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Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

No matter how wrong a loved one’s death feels to those left behind, California’s wrongful death laws specify that family members may file wrongful death claims only when a close family member’s death directly results from the careless, reckless, or purposefully wrongful actions of another party. Common reasons for filing wrongful death claims in California include car accident deaths, workplace injury deaths, deaths due to defective products, medical malpractice deaths, or when a negligent property owner failed to address a safety hazard that caused a fatal injury.

Grieving family members may suffer more than just mourning and anguish after a wrongful death, they may also experience financial hardship, especially if the deceased family member was a provider or a parent who cared for the children and household. Many successful wrongful death claims in California bring surviving family members more than a sense of justice, they also bring financial compensation for recoverable damages.

What are “Damages” in Wrongful Death Claims?

When one person or business causes harm to another, the consequences of that harm are known as “damages” in personal injury claims. A wrongful death claim is a type of personal injury claim filed by surviving close family members—typically only those who depended on the decedent financially. If the cause of the death was something for which the decedent could have filed a personal injury claim for damages had they survived their injuries, then the surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim for damages in the victim’s place.

What Damages Can a Family Member Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

California limits recovery of compensation in wrongful death claims to close family members with financial ties or dependency on the victim. Common damages cited in wrongful death claims in California include the following economic damages:

  • Medical expenses if the victim received emergency treatment or ongoing care before the death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost income for the remainder of working years the victim had left to them
  • Loss of benefits like healthcare insurance
  • Loss of retirement contributions
  • Loss of household services (the economic value of the chores, cooking, and childcare provided in the home by the decedent)

Unlike some states, California does not allow surviving family members to make claims for compensation for the grief and anguish they’ve suffered or will continue to suffer due to their loss. However, the state does allow claims for other types of non-economic damages including any or all of the following that might apply:

  • Compensation for the pain and suffering the victim experienced before their death
  • Loss of love, comfort, and emotional support
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consort (the full physical and emotional relationship with a loved one)
  • Loss of a parent’s support and guidance

A skilled Van Nuys wrongful death attorney will carefully review the circumstances to maximize the amount of compensation a close surviving family member can claim in wrongful death damages in California.

Who Can File a California Wrongful Death Claim?

California limits those who can claim damages for wrongful death to those close family members who experience economic damages from the death. This prevents distant relatives from profiting from the family member’s death.

In California, a decedent’s spouse is the most common claimant in wrongful death claims. If the decedent left no living spouse, then their children may file a claim. This includes adopted children or any minor who resided in the decedent’s home for at least 180 days before the death and received half or more of their financial support from the deceased. If the decedent has no children, their parents may file a claim. Grandchildren may file a claim if the deceased family member has no living spouse or living children.

A successful wrongful death claim cannot bring the loved one back, but it can provide the financial support to the family that the loved one would have provided had they survived.