from the date of the decedent’s death. Note that this is not always the same as the accident date. In many wrongful death cases, the victim’s death occurs later. 

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in California

There are, of course, exceptions in the California wrongful death statute. In some instances, the victim will have even less time to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Medical Malpractice 

In medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is one year from the date of discovery that the person’s death was caused by medical negligence or three years from the date of death, whichever comes first. 

So, for instance, if a medical professional performs a procedure improperly, and this leads to the victim’s death six months later, the statute of limitations would be one year if the malpractice was immediately discovered or three years from the date of death if it was discovered later. 

Government Entities 

In cases where the responsible party was a government entity or the agent of a government entity, the wrongful death statute of limitations is only six months from the date of death. 

For example, under California code, if an employee was driving a government-owned vehicle that’s involved in a car accident, the family members or other plaintiffs have six months from the date of the accident if the decedent’s death occurred at the same time or six months from their date of death if it was after the negligent act. 

Regardless of the period of time that the California wrongful death statute of limitations allows for your specific case, you need to act quickly. Over time, evidence can be lost, and witnesses can move out of state. Furthermore, it takes time for attorneys to prepare viable wrongful death claims. By acting early, you will have the best chance of receiving compensation for your wrongful death claim. 

Standing in a California Wrongful Death Case 

Under section 377.60 of California’s Code of Civil Procedure, the following individuals have the right to pursue damages against the at-fault party during the statute of limitations period. 

  • A surviving spouse (this also includes a putative spouse who believes the marriage was valid)
  • A domestic partner
  • Children of the deceased person or their legal guardians
  • Stepchildren who were dependent on the victim at the time of the loved one’s death
  • Grandchildren  
  • Any party would be entitled to inherit property under California law for intestate succession. 

If you are uncertain as to whether or not you or your family members have standing to file a wrongful death suit, contact Maho | Prentice, LLP. A wrongful death lawyer from our firm can determine which person has standing under the law.

Why it’s Essential to File a Wrongful Death Claim Early

We recognize that in the days after a tragic accident, the last thing you’re thinking about is filing a wrongful death action, but it is important that you don’t wait. Here are some of the reasons that time is of the essence: 

  • In most cases, the statute of limitations begins at the date of death. After it expires, you no longer have the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This also means that the responsible insurance company doesn’t have the incentive to file a wrongful death claim.  
  • Valuable evidence can be lost with time. For example, in the case of car accidents, the road may change within hours after the vehicles are cleared. The vehicles will typically be repaired within weeks. Witnesses may change their contact information without ever thinking about notifying your attorney. This can make pursuing financial compensation for your loved one’s death difficult. 
  • It may take time to determine who is standing for the case. If it’s not immediately apparent, your attorney may need time to identify the civil lawsuit plaintiff. 

Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most common questions that surviving family members ask in the aftermath of their loved one’s death. For answers to your questions, contact our Southern California law firm to talk to an attorney. 

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What are the elements of a wrongful death case in California?

In order to have a viable claim, your attorney will have to prove the following four elements:

  1. Duty of Care – This means that the defendant was responsible for the victim’s safety. 
  2. Breach of Duty – The defendant somehow violated their duty of care through an unintentional or intentional wrongful act. 
  3. Causation – The victim’s passing was caused by an accident. 
  4. Damages – The victim and their family have suffered a loss as a result of the accident. 

For example, for car accidents, the plaintiff’s law firm would need to show that the driver of the other vehicle had a duty of care to the deceased and violated that duty via a traffic violation or some other careless action. Additionally, they would need to demonstrate that the car accident caused the death. They would then calculate the damages for the family’s loss. 

What is the discovery rule for wrongful deaths in California?

The discovery rule dictates that both sides of the case must disclose evidence to the other party. 

What are the damages in a California wrongful death claim?

Plaintiffs in a wrongful death case can recover damages for the decedent’s medical bills, burial expenses, lost financial support, pain and suffering, and more.

What are the most common causes of accidental deaths?

According to the CDC, accident deaths are the number one killer of Americans in the U.S.

Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney in Southern California

Under the California civil code, the victim’s family can file a legal claim in civil court for a wrongful act that led to the death of a loved one. However, time is of the essence. The California wrongful death statute of limitations is a hard limit. However, if you have a case, the attorneys at Maho | Prentice can begin representing you immediately. Call today for a free consultation.

By Maho | Prentice, LLP Attorneys at Law on April 3, 2023