Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Action in California?

When a loved one dies due to someone else’s negligence, certain surviving family members could have the right to bring a wrongful death action in California. While no amount of money can bring your family member back, a wrongful death lawsuit can help you get some degree of justice for their death. The responsible party or parties should be held accountable, and civil action is often your best legal avenue.

California law doesn’t allow just anyone to file a wrongful death action, though. There is a specific hierarchy and list of surviving family members eligible to bring a California wrongful death action. To discuss your potential case, speak with a skilled California wrongful death claim lawyer at Henderson Law today.

Family Members Entitled to Bring a Wrongful Death Action in California

California Civil Code of Procedure (CCP) Section 377.60 outlines who has legal standing to bring a wrongful death claim. The following parties are the only ones entitled to collect in a California wrongful death action.


If you are the surviving spouse, you have the legal right to file a wrongful death action in California. This right also extends to domestic partners and “putative” spouses. CCP 377.60 defines a putative spouse as the surviving spouse of the deceased who is actually in a void or voidable marriage. The court must find that the putative spouse believed in good faith that the marriage was valid.


If the deceased had surviving children, they also have a right to pursue a wrongful death action. A stepchild can file a claim provided they can prove they were financially dependent on the victim when they passed away.

Was there another minor child living with the deceased who is not a child by law? If so, they may have a right to a wrongful death claim provided they lived with the deceased for a minimum of 180 days before the victim’s death and the minor was financially dependent on the deceased for at least 50% of their support.


If you are a parent who lost their minor child to someone else’s negligence, you have the right to file a wrongful death claim. If your child is 18 and over, you can still file provided they have no descendants. If you can demonstrate that you were financially dependent on your child, you are also eligible.

Other Potential Heirs

There are cases where someone passes away with no spouse or child. California also looks for other potential heirs. Someone who could legally inherit the deceased’s property under California intestacy laws could have the right to bring a claim. These people have legal standing as an heir under the law when someone dies without a will.

It’s not uncommon to have multiple heirs eligible to bring a wrongful death action in California. Representing more than one of these parties could raise some ethical concerns. In this particular situation, it’s usually best to have the estate’s personal representative file the lawsuit on behalf of all beneficiaries. In this situation, the personal representative would distribute the funds to each qualified beneficiary.

One Action Rule for a California Wrongful Death Action

California has a rule that all potential claimants in wrongful death litigation must be joined on the same lawsuit. This “one action rule” is designed to make things fairer. Defendants should not have to defend multiple lawsuits for the same cause of wrongful action. There are also some benefits from this rule for the plaintiffs (i.e., the claimants in a wrongful death action) because it eliminates the chance of any inconsistent results. Imagine a situation where the court awards one plaintiff money but finds for the defendant in another case.

Anyone who files a wrongful death claim must avoid a potentially unfair result and add all known heirs to the suit. You need to let your California wrongful death claim lawyer know who all the rightful heirs are, even if you do not want to. Otherwise, the court could hold you liable for intentionally withholding an heir’s name. It does not matter if other attorneys represent the other parties.

Deadline to File a Wrongful Death Action in California

Like other personal injury actions, there is a cutoff to how long you can bring a California wrongful death action. For most wrongful death lawsuits, you must file an action within two years from the date of death. There may be some exceptions to this rule in limited scenarios. Failure to file within the allotted time frame means the court will likely dismiss your entire case and your family will not be entitled to receive any compensation.

If your wrongful death claim involves medical malpractice against a doctor or healthcare provider, you might have up to three years from the date of injury or one year after you found out or should have found out about the malpractice, whichever one comes first.

For claims involving a government agency, such as a county-owned vehicle or medical malpractice occurring at a state hospital, the time to file a claim is significantly shorter. You only have six months from the date of death to file. Also, you must use the proper form from that particular agency, or they will reject your claim outright.

Determining the proper deadline for a wrongful death claim can be tricky. That is one reason why we highly recommend retaining an experienced legal practitioner as soon as possible. You need someone who can accurately determine the proper filing procedures and deadlines. Otherwise, you risk losing out on valuable compensation your family is entitled to receive.

Contact a California Wrongful Death Claim Attorney

Wrongful death action in California.Understandably, the loss of a loved one is overwhelming. It is an emotional and stressful time for your family. Rather than burden yourself with the complexities of a California wrongful death action, let us help. At Henderson Law, we have over two decades of personal injury experience in California. We’ve recovered over ten million dollars on behalf of our clients. Let us protect your family’s rights and ensure that the responsible party is held accountable for their actions.

Contact our office today to schedule a consultation. We will review the circumstances of your family member’s death and help you determine the best course of legal action. We strive always to provide professional yet compassionate representation. We will walk you through every step of the process and always seek to protect your rights. We will put our experience to work for you so you can concentrate on being there for your family.