How Do You Prove Wrongful Death in California?

Wrongful Death

wrongful death

More than 200,000 Americans die each year from unintentional injuries, like car accidents that were caused by someone else. Such injuries are the fourth leading cause of wrongful death in the US, and many of these fatalities resulted from auto accidents.

Accidents resulting in a fatality can leave families financially devastated, which is why compensation can be recovered from the liable party. However, proving wrongful death in court is complex and requires plaintiffs meet the burden of proof standards. Specifically, there are four elements involved in such cases that must be met in order for a family to recover damages. Here are the key elements to know regarding wrongful death in California after an auto accident.


What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit allows living family members to seek justice on behalf of a loved one who died due to another party’s negligent actions. However, not all accidental deaths qualify as wrongful death. 

California defines wrongful death as a death caused by someone’s wrongful act or neglect. If the deceased would have been able to file a personal injury case while alive, you’ll be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Those that can file a wrongful death case include the deceased’s surviving spouse/domestic partner, child, or grandchild. Additionally, if anyone else can prove they were dependent on the deceased, they can file a wrongful death lawsuit.


The Four Elements of Proving Wrongful Death

wrongful death lawyer

As mentioned, there are four elements of wrongful death cases. They are negligence, breach of duty, causation, and damages. 

1. Negligence

First, you must prove the death of the deceased was caused in part or whole by:

  • The carelessness of the defendant
  • The recklessness of the defendant
  • Negligent actions of the defendant 

Negligence is the failure to act reasonably or according to the standard of care, resulting in injury or harm to another person. It’s the most common foundation for wrongful death cases in California.

2. Breach of Duty

Next, you need to prove that the defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased. Duty is the responsibility to act in a way that a rational person would in the same or similar circumstances. For instance, all drivers have the duty to drive safely and follow traffic laws to prevent collisions and injuries.

You must identify how the defendant’s duty exists and that the defendant breached the duty because of negligent actions. A breach can be any action or omission that a reasonable person most likely wouldn’t have committed, like reckless acts or a wanton disregard for the safety of others. Examples of a motorist’s breach of duty are:

  • Distracted driving
  • Drunk driving
  • Aggressive driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Violating traffic laws

3. Causation

Causation means that the defendant’s breach of duty caused or considerably contributed to the deceased’s death. So, you need to prove how the defendant’s negligence caused the death. In other words, the death would not have occurred if it weren’t for the defendant’s breach of duty.

4. Damages

Finally, you must gather quantifiable damages. Damages are losses suffered by the plaintiff because of the defendant’s wrongful actions or neglect. This can include:

  • Loss of income 
  • Loss of potential earnings
  • Loss of protection, guidance, and inheritance
  • Hospitalizations 
  • Medical expenses
  • Burial costs
  • Funeral costs
  • Pain and suffering of the deceased before death

It is possible that the deceased received substantial injuries before death. If this is the case, you’ll need as much evidence as possible from when the injury occurred until death to support your claim.

However, you don’t need to prove that the defendant meant to kill the deceased. You also don’t need to prove that the defendant intended to harm the dead. Still, proving quantifiable damages is complex and requires producing solid and convincing evidence. You may need to call expert witnesses as proof. 

That’s why it’s imperative to hire a wrongful death attorney to help you gather evidence and help build your case.  


Proving Wrongful Death After a Car Accident 

personal injury lawyer

There are many common causes of wrongful death lawsuits, with a car accident death being one. Yet, all wrongful death cases require the same four elements listed above. In a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s the plaintiff’s burden to prove the case. 

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof is the weight of the evidence. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases, not criminal. Thus, the burden of proof is lower.

However, you still need to present significant evidence to win a wrongful death case because there are no set standards like in a criminal case. The jury must find the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. 

Although the civil cases have a lesser burden of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s still challenging to gather enough evidence to prove a successful claim. A winning case typically includes: 

  • Effective strategy development
  • Investigation
  • Collection of evidence
  • Expert testimonies
  • Eye-wintess testimones
  • Expertise in tort law

The legal process will include mediations, demands, and possibly a settlement. But, if the plaintiff and defendant cannot agree, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit and take the case to trial.


If the plaintiff and defendant come to a settlement, the wrongful death lawyers will receive a check from the defendant’s insurance company. The lawyers will deduct their fees and pay the agreed-upon amount to the plaintiffs. 

The funds go directly to the plaintiffs, not to the deceased’s estate. Those who receive a wrongful death settlement don’t need to pay tax on the payment. This includes income tax, estate tax, and inheritance tax. 


Get Help With Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

car accident lawyer

There are different methods attorneys use to calculate how much compensation a family can expect to be awarded. They start by adding up the monetary damages associated with the death. This number is the basis of how much money a family is expected to lose based on the passing of the deceased’s earned income. 

If you need to file a wrongful death claim our law firm is here to provide you with the support and knowledge you need to win your case. The Law Offices of Daniel Kim can provide you with guidance and help you recover maximum compensation for your wrongful death case. 

We provide our clients with personalized one-on-one representation. We are committed to our clients and helping them recover from such a difficult time. To learn more, schedule a free consultation with our law firm.