What You Need to Know About the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California

In a wrongful death lawsuit, an individual asserts a cause of action for the death of their loved one due to another person’s wrongful act or neglect. Here’s what you need to know about the wrongful death statute of limitations in California.

As defined in California Penal Code Section 335.1, individuals have two years from the date of a person’s wrongful death to file a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is not filed within this time frame, the victim’s family loses the right to file the case at all.

What is Considered “Wrongful Death” in California? Who Can File for It?

A wrongful death case in California may arise when a victim dies due to another individual’s wrongful act or act of negligence. This includes incidents such as car accidents and medical malpractice, as well as intentional acts like crimes. The difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal homicide lawsuit is the way in which the two are penalized, with wrongful deaths penalized through “damages,” which can be either financial or non-financial, and criminal homicides penalized through jail time or probation.

Related: How to Calculate Wrongful Death Damages in California

The California Code of Civil Procedure Section 337.60 states that the following people are eligible to file for a victim’s wrongful death:

  • The victim’s personal representative
  • The victim’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The victim’s children, or issue of deceased children

If there is no surviving descendant of the decedent, the people (including the surviving spouse or domestic partner) who would be entitled to the victim’s property are also eligible. This could also include the victim’s parents or siblings.

Additionally, the following people can also file for a victim’s wrongful death if they can prove that they were financially dependent on the victim:

  • The victim’s putative spouse (a spouse who wrongfully believed they were in a valid marriage with the victim) and their children
  • The victim’s stepchildren
  • The victim’s parents
  • The victim’s legal guardians, if the victim’s parents are deceased

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations, also known as a prescriptive period, is the maximum time period after an event in which related legal proceedings can be initiated. This time period is set by a legislative body. This time period usually varies depending on the case at hand.

Despite the existence of a statute of limitations in a case, it is still encouraged that victims file their cases as soon as possible. Usually, the sooner that a survivor brings their case to court, the more elements of the case (such as witnesses or evidence) are available, and the more likely it is that the case will be successful.

Related: Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California

FAQs About the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California

Regardless of when I choose to file my case, my loved one still had a wrongful death. Why should it matter when I file my case? Why does the statute of limitations exist?

The statute of limitations exists in regards to many different events, including wrongful death, but also things like childhood sexual assault and personal injury. Statutes of limitations are put in place to ensure that when cases are brought to the court, there is still adequate evidence that is valid and relevant to make decisions on the cases.

What happens if I don’t file my case within two years of my loved one’s wrongful death?

If you don’t file your wrongful death lawsuit within the two years allotted by the wrongful death statute of limitations, you most likely will lose all rights to filing the lawsuit.

Contact Us

If you have any more questions about the wrongful death statute of limitations in California, contact us. The attorneys at Her Lawyer can help you build a strong case and receive compensation on behalf of the wronged party. Get your free consultation today!