Guide to Wrongful Death Claims

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Wrongful death refers to any loss of life caused by the actions or inaction of another party. In the state of California, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by family members who have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person, corporation, or even government entity. The best way to determine if you have cause to file suit is through a one-on-one consultation with an experienced wrongful death attorney.

Typically, a wrongful death suit may be filed by surviving:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Biological or adopted children

In California, if neither spouse nor children have survived the victim, a claim may be filed by parents, grandparents, step-children, a “putative spouse,” or another party appointed by the courts. Because understanding your rights and options – even as a spouse or child – can be extremely confusing, it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney as soon as possible following the untimely and unnecessary death of a loved one.

The compassionate, understanding, and effective wrongful death lawyers at Kirtland & Packard have decades of experience helping families navigate these difficult times. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you, free of both cost and obligation, to help you determine if you are entitled to take legal action.

The Investigate Process

The first step in a wrongful death claim is identifying the liable party. This can be complex, even in cases that seem fairly black and white. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death, an investigation may need to be conducted to establish all involved individuals, organizations, or corporations.

The investigative process is a necessary step in any wrongful death claim. This process allows your attorney to uncover the details of the event that resulted in death and is vital for creating a compelling case to present to a judge or jury. Depending on the nature of the accident, this part of the process may include:

  • Analyzing police reports
  • Reviewing medical, hospital, and coroner records
  • Talking to witnesses and reviewing security footage

The nature of the accident will determine additional investigate steps. For example, if the loss of life was related to a car accident, vehicle damage will need to be assessed. If it was the result of dangerous premises, insurance documents, repair invoices, and previous complaints will need to be reviewed. All of these things will become important when building an effective case for compensation.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

You have two years from the date of your loved one’s passing or from the date that it became clear death would be the outcome of an accident. It is always best to contact an attorney sooner rather than later as the investigative process can take some time, as can building a strong claim. Missing deadlines will result in a denial of compensation and can exacerbate the financial and emotional struggles caused by the loss of a loved one.

Building a Case and Seeking Compensation

Following the investigate process, your wrongful death lawyer will construct your case and make a demand for compensation to the liable party or the appropriate insurance company. Making a demand before filing a claim can save surviving family members time and prevent frustration, but the effort is not always successful. When the demand for fair and full compensation is stalled or denied, a claim will need to be filed.

In both the demand and any subsequent claims, it is common to seek compensation for damages including:

  • End of life medical treatment
  • Funeral expenses
  • Projected future wages
  • Projected retirement/401k losses
  • Loss of partnership
  • Loss of community

California has not placed a cap on damages that can be sought in a wrongful death claim, although punitive damages, such as pain and suffering, are not typically awarded in these cases. There are exceptions to this, of course, depending on the cause and circumstances surrounding the death and, in some cases, a “survival action” can be filed on behalf of the decedent’s estate to seek these damages.

During your complimentary case review, we will cover all of your options to help you understand the most effective ways to secure the compensation your family deserves.

Discovery Phase

The discovery phase of a lawsuit is more involved than the investigative process and may include:

  • Requesting documents from the defense
  • Interviewing the defendant in writing and/or during a deposition
  • Working with expert witnesses
  • Working with expert medical professionals

The discovery phase is typically the longest phase in a wrongful death claim, but is essential for building a winnable case.


Mediation is often required in civil lawsuits. During this process, all involved parties and their attorneys will meet to review the evidence and see if an agreement can be reached. If all parties agree, a settlement will be drafted and submitted to the judge. This settlement, like a judgment, will be binding on all parties.

If mediation fails, the case will go to trial. Many wrongful death claims are settled before this, but at Kirtland & Packard, our experienced trial lawyers prepare every claim for this eventuality, enabling us to provide the most comprehensive representation available. We will stand by your side, fighting for your rights every step of the way and, in the event of a trial, present your case to a jury in an attempt to secure compensation. In California, only 9 of the 12 jurors must agree for the case to be resolved.


If you are awarded compensation, the defendant may appeal the decision. If you are not awarded compensation, we may appeal the decision on your behalf. Avoiding this is always preferable, which is one reason we seek to resolve wrongful death claims before they go to trial. However, in the event of an appeal, we will continue to fight tirelessly for your family and to help ensure you are treated fairly and provided the compensation you will need to carry on.

Contact Us to Learn More

If you have lost a loved one in an accident, Kirtland & Packard may be able to help you get compensation for all related damages. Call our Redondo Beach office at (310) 536-1000 to schedule your free consultation today.

The experienced trial lawyers at Kirtland & Packard fight for families living in Torrance, Manhattan Beach, and all surrounding South Bay areas.