When a family member dies as a result of another person’s negligence or wrongful actions, California law allows you to file a wrongful death lawsuit (Civil Procedure §377.60) and/or a survival action lawsuit (Civil Procedure §377.30). Understanding the differences between the two claims will help you recover maximum compensation, as well as avoid disagreements with other beneficiaries. The two claims differ in:
- Type of compensation that may be pursued
- Who can claim just compensation
- Payout procedures
- Tax requirements
Wrongful death lawsuits in California
You may file a wrongful death lawsuit when a loved one has died as a result of another’s negligence or wrongdoing.
- Compensation: Wrongful death lawsuits compensate family members for loss of love, support, training, guidance, assistive services, protection, companionship, consortium, and the loss to society. They can recover money for funeral and burial expenses.
- What’s Not Included: Notably, wrongful death lawsuits do not provide compensation for the survivors’ grief, sorrow, pain, and suffering, nor does it allow the award of punitive damages.
- Claimants: The decedent’s next of kin are entitled to recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. The court will determine the degree of dependency for the surviving spouse or domestic partner, parents, and children under 18. In some circumstances, dependent grandchildren and adult children may have a valid claim. In some cases, the spouse may receive everything and the adult children nothing.
- Deductions: Since the award is given to the surviving family members, compensation is tax-free.
Survival Cause of Action in California
You may file a survival cause of action if the decedent did not immediately die from injuries suffered.
- Compensation: Survival action lawsuits compensate the decedent’s estate for medical expenses and lost wages the individual would have the right to claim had he or she survived. Other compensation may include punitive and exemplary damages, as well as penalties designed to punish wrongdoers.
- What’s Not Included: Burial and funeral expenses are not included. The California statute also does not include damages for the decedent’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement prior to death.
- Claimants: The estate’s personal representative or successor-in-interest can file a claim on behalf of the decedent. A probate estate must be set up before compensation is given out to the respective parties. Non-family members (such as churches, charities, or other specific individuals) can receive proceeds from a survival action if it is noted in the decedent’s will. Survival action proceeds are distributed pursuant to the will or the laws of intestacy in the absence of a will.
- Deductions: Since compensation is given to the decedent, survival actions are subject to federal and estate tax. If the deceased has unpaid bills – credit cards, medical bills, or other debts – these creditors are paid before the heirs receive their money.
Why does it matter whether a plaintiff files wrongful death or survival actions?
Hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney will help you navigate the complexities of California law. If your loved one had many unpaid bills and medical expenses, filing a survival action may result in very minimal compensation for surviving kin. However, it is necessary if it’s very important for you to punish those responsible for your loved one’s death.
A lawyer is a valuable friend who can educate you on your legal options and advocate for maximum compensation. The attorneys at The Salamati Law Firm in Southern California have an in-depth knowledge of the law that will help you decide whether to file for wrongful death, survival action, or both. Contact our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Additional “wrongful death vs. survival action” resources
- California Legislative Information, CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE – CCP, ARTICLE 6. Wrongful Death [377.60 – 377.62] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=377.60.&lawCode=CCP
- Justia, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), 3921. Wrongful Death (Death of an Adult), https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/docs/caci/3900/3921.html