When a fatal accident occurs, the loved ones of the deceased struggle with grief and loss. Often, these emotions become compounded by the stress of financial problems when the person who died was a family breadwinner.

If your family member died in an incident caused by third-party negligence, you may be able to receive wrongful death compensation. These are the answers to the most common questions about filing this type of claim in California.

What constitutes wrongful death in California?

Legally, wrongful death occurs when action or lack of action by an individual or company leads to the fatal incident. To receive a wrongful death settlement, the plaintiff must prove that the person’s death occurred because of another’s negligence or intent to cause harm. He or she must also show that the family member’s death has caused financial damages and that there is an appointed personal representative for the person’s estate.

Who can file a claim?

Only certain individuals can file a wrongful death suit. This includes the person’s spouse or child. In the absence of these survivors, the person who would receive the individual’s estate through succession can file a claim. In some cases, a former spouse, stepchildren or in-laws may file a claim if the court finds they are acting in good faith. A minor may file a claim if he or she lived in the deceased person’s house for at least six months and depended on him or her for support (a foster child, for example).

What damages does the court award?

The judge accounts for the following financial and nonfinancial costs when determining a wrongful death award:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Final medical expenses
  • Lost wages and projected future wages
  • Lost financial support
  • Lost love, guidance, companionship and affection

You have two years after a loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California. Although finances may be the last thing on your mind, you may want to seek legal advice if you believe negligence or malice took place.