The Difference Between a Wrongful Death and an Accidental Death

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When a person loses their life due to an unexpected incident, family members and friends will most certainly have questions. One of those questions may be whether or not another individual was responsible for the incident. Wrongful death claims arise in a variety of ways throughout California, but not every untimely death is a wrongful death. Sometimes, accidents occur. Here, we want to examine the difference between wrongful deaths and accidental deaths in California.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Wrongful death claims arise in California anytime a person loses their life due to the negligent or intentional actions of another individual, business, or entity. These claims arise in a wide variety of ways, including:

Specific family members of the deceased individual or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate are allowed to file wrongful death claims in civil court. In order for these claims to be successful, the plaintiff and their attorney must show that the alleged wrongdoer owed a duty of care to the deceased and that the individual breached their duty of care (was negligent in some way). 

Finally, it must be shown that the breach of duty led to the death and that the survivors or the estates sustained monetary losses as a result.

Accidental Deaths Typically Don’t Result in Successful Wrongful Death Claims

Accidental deaths will usually not result in situations where family members or the estate of the deceased can recover compensation from an at-fault party. By definition, there will not be an at-fault party for an accidental death.

However, that does not mean wrongful death claims will not arise as a result of an accidental death. In many cases, the circumstances surrounding the death of an individual are not entirely clear. Sometimes, the only way to determine whether or not a case was indeed an accident is to move forward with a wrongful death claim that will result in an extensive investigation into the incident.

If a death is determined to be an accident, there will be no individual held responsible through criminal charges or held liable through a civil lawsuit.

Let us suppose for a moment an individual runs a red light, and this leads to them getting struck by a vehicle with the right of way. If the individual who ran the red light passes away, this would be an accidental death. However, let us now suppose that another driver ran a red light, struck a vehicle that had the right of way, and killed an occupant as a result of running the red light. In this situation, there may indeed be a wrongful death claim that arises against the driver who ran the red light.

Do You Need an Attorney?

If you have lost a loved one and you are struggling to determine whether or not the death was accidental or if there was another party responsible for the death, we encourage you to contact an attorney today. A skilled Long Beach wrongful death lawyer can examine the facts of your case and help you determine the next step toward recovering compensation for your family and the estate of the deceased.