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Who Can File a California Wrongful Death Claim?

March 17, 2020

After any unexpected death, it is normal to feel anger and want answers. A wrongful death lawsuit cannot always give you the answers you want. It can, however, be a powerful tool for demanding information from a defendant. It can also be a powerful tool for change. Without accountability, negligent individuals and companies have no incentive to change dangerous behaviors. Wrongful death litigation keeps Californians safer by demanding that negligent drivers, abusive nursing homes, and employers who put profits ahead of safety be held accountable for their actions. 

While wrongful death claims are an important tool, they are generally only available to certain close relatives. Section 377.60 of the California Code of Civil Procedure gives a specific list of who can file a wrongful death action:

A Surviving Spouse and Children

The closest surviving relatives have priority to file a wrongful death suit. If the decedent had a surviving spouse or children, they will usually be identified as the appropriate plaintiff. A registered domestic partner can also qualify. In some cases, a “putative spouse” can also qualify as a plaintiff. A putative spouse is one who believes he or she was married to the decedent, but actually was not due to some legal impediment. A common example includes a prior divorce that was not finalized at the time the marriage to the decedent took place. The court must find that the putative spouse believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid. Children, stepchildren, and parents of the putative spouse can also qualify, but any of these parties must prove that they were financially dependent upon the decedent.

Statutory Heirs

If a person dies without a will, the law defines an order in which relatives can inherit his or her estate. The law allows individuals to inherit in their order of closeness of relation to the decedent: siblings, then nieces and nephews, and so on. The same order or relatives is used to establish the proper plaintiff in a wrongful death suit. If the decedent has no surviving spouse or children, the next closest surviving relative can serve as the plaintiff. 

Dependent Minors

The law also gives special consideration to minors who were financially dependent upon the decedent. This can include stepchildren, godchildren, or other minors who would not otherwise be entitled to file a wrongful death action under the rules of relative closeness. If, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support, he or she can file a wrongful death action.

The Right California Wrongful Death Attorneys For Your Family

A wrongful death claim can be a difficult process for any grieving family, but this is a critical step toward protecting other victims from preventable deaths. Without accountability, defendants will continue acting negligently, and place other innocent victims at risk of serious injury or death. At Bogaards Law, we fight hard to hold negligent defendants accountable for causing preventable deaths. We have helped guide many grieving family members through the process of filing claims and navigating litigation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled wrongful death attorneys.


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