Casket with a rose to represent wrongful death
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In California, the aftermath of losing a loved one can lead to a myriad of questions and concerns, particularly when the death results from someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions. Understanding who can file a wrongful death claim is essential for those seeking justice and financial compensation. This process involves specific legal criteria defining the eligible parties, typically close family members, who can initiate a lawsuit against the responsible individuals or entities.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death claim arises when an individual’s death is the result of another’s negligence or intentional harm. In California, this legal action allows surviving family members to seek financial damages for their loss. These claims cover a range of fatal incidents, from vehicle accidents to medical malpractice. Survivors must establish that the defendant’s actions or inaction directly caused the death to file a claim. 

Eligibility to File a Claim

In California, not everyone can file a wrongful death claim. The law prioritizes certain relationships, starting with the closest family members. The deceased’s spouse, domestic partner, and children are the primary eligible parties. In the absence of these relations, the opportunity to file extends to individuals who would inherit the deceased’s property under California’s intestate succession laws, such as parents or siblings.

Additionally, if they can prove financial dependence, other individuals such as stepchildren, putative spouses (those who believed in good faith they were married to the deceased), and the children of putative spouses may also have the right to file a claim. This extends the scope beyond immediate family, acknowledging diverse family structures.

Wrongful death claims involve compensations for lost financial support, funeral expenses, and the loss of companionship and affection. Identifying the correct parties is the first important step in this sensitive legal process, ensuring the right individuals seek and potentially obtain rightful compensation.

Steps to Filing a Claim

  • Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney: Initially, meeting with an attorney can clarify your rights and the viability of your wrongful death claim.
  • Collect Necessary Documentation: Gather essential documents, including the death certificate, medical records, and any evidence related to the cause of death.
  • Establish Legal Standing: Verify your relationship to the deceased to determine your eligibility to file the claim under California law.
  • File the Wrongful Death Claim: Your attorney will prepare and file the necessary legal documents in the appropriate court.
  • Discovery Phase: Engage in the discovery phase, where both parties investigate the facts of the case, share documents, and interview witnesses.
  • Mediation and Negotiation: Attempt to reach a settlement through mediation with the defendant’s party, guided by your attorney.
  • Trial: If settlement is not achieved, prepare for trial, where the facts will be presented, and a jury or judge will make a final decision.

Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney

At Ardalan & Associates, we provide compassionate support and rigorous legal representation for families facing the pain of wrongful death. Our dedicated team is committed to securing the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact us for a thorough evaluation of your case and steadfast guidance.

About the Author
P. Christopher Ardalan has been a champion for the people since becoming an attorney in 2000 and establishing Ardalan & Associates, PLC. His practice, rooted in Southern California, emphasizes personal injury law where he, alongside a formidable team, tirelessly advocates for his clients. A Cum Laude graduate of California State University, Northridge, and Loyola Law School where he also graduated Cum Laude and Order of the Coif, Ardalan's early legal acumen earned him the moniker “The kid with the golden tongue.” His accolades include numerous mock trial victories, prestigious memberships, and high-profile awards such as being a Litigator Award® recipient and an inductee into ABOTA and the Million and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forums. Recognized by both his peers and prestigious legal associations, Ardalan’s relentless pursuit of justice is fueled by a lifelong dedication to learning and a heartfelt commitment to his clients. With a reputation as a seasoned trial lawyer and a compassionate advocate, he finds the greatest fulfillment in making a positive change in his clients’ lives, honoring his role as their voice for justice.