What Constitutes Wrongful Death in California

Losing someone you love is a tragedy. It’s even worse when the cause of death is negligence. If you lost someone close to you because of someone else’s actions or failure to act, then you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

You can recover financial compensation if you can prove that the other party’s negligence caused the death of your loved one.

Our experienced attorneys at Beliz Law Firm can explain what constitutes wrongful death in California. Contact us today and schedule a free case evaluation.

What Qualifies As Wrongful Death?

California law defines wrongful death as a “cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” 

A wrongful death lawsuit can come about as a result of various situations. You must prove that someone either committed an intentional act or acted negligently. 

Intentional Act

An intentional act is an act committed purposefully. It is a wrongful act if it endangers others. 

If the intentional act causes the death of another, a wrongful death claim may be pursued. 

For example, suppose someone engages in a physical altercation with another person. The attacker has committed the wrongful and intentional act of battery. If the victim later dies of the injuries they sustained in the fight, then the victim’s family may be able to file a wrongful death action against the attacker.

Note, if your loved one was murdered you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit even if the murder suspect is acquitted.


Most wrongful death lawsuits arise from incidents of negligence. Negligence occurs when someone acts carelessly doing something or not doing something. A wrongful death claim may be initiated when negligence results in someone’s death. 

Negligence wrongful death claims can arise from the following incidents:

To prove negligence, you must prove the following four elements.

Duty of Care

You must prove that the person you are suing had a duty of care to the deceased. Determining the duty of care is fact-intensive. Examples include:

  • Vehicle accidents. For any accidents on the road, every driver owes everyone a duty of care to drive safely. 
  • Medical malpractice. Every healthcare professional owes a duty to patients to provide competent care.
  • Premises liability. Businesses, stores, and other places open to the public must be safe. This duty to keep the premises safe rests with the property owners.

The lawyers at Beliz Law Firm will help investigate to see if the person you are suing had a duty of care to your deceased loved one.

Breach of Duty

Next, there must be a breach of duty to the deceased. You must prove that the party you are suing did something or failed to do something. This action or inaction caused them to breach their duty.

For example, when motorists fail to stop at a red light, they breach their duty to drive safely. Or, when a doctor diagnoses a heart attack as heartburn without performing proper tests, then they breach their duty to provide an appropriate level of care.


To be successful in your negligence claim, it is not enough that you prove a breach of duty. You must connect the breach to the death of your loved one. 

Your California wrongful death attorney will help you gather the evidence necessary to hold the parties responsible for your loved one’s death accountable.


No amount of compensation can reverse time and bring your loved one back to life. But a wrongful death claim allows you to recover losses that resulted from your loved one’s death, including the following:

  • Funeral and burial expenses,
  • Loss of financial support,
  • Loss of companionship, and
  • Loss of consortium.

Calculating damages can be complex. Let the experienced attorneys at Beliz Law Firm handle the work while you and your family recover from your tragic loss. 

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

California law outlines who can bring a wrongful death claim. They include the following:

  • Surviving spouse,
  • Domestic partner,
  • Children,
  • Children of deceased children,
  • Parents,
  • Legal guardians, and
  • Stepchildren.

The putative spouse of the decedent and any children they have may also be able to file a wrongful death claim. 

A minor who does not fit any of these categories may also file a wrongful death claim if they lived with the decedent for 180 days before the decedent’s death and were dependent on the decedent for at least one-half of their support.

How Long Do You Have to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

There is a specified time frame to bring civil and criminal claims in California. This time frame is called the statute of limitations. Once this deadline has passed, a plaintiff can no longer pursue a claim. In California, a party has two years to bring a wrongful death claim. 

Even if you can prove all the elements of what constitutes a wrongful death lawsuit, you cannot hold the negligent party accountable if you fail to bring the claim within two years.

Be aware that the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim starts on the date your loved one passed away, which may not be the same date as the incident or accident.

Contact Beliz Law Firm for a Free Case Consultation

California wrongful death cases can get complicated. It may be hard to determine what is considered a wrongful death. That’s why you must talk to the experienced attorneys at Beliz Law Firm.

With almost two decades of legal experience, founder Michael A. Beliz has recovered millions of dollars for his clients. Michael understands the difficult time you are going through. At Beliz Law Firm, you don’t have to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy alone.

Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

Author Photo

Michael Beliz

Michael A. Beliz, Esq., established The Beliz Law Firm in the spring of 2011.  Michael has been a practicing attorney since 2006 and worked for two of the most prominent plaintiff’s personal injury law firms in Southern California.  He has worked on and handled hundreds of cases as an attorney in all types of personal injury cases, including vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents and dog bites, and successfully recovered millions of dollars for his clients.

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