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Can a Family Sue for Damages After a Family Member is killed in a Car Crash?

According to one count, there were more than 3,259 fatal car crashes in California last year. Those resulted in 3,563 deaths. Let’s assume each person who perished had parents, a spouse, siblings and/or children. That means thousands of people are left to cope with unimaginable loss.

It is something no one really wants to consider. But it does beg a question. What if your loved one died in a car crash? Could you sue for damages? California law does provide for means of legal recourse, but only in some situations.

Leading causes of car accidents.

The following are consistently identified as leading causes of motor vehicle accidents in the United States:

  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Drowsy driving (driver fatigue)
  • Cell phone use while driving
  • Hazardous conditions (weather)
  • Red light violations (trying to “beat” the light)

In some cases, other factors may be at play. These include mechanical failures, design defects, older and younger (inexperienced) drivers, and roadway defects.

Making a wrongful death claim after a California car accident

Article 6 of the California Code of Civil Procedure addresses the legal concept of wrongful death. Specifically, Section 377.60 allows certain people to file lawsuits based on “the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

So what does this mean in the context of a fatal car accident ?

In general it means that the plaintiff must demonstrate the following in order to prevail:

  • Another driver is to blame for fatal accident in question.
  • The other motorist failed to exercise proper care while driving and this was the direct or a contributing cause of the accident in question.
  • A mechanical failure caused the crash in question (in certain circumstances)
  • A vehicle design defect caused the crash in question
  • A roadway design defect caused the crash in question
  • He or she is a family member who is legally permitted to file this type of lawsuit, or have a representative file it on your behalf.
  • He or she sustained financial losses as a result of the fatality

Eligible family members

Section 377.60(a) of the California Code of Civil Procedure details who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. This may be a personal representative or the following family members:

  • The spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Children
  • Anyone legally entitled to inherit through intestacy, as long as there are no surviving direct descendants.

Additionally, Section 377.60(b)(1) specifies that other family members may file this type of lawsuit if they can prove they were financially dependent on the person who died in the crash. Section 377.60(c) also allows minors to file a wrongful death lawsuit in certain circumstances.

Available compensation in wrongful death lawsuits

An eligible family member who files a wrongful death suit following the death of a loved one in Los Angeles area car crash may seek compensation for losses such as:

  • Loss of future financial support
  • Loss of future household contributions
  • Non-economic losses

The deceased’s estate may seek compensation for:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Medical and/or hospital expenses for the deceased’s final illness or injury
  • Lost income, including potential future income the deceased would reasonably have been expected to earn in the future had he or she not died.

One final point to keep in mind is that there is a strict timeframe, called a statute of limitations, for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in California. The deadline for doing so is two years from the deceased’s date of death. An eligible family member or personal representative who fails to meet this deadline likely forfeits their right to pursue this option for legal recourse.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.