Understanding the California Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Claims

Losing someone you love is never easy, but when a loved one's death occurs as a result of another person's negligent or wrongful actions, the loss can be particularly difficult for the grieving family to process.

Regardless of whether there is a criminal case Close-Up View of a Black Stethoscope and Wooden Gavelunderway to address the death, California allows the survivors of the deceased to file a civil claim, known as a wrongful death lawsuit, to pursue financial damages for their loved one's death. While a financial award can never replace the person they lost, wrongful death settlements can help family members gain a sense of closure, as well as help them pay for funeral and burial expenses. However, survivors of wrongful death victims must act quickly, as California places strict limits on how long people have to file this type of lawsuit. Read on to learn more about the statute of limitations in California wrongful death cases, as well as what you can do if you're interested in pursuing a wrongful death claim.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful deaths occur due to another person's careless, negligent, or illegal actions. The causes of these deaths can vary widely from case to case—from car and truck accidents, motorcycle crashes, and pedestrian and bicycle accidents to premises liability incidents, animal attacks, medical malpractice, and everything in between.

Unlike criminal proceedings, which are brought by the state and seek to impose penalties, such as imprisonment or probation, wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits that allow certain people to pursue monetary damages on their behalf for the loss of a loved one. Wrongful death lawsuits can't be brought by just anyone. California law states that only the following parties have a legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • The decedent's surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent's surviving children
  • The decedent's punitive spouse (as well as children of the punitive spouse)
  • The decedent's stepchildren
  • The decedent's parents
  • People entitled to the decedent's property under the law of intestate succession

Additionally, California's one action rule requires that only one wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against the responsible party, so all interested parties must work together to file a single suit.

Damages Awarded to Wrongful Death Plaintiffs Can Include Compensation For:

  • Medical bills for the decedent's most recent illness or injury.
  • Funeral and burial expenses.
  • Income compensating for what the decedent would have likely earned if they had continued living.
  • Loss of love, community, and companionship.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

California's statute of limitations requires loved ones to file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the decedent's death; otherwise, the family forfeits their right to have their case heard in court. While the two-year statute of limitations is the standard that's applicable in most cases, there are a few notable exceptions. For example, if the decedent's died as a result of medical malpractice, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit within three years of the date of the malpractice or within one year of learning about the malpractice.

Another notable exception occurs when the defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit is a government agency; in these cases, the family must file their lawsuit within six months of the injury that caused the death.

In some situations, such as those involving a minor—the statute of limitations may be paused, or “tolled,” temporarily.

Are You Interested in Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim?

California law involving wrongful death is notoriously complex and can be difficult for the layperson to navigate—particularly when struggling through a period of intense grief. Don't forfeit your right to have your case heard by allowing the clock on your wrongful death case to run out. Contact the experienced attorneys with the Inland Empire Law Group today for a no-cost, no-obligation evaluation of your wrongful death claim. The skilled attorneys in our Victorville and Ranch Cucamonga law offices are standing by to answer your questions and can help you decide how best to proceed.