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What are the Elements of a California Wrongful Death Case?

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Date Modified: September 9, 2023

Proving Wrongful Death Elements Nationwide

Are you seeking legal advice or conducting law school or journalistic citations about wrongful death law from a wrongful death lawyer?

Tell Us About Your Wrongful Death Case

Below is the latest cutting-edge legal info on proving wrongful death cases and making a claim in video format.

  • Video Transcript - What are the Elements of a California Wrongful Death Case?

    Video Transcript - What are the Elements of a California Wrongful Death Case?

    "0:00 what is wrongful death a wrongful death
    0:04 usually involves a situation where one
    0:09 of your loved ones or your family
    0:10 members or under California law domestic
    0:12 partner is killed by the negligence or
    0:15 wrongdoing of another as a result the
    0:18 the family member or domestic partner
    0:20 can sue the wrongdoer in order to
    0:23 recover for the loss of care love
    0:26 support and affection that the decedent
    0:29 had once provided for them. [Music]"

“0:00 what is wrongful death a wrongful death 0:04 usually involves a situation where one 0:09 of your loved ones or your family 0:10 members or under California law domestic 0:12 partner is killed by the negligence or 0:15 wrongdoing of another as a result the 0:18 the family member or domestic partner 0:20 can sue the wrongdoer in order to 0:23 recover for the loss of care love 0:26 support and affection that the decedent 0:29 had once provided for them.”

This data covers the most devastating tort claim known, the infamous wrongful death case, as enunciated by world-famous wrongful death attorney Michael Ehline. You might have second thoughts if you hired a lawyer referral service, a lawyer from attorney listings, or paid attorney advertising, especially in cases of paraplegia with incontinence or a serious wrongful death case.

You came to the right place if you don’t want a lawyer who works briefly to get the case but ignores your repeated calls and emails. Ultimately, we will compassionately discuss how to fire your present injury firm and switch to the top-flight litigators at Ehline Law Firm. Let’s discuss the elements of a California wrongful death!

First of all, if someone’s death results from the negligence of another person or entity, and surviving family members exist, they can take legal action and file a wrongful death lawsuit civil action against the liable person(s) (Defendant(s)). A tort expert, a wrongful death lawyer, is a professional who brings the action on the victim’s behalf.

A wrongful death lawsuit allows surviving family members to seek justice on behalf of a loved one who passed away due to an act of carelessness or violence. A judge will ultimately decide if you have enough evidence to prove your case and establish a reasonable likelihood of success before a jury.

Below, tort lawyer Michael P. Ehline explains everything you must know about wrongful death elements and burdens of proof. Of course, if you need more info besides the below examples, call toll-free at (833) LETS-SUE.

Wrongful Death Case Burdens and Elements

To bring and wing a wrongful death lawsuit, the survivors must satisfy the following:

  1. Burden of Proof
  2. Statute of Limitations.

Let’s discuss more. Based on the information provided, not all accidental deaths warrant filing wrongful death lawsuits in every case. There are specific criteria that make up wrongful death cases. So what evidentiary threshold, allegations, or testimony must exist to constitute the burden of proof for any surviving victims?

What Is the Burden of Proof for A Wrongful Death Claim?

The burden of proof permitted or mandated for a negligent killing varies from state to state. But California law requires the plaintiff to explain and prove the element of negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.

Some states instruct the juries to determine if, beyond doubt, the defendant caused the deceased death, similar to California’s clear and convincing evidence burden in a fraud cause but not as high as a California criminal murder case. The burden of proof for those still alive to be compensated isn’t measured by the amount of evidence or who has more witnesses at trial. Instead, the quality of evidence is calculated as the most critical factor.

NOTE: Most importantly, many lawsuits are resolved pretrial, spelled out in settlement agreements; many other cases get to trial, depending credibility of non-privileged or non-excluded evidence and how the trial court treats it. If you convince the other side you have strong evidence, it makes evaluating everything to be awarded less complicated.

What is Civil ‘Wrongful Death’?

Definition of wrongful death: The death of a close family member or life partner under a “civil union.” When a loved one passes away from natural causes, a dark tragedy befalls the whole family.

But when a wrongful death occurs, the situation becomes worse. A non-natural death makes the survivors feel cheated. Because another person took away, in many cases, the sole provider, bankruptcy looms around the corner.

Michael Ehline has recovered millions of dollars for tort victims, and he explains the law here. Be that as it may, the family has rights. As a result, dependents can file a claim against the negligent party. (the defendant). By and large, this acts to reclaim losses due to the death of a loved one. (the decedent).

But the ends of justice become served. Now families have closure. At this point, the family can move on with their lives. A wrongful death is an action in which the spouse or relative has been killed due to the misfeasance or nonfeasance of another. Recent examples include the failed Michael Jackson case.

This was a case brought by excellent plaintiff’s lawyers at Panish, Shea, and Boyle. Sometimes these cases fail before the jury. Other times, they are highly successful. These actions are traditionally large in scope, involve many complications, and are customarily joined with a plethora of other causes of action.

Winning A Wrongful Death Claim – Knowing Each Element Aids in Success

Generally, the plaintiff must show the same elements attendant with any other personal injury claim. To Prove wrongful death, the plaintiff must show the defendant acted negligently or committed a reckless, intentional act.

  • The Four Basic Elements of Wrongful Death

Proving the negligence caused the death of a person; or wilful intent of another and that the survivors lost loveaffection (aka emotional support), financial support, and physical support, such as yard work, doing dishes, etc. (past, present, and future) requires a systematic approach for the parties, court, and jury to consider.

Here are four parts to consider:

  • Negligence: If the Defendant failed their duty, thereby leading to the person’s death, the deceased family members must prove this as negligent actions.
  • Breach of Duty: You must prove the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care (special duty owed by a common carrier) to the plaintiff. Plaintiff presents proof based upon a preponderance of the evidence (not the crime beyond a reasonable doubt standard) that the deceased victim died from a breach of duty. For instance, a motorist might break traffic laws, causing your loved one’s death. Doctors, too, are held responsible if their negligence causes birth injuries.
  • Causation: By proving the defendant’s breach of duty as a reason for the deceased person’s passing, the lawsuit plaintiff has to demonstrate how the defendant’s negligence caused the victim’s death.
  • Damages: The family member’s death must have caused quantifiable damages such as medical expenses, financial losses, funerals, burial costs, loss of income, pain, suffering, and more.

You must prove these four critical elements in court, as wrongful death claims generally require the services of a powerful, intelligent attorney if you don’t want to get ripped off.

One: Negligence Elements of Wrongful Death Is “Duty”

The first element remains duty.

  • Did the killer owe the decedent a duty to do or not do something and then breach that duty?
  • Why did the decedent die?
  • Was it a natural cause or supervening, intervening cause breaking the chain of liability?

If so, no duty owed was breached, and the case was dismissed.


For example, a family cannot sue a doctor or hospital if their loved one dies naturally from cancer. But if the caretakers exposed the patient to radiation or harmful drugs, there could be a wrongful death lawsuit.

In that rare case, cancer came from a wrongful act or negligence. But your lawyer must show the defendant or its agents caused the death. For example, other defendants may have caused the decedent’s cancer. (like an asbestos maker).

Two: If Defendant Caused the Damage, was it Negligent or Intentional?

Did the defendant do it on purpose?

So the next element deals with two sub-elements with the same outcome; that is, whether:

  • Negligence or;
  • A Willful Act caused the death.


A willful act would include shooting someone in the head at point-blank. Contrast this with negligence. A negligent act is rear-ending someone while busy talking on your cell phone. (This could also qualify as a “Reckless Act” depending upon the given facts.).

Element Three:

Did the Survivor suffer a Loss?

One would think this would prove easy. But you would get surprised to see how many families have estranged relations. For this reason, they would probably recover more in “intestate succession” than in a wrongful death lawsuit!

Element Four:

Elements of a Wrongful Death Damages Claim Explained:

If the loss you suffered caused actual legal damages, you would have a valid claim.

Here are some examples of wrongful death damages.

  • Loss of love: It includes things like sex and just the love loss itself.
  • Financial Support: Money remains a significant factor. How much did your loved one provide? Were they a doctor or a lawyer? Or was the dead person a garbage collector? Were they contributing to an education fund for the survivors, etc.?
  • Physical support also has financial value. So if your husband provided housework etc., chores, you have to pay someone. Or it would help if you took time off from your job. Understood? And yes, you become entitled to money for the past, present, and future.

Who are the Parties in a Wrongful Death Case?

The person bringing a civil, wrongful death lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff is typically a close family member who brings the claim on behalf of all heirs of the deceased.

Who Can File a Claim?

The family member or estate representative of the victim always brings the claim. A husband can file a wrongful death lawsuit in all states over losing their deceased spouse. Parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit over the killing of their kids.

Kids who are not minors sue their parents. To recap, a spouse, children, stepchildren, grandparents, and life partners covered under civil unions may have the right to sue. The plaintiff even may be a surviving relative if the deceased had a will.

Guardian ad Litem?

If incompetent minors, children will have the lawsuit filed by a parent or guardian ad litem (learn more here.) Typically, the guardian hires wrongful death attorneys or a firm to prepare and file the court case. Although there are self-help services, and you can even file a small court claim without a lawyer, a death claim will require a level of legal expertise most surviving victims will never attain. As discussed above, proof of monetary damages will need to be proven in court.

If the relationship between the deceased and the estate representative (person in charge of the deceased’s estate) isn’t strong, it is harder to pursue wrongful death cases. In some places, romantic acquaintances are enough to present a claim by the romantic spouse of the deceased or the financial dependent. At Ehline Law Firm, we help you file a wrongful death action and prove the elements of a wrongful killing. You can talk to our attorney to get a free consultation to understand the case.

Liable Defendant?

The person this case is brought against is called a defendant. The plaintiff must have a solid chance to prove all the elements of a wrongful death caused by negligent behavior or failed duty of care. At Ehline Law Firm, we offer you a free evaluation and case review to investigate these matters on your behalf.

Wrongful Death Common Causes

Of all the elements of wrongful death, what causes negligent homicide remains the primary focus. Inattentive driving, drunk driving, and intentional acts alleged in your civil lawsuit or settlement demand to the insurance company must be clearly and concisely alleged.

Also, suppose you present evidence the death occurred due to an intentional act. In that case, your injury attorney won’t be able to recover liability insurance proceeds on behalf of the deceased person’s close relatives.

However, the court in a criminal case may award the family restitution payments, and the at-fault party and any third parties are still on the hook to pay damages out of pocket. An example might be a hit and run when a person failed to drive carefully or in a manner that was safe for road conditions.

Here are some common causes:

  • A car accident is running over a pedestrian or motorcyclist.
  • Medical malpractice caused by medical health providers
  • Negligent act from someone using automated technology
  • Work Injuries
  • Failure to drive safely.

Survival Action?

The deceased victim will have left behind a family. These close relatives are usually able to file the survivors’ claim legally.

Pursuing Your Negligent Killing Claim

To pursue a wrongful death suit, one must prove the elements. Presently, the decedent’s survivors must prove, among other things, that they suffered a financial loss. Sad relatives must also show loss of love and affection.

Plus, they should show other emotional damages. (this could be billed for psychology treatments and anti-depression meds.). Also, the executor/executrix of the estate generally makes this claim. This person represents the decedent’s wishes on behalf of all other parties.

But parties can include the spouse, the children, and other immediate or dependent loved ones. Last, family, such as parents, siblings, or beneficiaries, remain potential parties. Plus, it must get demonstrated to the court that the parties suffered losses. Last, they must have a monetary value. So examples include medical, funeral expenses, and burial costs. Your wrongful death attorney will use these tangible items to help prove your reasonable damages.

But they also include the loss of a supporting income in the family. Also, they can consist of the loss of your potential inheritance or the loss of a caretaker. In effect, once your lawyer proves the loss of life was caused when the defendant breached the duty of care, part two means your wrongful death attorney must prove damages—making sense so far? It’s a bifurcated formula that takes two steps.

When is a Wrongful Death Claim Applicable?

A wrongful death claim may arise when a person injured was denied a fair claims process. In many instances, the employer might refuse to accept a personal injury lawsuit, resulting in death. Citizens are admonished to obey traffic laws, but failure to do so can result in an accident that shows a breach of duty, and thereby death lawsuit can be served.

What is the Average Payout in a Wrongful Death Suit?

A wrongful death case has its unique value depending on the circumstances and the law governing it. But the average pay for a wrongful death settlement is between $500,000 to over $1 million. Depending on the case, it can be less than that, or it can be more.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Issues?

Your injury claim must be filed within the two-year time limit in California. But exceptions apply.

For example, your rights to sue could become limited by statute or the Government Code. Call us with questions about the deceased person or who you think should be held liable or owed a duty of care.

Schedule a free legal consultation. Act quickly, as your rights and times to sue may vary depending upon the parties or a contract.

Need Professional Help? Talk to a Wrongful Death Attorney About Bringing A Wrongful Death Claim

At Ehline Law Firm, we have done it before:

  • $2,024,761 RecoveryDucket v. Ridgecrest Regional Hospital for Wrongful Death During a Routine Appendectomy.
  • $2,000,000 Recovery, Hier v. the State of California (Caltrans) helped a family whose grandmother died in an automobile accident When Her Car Fell Down a Cliff With Improper Safety Barriers to Prevent these hazards.
  • $1,000,000 RecoveryDistler v. Redondo Beach Unified School District. Defendant Cabinet Maker Earning $15,000 a Year Killed by RBUSD Employee. These are just a few of the wrongful death claims we have been able to help people with after forming an attorney-client relationship in accordance with California State Bar guidelines.

Talk to a Wrongful Death Injury Attorney to Get Your Wrongful Death Claim Filed Timely

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In other words, our wrongful death lawyers can take over your case from your present attorney after a free case evaluation, and you answer a few questions to get the paperwork started. We can handle everything on your behalf: the deceased person’s estate or personal representative.

We have acted pro hac vice in New York, Florida, and other states. If you have a wrongful death lawsuit, chances are we can help you or your loved ones.

Want to Learn More About Proving Wrongful Death Elements?

We stand by to help the surviving family members receive an award of maximum compensation under the law when people act negligently. Call us today at (833) LETS-SUE. Or use our RISK-FREE online, “free consultations” contact form to learn more. Briefly tell us about your case, provide your contact information, and we’ll be in touch!*

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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Michael Ehline

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We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.