Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in California

Generally speaking, surviving family members have two years from the time of death to pursue a lawsuit. If the family fails to meet this deadline, their right to compensation may be lost.

Wrongful Death report and gavel
Quick Links
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Wrongful deaths occurring from car accidents, medical errors, and workplace accidents happen with much greater frequency than they should. And for each person killed by another’s carelessness or negligence, there are many loved ones left behind. 

    If you are suffering after the unnecessary loss of a family member, you may wonder whether you should file a wrongful death lawsuit. The legal process is sometimes complicated and difficult to understand. 

    If you have questions about wrongful death in California, you aren’t alone. In our 130 years of combined legal service at Cutter Law, we’ve helped countless clients just like you. Below, we have outlined some of the most frequently asked questions we receive in the aftermath of a wrongful death.

    How is wrongful death defined?

    Wrongful death occurs when a person behaves negligently, recklessly, or carelessly and that thus causes a death. If the death could have reasonably been avoided, then the situation likely qualifies as wrongful death. 

    Wrongful deaths can happen because of car accidents, boating accidents, pedestrian accidents, medical malpractice, and more. 

    Who is able to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

    If the deceased person was married, the surviving spouse is typically the person chosen to file a suit. A lawsuit may also be brought by children, parents, or other surviving family members. In some cases, non-family heirs can also file a claim if there are no surviving spouse, children, or parents.

    How does the statute of limitations work for minors?

    Minors who are six years old and above are covered by the medical malpractice statute of limitations. Those under the age of six have three years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit or before the minor turns eight years old. The clock on the statute of limitations is stopped when it’s found that a parent or guardian and the insurance company and/or health care provider failed to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the minor either through collusion or fraud.

    What happens if my loved one was injured for some time and then died?

    If a person is injured because of a negligent act, they may file a personal injury lawsuit. If that person dies due to the injury in question before the case is settled, the surviving family may continue to pursue the lawsuit for damages under the personal injury umbrella. 

    Once that case is settled, it is also possible to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit, although the filer may not pursue damages previously covered in the personal injury settlement.

    What is the statute of limitations for wrongful death in California?

    Generally speaking, surviving family members have two years from the time of death to pursue a lawsuit. If the family fails to meet this deadline, their right to compensation may be lost.

    What is the discovery rule?

    In California, the discovery rule states that the statute of limitations only starts once the family becomes aware that negligence caused the death of their loved one. Keep in mind that there are exceptions to this rule. 

    Most notably, in medical malpractice scenarios, the family has one year to file a lawsuit after discovering that negligence caused the death (or three years from the date of death).

    Is there a different statute of limitations if you are suing a government entity?

    In California, you have six months from the date of death to file a lawsuit against a government agency. In some cases, the statute of limitations is one year. 

    To learn more, give us a call at Cutter Law. It’s not always easy to discover the statute of limitations for your situation, and we want to make sure that you file your lawsuit in time.

    What if my loved one was partially responsible for their own death?

    California is a pure comparative fault state. This means that the family can still pursue a wrongful death claim even if the decedent shares part of the blame for the incident. You can file a lawsuit even if you hold 99% of the fault. 

    However, keep in mind that the percentage of fault will directly impact the amount of settlement you are entitled to.

    What damages can I claim for my wrongful death lawsuit?

    The damages for a wrongful death can be broken down into two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. For economic damages, you can include any quantifiable losses that relate to the death, such as funeral costs, lost income, lost benefits, and similar costs.

    For non-economic damages, you may be able to include items such as loss of companionship and/or loss of a mentor. To learn more about the types of damages that apply to your case, speak with an attorney at Cutter Law.

    Do I need an attorney to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

    As the answers above may indicate, wrongful death lawsuits can be very complicated and drawn out. While you are not legally required to obtain an attorney, we strongly recommend that you reach out to one early on in the process. 

    If you are ready to get started on your suit, give us a call—we will help you gather evidence, build a solid case, and meet any related deadlines. 

    If you still have questions after reading this list of Q and A’s, we will be happy to answer any further or more specific inquiries. Visit our contact page to learn more about Cutter Law P.C. and our experienced team. We look forward to discussing your case in further detail and helping you receive the compensation you deserve.

    Scroll to Top