Few things can be as trying for a family as a wrongful death claim. Being confronted with the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one is difficult, painful, and uncertain. No amount of money can ever truly fill the gap left behind by the sudden death of someone you care about, but seeking compensation for wrongful death and holding any negligent parties accountable can be a solid first step toward closure. Knowing the California wrongful death statute of limitations is paramount as well.

California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

What Is the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California?

Under California state law, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case is two years. The time limit by which to file a wrongful death claim begins on the day that the victim in question died, though there are exceptions to that start date should it prove difficult for the authorities to determine a definitive cause of death. Failure to file within that designated time frame could result in your claim being considered invalid.

While two years may seem like a decent amount of time to get started on a wrongful death claim, it can take a considerable amount of time to prepare your case. The more time you have to prepare, the better your chances of success.

What Is Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim can arise from any situation where someone’s intentional and/or negligent actions resulted in another person’s death. This can be through medical malpractice, chemical exposure, criminal actions, premises liability, or a motor vehicle accident. Damages can include funeral and burial costs, the lost income and support of the deceased, and loss of consortium.

Who Has the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under California state law, the only party who can file a wrongful death claim is the deceased’s closest surviving beneficiaries. The victim’s spouse is usually the first to be considered, followed by any surviving children of the victim. Their personal representative can file a claim on the family’s behalf.

If the victim has no spouse or surviving children, the right to file a claim falls to the victim’s parents, siblings, or any other close blood relatives who may seek to hold negligent parties accountable in court. Those who have a right to the victim’s property through intestate succession can file a wrongful death claim if there is no immediate family.

How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death Claim?

It is no easy task to prove that a wrongful death has taken place. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help you establish your case and seek damages for negligent behavior. However, you must first prove that negligence was present in the first place. Evidence of negligence may not be easy to find, but in order to move forward with your claim, it must be proven. The following criteria must also be proven:

  • An unexpected death occurred.
  • That death was the result of someone’s negligent behavior or an intent to cause bodily harm.
  • The victim’s surviving family and/or loved ones have been dealing with financial instability and uncertainty since their death.

Wrongful death suits are not intended to bring about criminal charges and put someone in prison for the death of the victim. They are personal injury claims intended to resolve the case in civil court with the goal of receiving financial compensation.


Q: How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

A: In California, there is a statute of limitations of two years. You will have two years from the date of the victim’s death to begin preparing legal action and filing for compensatory damages. There are exceptions to that deadline, such as if it proves difficult to determine a cause of death. In that case, the deadline may begin on the date that the cause of death is accurately determined. If you don’t file your claim within the time frame, this may result in your case being thrown out.

Q: Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death in California?

A: For most wrongful death cases in California, there is no cap on how much you can pursue in compensatory damages. An exception is if the wrongful death in question is connected to a medical malpractice case. In that case, the cap for wrongful death damages was set at $500,000, becoming effective in 2023.

This amount will increase by $50,000 each year until it reaches $1,000,000. Outside of medical malpractice cases, compensation amounts are decided by a jury that determines a fair and reasonable amount.

Q: What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

A: The elements of a wrongful death claim in California are a number of important criteria that you must prove, alongside evidence of negligent behavior. These elements include:

  • Someone died unexpectedly.
  • The death was caused by someone’s negligent behavior or harmful intent.
  • The victim’s surviving family is enduring hardship as a result of the financial loss.

Q: What Is the “One-Action Rule” for Wrongful Death in California?

A: The “one-action rule” in wrongful death cases in California prevents one defendant from being sued multiple times by various family members of the deceased. In the place of multiple lawsuits, the family may come together to file a single wrongful death suit against one person for their negligent behavior that resulted in the death of their loved one. This prevents the defendant from being sued multiple times for the same incident.

Reach Out to an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer Today

Facing the aftermath of a wrongful death can be traumatizing and frustrating. You may feel overwhelmed with the legal process as you grieve. Losing a loved one is always a horrible tragedy, but losing them because of someone else’s negligent actions is even worse. Thankfully, we are here to help you through this trying time.

The talented attorneys at Easton & Easton understand your pain and are prepared to help you develop your case. We can help you gather evidence to prove negligence, face off against insurance companies, and advocate on your behalf if the case proceeds to trial. Contact us to schedule a consultation with a helpful, experienced lawyer.