In California, a claim for “wrongful death” arises when someone dies as the result of a wrongful act or negligence by another person or entity. This claim is a civil claim that is brought by the survivors of the deceased. Assuming a lawsuit is successful, the court will order the defendant to pay monetary damages to the plaintiff as penalty. Contrast this with a criminal case, which is brought by the state and could result in jail or prison time. A family in California may bring a civil wrongful death claim to court even if a criminal case is already proceeding.

Wrongful death could be considered a special type of personal injury lawsuit. Because the injured person died, they are no longer available to bring a personal injury claim. Instead, the survivors may bring a wrongful death claim on the deceased person’s behalf. These “survivors” are:

  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse (or domestic partner) and children
  • The deceased person’s parents, surviving siblings, or children of deceased siblings
  • The deceased person’s grandparents or lineal descendants, and/or
  • Individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased person at the time of his or her death.

A big issue in a wrongful death case is how to split the award. In a California wrongful death case, the jury awards a single lump sum to the successful plaintiffs. The group then must decide how to split the award. If they cannot agree, they may have go to court to reach a judgment on how to divide any award.

Recoverable damages in a wrongful death case could include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses for the deceased
  • Medical and hospital bills of the deceased
  • Lost income of the deceased, including potential income the deceased person would reasonably have been expected to earn had they lived
  • The value of the deceased’s household services
  • Loss of anticipated financial support from the deceased
  • Loss of love, community, attention, affection, moral support, and guidance from the deceased.


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