When Does a Death Qualify for Wrongful Death?

Wave Image

When an individual loses their life due to the careless, negligent, or intentional actions of another person or entity in California, family members or the estate of the deceased should be able to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it is important to understand when a death qualifies for a “wrongful death” lawsuit in civil court.

How to Know if the Case is a Wrongful Death Claim

When we examine the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, we can see that wrongful death claims arise anytime a person loses their life due to the legal fault of another individual or entity. It should be understood that not every death that occurs will be considered a wrongful death claim. In order for a wrongful death case to be valid and successful, it must be proven that the death occurred as a result of the “negligence” of another party.

We highlighted the word “negligence” for a reason. There are four elements involved in establishing negligence in these situations, and the absence of any of these four elements will likely lead to an unsuccessful claim:


Regardless of the situation, it has to be shown that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. This can include a medical professional owing a patient a certain standard medical care. This could also include a driver owing a duty of care to others around them on the roadway. Every case must be examined independently to determine whether or not there was a duty of care owed.


After a duty of care has been established, it must be shown that the defendant breached the duty of care that they owed the defendant. Similar to establishing a duty of care, determining whether or not there was a breach of duty can only be done after fully examining the specific situation at hand.


It must be shown that the breach of duty directly caused the wrongful death and that there were no other possible causes of the fatality.


Lastly, plaintiffs must show that the family or the estate suffered some sort of monetary loss as a result of the untimely wrongful death.

Wrongful death claims can arise in a wide variety of ways in the state of California. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

One thing we do want to point out is that the decision about whether or not a death qualifies as a “wrongful death” claim should not fall to family members or the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate. These individuals should turn to a skilled wrongful death lawyer who can examine every aspect of the claim and help them determine the best steps moving forward. An individual with extensive legal experience in this area of law will be better positioned to determine whether or not the case will qualify as wrongful death.

However, we also caution you not to wait too long to move forward with filing a wrongful death case in California. The wrongful death statute of limitations in this state is two years from the date of death. Failing to file a wrongful death claim within this timeframe will likely result in the family and the estate becoming unable to recover the compensation they are entitled to.