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What Is the California Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?

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Chuck Geerhart
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The unexpected death of a loved one is always a tragedy under any circumstances. However, when one’s negligent or willful act causes death, the resulting trauma suffered by surviving family members may never heal.

After the wrongful death of a loved one, you may not know where to turn to pursue justice. A wrongful death can happen in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of California’s wrongful death statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit.

The complexity of wrongful death lawsuits requires the assistance of a qualified wrongful death attorney. It’s vital to understand the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in California to avoid missing your opportunity to recover damages.  

What Is the California Wrongful Death Statute? 

When someone causes the death of a loved one by negligent or intentional acts, California’s wrongful death statute permits surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Family members file the wrongful death lawsuit against the party who caused the death of their loved one. Wrongful death lawsuits operate separately from any potential criminal charges brought against the at-fault party. The most common types of wrongful death lawsuits result from the following incidents: 

  • Car accidents, 
  • Pedestrian accidents,
  • Truck accidents, 
  • Products liability cases, 
  • Work-related cases, and

A wrongful death lawsuit permits surviving family members or beneficiaries to file a claim for compensation for economic and non-economic losses. 

Who May File?

The following individuals may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a deceased loved one:

  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse;
  • The deceased person’s domestic partner; or
  • The deceased person’s surviving children.

If none of these parties exist at the time of a person’s death, California’s wrongful death statute permits other parties to file a lawsuit.

In these situations, other familial parties are entitled to inherit the property of the decedent through California laws of intestate succession. These include the deceased person’s surviving parents or siblings. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in California? 

Generally, the California wrongful death statute provides a statute of limitations of two years from the date of the deceased person’s passing.

While two years may feel like a substantial amount of time to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, this timeframe can pass quickly for grieving family members. Therefore, it’s important to seek the counsel of a qualified wrongful death attorney promptly upon the passing of a loved one. 

Are There Exceptions to the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations? 

Few exceptions exist to the California wrongful death statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for wrongful death in California may be tolled in special circumstances. However, the statute of limitations always runs in some form. 

When the statute of limitations is tolled for a specific reason, the clock pauses until that condition is satisfied. Then the clock starts running again. The wrongful death statute of limitations in California may be tolled for the following reasons. 

Minor Child 

If the party filing the wrongful death lawsuit is a minor child, the statute of limitations pauses until the child reaches the age of 18.

Therefore, if a child loses a parent at the age of 12, the wrongful death statute of limitations does not begin running until six years later when the child reaches the age of 18. From that point, the party has two years to bring their California wrongful death lawsuit under the current statute.  

Delayed Death 

In situations where a loved one is injured but alive in a coma, for example, California’s wrongful death statute of limitations does not begin at the point of injury. For example, suppose that a loved one is injured in a car accident and falls into a coma.

For six months, your loved one fights to stay alive. However, in the end, they lose their fight. The statute of limitations for wrongful death in California does not begin running until the date of death, even though the accident happened six months earlier. 

Discovery Rule

In situations where family members failed to discover the death of a loved one, the wrongful death statute of limitations in California also tolls. For example, suppose a loved one was assumed to be missing for some time.

However, after a few years, it is discovered that they passed away and the family members wish to file a wrongful death claim. In this instance, even though the death occurred some years prior, family members did not discover the death at that time.

In this situation, the statute of limitations for wrongful death in California does not begin running until the date the family members discovered the death. 

Other 

For wrongful death lawsuits pursued against a government agency, the statute of limitations is only six months from the date of death. Retaining the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney ensures you don’t miss out on your opportunity to pursue justice for the loss of a loved one. 

Contact Us 

At the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart, we understand how devastating it may be to lose a loved one under tragic circumstances. We also understand the complexity of wrongful death lawsuits and the strict statute of limitations imposed by California’s wrongful death statute.

Wrongful death is difficult to understand and you may not even know if you have a case. We can help. Our primary focus is assisting you and your family recover just financial compensation after your devastating loss.

While no form of compensation could ever replace the loss of a loved one, financial compensation can make your life easier in many ways—indirectly giving you the space you need to heal. Let us take care of the legal maneuvering. Contact The Law Office of Chuck Geerhart today for a free, no-obligation consultation of your case. 

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