Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?

When a loved one dies because of the negligent or wrongful actions of another person or entity, you may be able to file a type of civil lawsuit known as a “wrongful death claim.” For example, if your family member’s death is linked to a dangerous or defective product — such as asbestos or other types of toxic substances — you may be entitled to collect damages, including compensation to cover the deceased individual’s lost income and medical expenses, among other forms of damages.

However, not just anyone can bring such a lawsuit. In fact, California law specifically outlines which family members can actually file a wrongful death claim, including:

  • The surviving spouse of the wrongful death victim
  • The domestic partner of the wrongful death victim
  • The surviving children of the wrongful death victim
  • The “issue” of any deceased children of the wrongful death victim, i.e., direct grandchildren of the victim, but whose parents are dead

But, if there is no surviving individual in the victim’s line of descent, then anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” may be able to bring a wrongful death claim, including, but not limited to, the wrongful death victim’s parents and siblings.

In addition, the dependents of wrongful death victims may be able to seek damages, regardless of whether they are one of the individuals mentioned above. These dependents may include:

  • The surviving “putative spouse” of the wrongful death victim, i.e., a person who thought they were married to the victim, but for some reason, the marriage was void or voidable
  • The children of the wrongful death victim’s “putative spouse”
  • The stepchildren of the wrongful death victim
  • The parents of the wrongful death victim
  • Any minors who lived in the wrongful death victim’s household for at least 180 days before the date of death, and who were dependent on the victim for one-half or more of their support

While determining whether a person is eligible to bring a wrongful death claims may seem easy, it can often be quite complex, especially when multiple generations of families may be living together or supporting one another.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the information above is merely a simple outline of California law regarding wrongful death claims and therefore should not be relied upon as legal advice. Indeed, there are many other complicated scenarios in which a family member or dependent could bring a wrongful death claim. This is why it is always best to seek experienced legal guidance as soon as possible if you have any questions.