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Losing a loved one is an awful experience that too many California families go through every year. And while the at-fault party may end up facing criminal charges, this doesn’t help the family cope with the short- and long-term costs of losing that person. California law recognizes this through the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60, more commonly known as the wrongful death statute. 

When someone dies due to a negligent or wrongful act of another, this law allows their surviving family to seek compensation in civil court. But like most causes of action, there is a specific time frame for filing this lawsuit. It is important to know what this limit is and how it can affect a family’s right to recover damages.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in California

The legal term “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file their lawsuit before they are barred from doing so. Most of the time, this clock starts ticking down from the date of the accident or incident in question. In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit is two years from the date of the decedent’s death. But there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions to the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California

There are some situations where the normal two-year California wrongful death statute can be either extended or shortened. Whether one of these applies depends on the circumstances and specific facts unique to each claim.

The Discovery Rule

The discovery rule allows the court to extend a statute of limitations when the plaintiff doesn’t know of (or could have reasonably discovered) their injuries and other damages until after the incident date. For example, this rule might apply if an auto accident victim suffers latent injuries that could only be discovered weeks or months after the incident.

For wrongful death, it is invoked when the victim’s family could not have reasonably found out about their death until some time afterward. The statute is then paused until the date they learned of (or discovered) the decedent’s passing. 

Medical Malpractice

If the family member died due to negligence by a doctor or other medical professional, the filing timeline is a bit different. For the wrongful death caused by medical malpractice, the family must bring the claim within three years of when the malpractice occurred or, if it is discovered later, within one year of the date when the malpractice should have reasonably been discovered. 

Lawsuits Against Government Entities

While some exceptions extend a filing date, this one shortens it. The California wrongful death statute applied a shorter limitations period when a state or local government entity or employee caused a wrongful death. The California statute of limitations in these situations is only six months from the date of death.

How Can a Lawyer Help with a Wrongful Death Claim?

Knowing how, when, and where to file a wrongful death suit is stressful, especially when grieving the loss of a loved one; This is where a California personal injury attorney can help. We can help you navigate the claims process all while keeping an eye on California’s wrongful death statute of limitations. In addition, an experienced attorney knows what kinds of financial compensation you are entitled to seek and how much.

We also know to calculate those damages so that you have the best shot at full and fair compensation. You can never replace a loved one after a wrongful death. Still, a compassionate and dedicated attorney can help you seek compensation to cover the costs and losses that losing a family member brings.

Lose a Loved One in California? Call the Farzam Law Firm Today

If you have suffered the loss of a family member due to someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions, we offer our deepest condolences. At the Farzam Law Firm, we have over 20 years of experience helping Californians through tough times.

Our personal injury team provides compassionate and dedicated representation for our clients, whether through negotiation or trial. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 310-226-6890 or contact us here.

Author Photo

Joseph Farzam

Mr. Farzam attended Santa Monica high school and worked at McDonald’s and local coffee shops to support himself. Although he worked 2 or 3 jobs, he valued education greatly and earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Northridge in biology, and attended the prestigious Pepperdine University School of Law. He graduated with high marks and passed the California bar exam on the first try. Mr. Farzam has received the coveted titles of Super Lawyer, Los Angeles Magazine’s Top Lawyers, and has received The Litigator Awards.  He is a proud member of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) and California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA).

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