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How to File a Wrongful Death Claim Against a Drunk Driver in California 

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Chuck Geerhart
wrongful death claim against drunk driver

It’s devastating to lose a loved one in a tragic accident, but it’s all the more unfathomable when a drunk driver causes their death.

These accidents often have far-reaching consequences, leaving survivor’s lives shattered permanently.

If you lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, you may have the legal right to pursue a wrongful death claim and hold the drunk driver responsible for their actions.

While no amount of money could ever replace the void left by this loss, prevailing on a wrongful death claim against a drunk driver could provide the much-needed financial assistance that can help survivors move forward.

Where Are Wrongful Death Claims Filed? 

Unlike criminal cases where a drunk driver is charged with a crime, a wrongful death claim against a drunk driver is filed in civil court. The CA wrongful death statute defines wrongful death as an act or neglect that causes the death of another. 

Beginning a wrongful death lawsuit requires the help of a qualified personal injury attorney. Your attorney assists in filing legal documents in the correct court to start the process.

A wrongful death claim must be initiated within two years of a person’s death. Failing to file within this period may prevent you or any other eligible person from filing a claim later. 

When a loved one dies after being hit by a drunk driver, settlement values may be at the forefront of surviving family member’s minds.

While no amount of money could ever replace such a loss, a wrongful death lawsuit permits certain individuals to recover financial compensation for economic damages and noneconomic damages.

If you lost a loved one due to a drunk driver, it’s important to remember that even if the wrongdoer is not convicted of a crime, you may still pursue a wrongful death action against them in civil court. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

When a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, the victim’s surviving family may wonder who can file a wrongful death claim.

The CA wrongful death statute only permits certain individuals to file a wrongful death lawsuit, listed in order of priority as follows:

  1. The decedent’s surviving spouse. If a loved one was legally married at the time of their death, the surviving spouse or surviving registered domestic partner has the primary right to file a wrongful death claim. 
  2. The decedent’s surviving child or children. When there is no surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, or if they waive their right of priority, the decedent’s surviving child or children may file a lawsuit. Qualifying children include biological children, fully adopted children, and stepchildren. Minor children may also file a claim on behalf of a court-appointed guardian. Grandchildren may also file a wrongful death lawsuit if the decedent’s children are dead. 
  3. Dependent minors living in the house. Minors who lived with the decedent for at least six months and depended on the decedent for care and financial support may file a claim. 
  4. Parents of the decedent. Parents who prove they were financially dependent on the decedent have a right to file a wrongful death claim. In tragic situations where the deceased is a minor, the parents have the priority right to file a claim. 
  5. Other heirs. If none of the other family members survive or exist to file a claim, the decedent’s heirs may file the claim. The order of heirs is subject to California’s intestate succession laws. 
  6. Next of kin. If no relatives are available subject to California’s intestate clause, then any of the victim’s next of kin may file the lawsuit. 
  7. Personal representative. When multiple parties may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of a loved one killed by a drunk driver, a personal representative may be appointed to represent all parties in interest. The court then distributes any settlement or judgment subject to California’s wrongful death statute. 

Understanding who may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim becomes complicated when multiple parties believe they hold a priority position.

An attorney can outline the individuals with priority based on your situation and provide options for moving forward with the lawsuit. 

Contact Us 

If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or death in an accident, you need an experienced attorney on your side.

Through his decades of experience as a California injury attorney, Chuck Geerhart has represented clients in all types of personal injury cases.

When you choose the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart, you choose to be represented by one of the finest trial lawyers in California. Our clients receive personal attention from start to finish at our office and are never passed off to a paralegal or junior attorney.

Chuck Geerhart has obtained millions of dollars in judgments and settlements on behalf of his clients. Contact the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart today by phone or email to learn how we can assist you.

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