How to Prove Wrongful Death in California

Losing a loved one due to another party’s negligence is a horrible tragedy. Sadly, no amount of money can bring your family member back either. However, a California wrongful death claim can provide much-needed financial support for your family’s sudden and unexpected loss. Pursuing a claim also can help hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. Before you can collect any compensation, though, you need to prove wrongful death in California. The best way to achieve this is to hire an experienced California wrongful death claim lawyer at Henderson Law Firm.

Wrongful death claims are very different from other types of personal injury claims. Allowable damages in a wrongful death claim are those belonging to surviving family members, not the losses of the deceased. Potential damages can include loss of companionship and financial support, funeral expenses, and more. When you hire Henderson Law Firm, you’re getting the benefit of working with dedicated and skilled attorneys who have collected more than ten million dollars on behalf of injured clients.

Proving Negligence

Many wrongful death claims involve negligence rather than intentional harm. Defendants in a wrongful death claim can be individuals, companies, or other entities. To prove a wrongful death claim in California, you need evidence of the following elements.

Duty of Care

The first element you need to prove in a wrongful death claim is the duty of care. That means the defendant must have owed the deceased victim some duty of care. One of the most common examples involves car accidents. Drivers are expected to follow applicable laws and not put other motorists in harm’s way. If you can’t establish a duty of care, you won’t have grounds for a wrongful death claim.

Breach of Duty of Care

If you can show the defendant owed your family member a duty of care, the next step is to show they breached this duty. For example, a driver behind the wheel owes other motorists a duty of care, and a property owner owes a duty to keep their premises safe for visitors. If a driver was distracted and ran the light, or a store owner left a spill on the floor for hours, they likely breached their duty of care.


Causation is one of the most complex elements to prove and the one element of negligence that people misunderstand. The defendant’s breach of duty of care must be what caused your loved one’s death. If your loved one was in an accident with a drunk driver and then died of a heart attack six months later, the drunk driver probably isn’t responsible for your family member’s death.


Once you prove the first three elements, the final hurdle is to show damages. Surviving family members must have suffered financial and other tangible losses due to the victim’s death. You cannot successfully prove a wrongful death claim in California if you suffered only emotional distress.

Negligence Versus Intentional Harm

While many wrongful death claims involve negligence, some involve deliberate actions. Someone who was distracted and accidentally ran a red light is negligent. Someone who aimed for your family member’s car and purposely ran into them committed intentional harm.

If you can prove the defendant’s wrongful actions constituted felony homicide, you can seek exemplary, or punitive, damages from the defendant. These damages are calculated to punish the defendant for their conduct.

Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims

Any incident or accident caused by another party’s negligence could lead to a wrongful death claim in California. Some of the most common underlying actions involve:

  • Auto accidents,
  • Truck accidents,
  • Motorcycle accidents,
  • Bicycle and pedestrian accidents,
  • Slip and falls,
  • Assault,
  • Nursing home abuse,
  • Domestic violence,
  • Negligent security,
  • Medical malpractice,
  • Construction site accidents,
  • Swimming pool accidents, and
  • Dog bites.

If you are unsure whether you can prove wrongful death in California, it’s best to speak with a skilled lawyer who can answer all your questions.

Criminal or Civil Wrongful Death Claim in California?

Proving wrongful death in California.Understandably, how to prove a wrongful death claim in California is confusing for some prospective clients. The defendants could be facing criminal charges for their part in your loved one’s death. If the state or federal government decides to file criminal charges against them, you still have the right to file a civil wrongful death claim. These are two entirely different cases with a separate burden of proof.

The government, rather than an individual, files criminal cases. The outcome involves a loss of freedom or other types of punishment. The court might order the defendant to pay restitution, but that does not take the place of compensation in a civil claim. Civil claims involve financial awards, not jail time.

In a civil case, the jury must find that the defendant was responsible for the death by a preponderance of the evidence, whereas the burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. The right to pursue a civil claim for wrongful death is not dependent on the defendant being found guilty in the criminal trial.

Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim

You only have a limited amount of time to prove a wrongful death claim in California before you need to file a lawsuit. The legal name for this deadline is the statute of limitations. In most cases, you have two years from the date of death to file a lawsuit. However, certain types of claims may have different deadlines. For example, you may have only six months if your claim involves a government entity as a defendant.

Hiring a California Wrongful Death Claim Attorney

It is complicated and time-consuming to pursue a wrongful death claim. You need a legal advocate who understands the applicable laws and has the necessary experience to prove a wrongful death claim in California.

At Henderson Law, we have the resources and skills to take your case to trial, if necessary. We have ample trial experience, including against large corporate defendants. We offer aggressive yet compassionate representation. We understand this is a traumatic time for your family. We want to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible while remaining committed to pursuing the maximum compensation possible. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation. Let us put our two decades of experience to work for you.