Wrongful Death

Legal Options for Families of Victims in Fatal Accident Cases

Losing a loved one in an accident is a profoundly distressing experience. During this challenging time, it’s essential to understand the legal rights and options available to you and your family. At Harsh Law, we are dedicated to supporting families in California through their most difficult moments by providing clear, compassionate, and effective legal guidance. This article outlines the key legal avenues you might consider if your family has faced such a tragic loss.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that can be filed when a person’s death has been caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another. In California, these claims aim to compensate the deceased’s survivors for the losses they have suffered due to their loved one’s untimely death.

  • Eligibility to File: Under California law, the following parties may file a wrongful death claim:
    • The deceased’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children
    • If there are no surviving descendants, anyone “who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” (e.g., parents or siblings) may file.
    • Persons who were financially dependent on the deceased, including stepchildren or parents.
  • Damages Covered: Compensation in a wrongful death claim can include:
    • Funeral and burial expenses
    • Lost income potential, including future earnings the deceased would have contributed to the family
    • Loss of companionship, love, and moral support
    • Value of household services the deceased would have provided


Survival Actions in California

Survival actions allow for the continuation of personal injury claims that the deceased could have pursued had they lived. These claims are made on behalf of the decedent’s estate, rather than directly compensating the family members for their personal loss. Understanding the nuances of these claims is crucial for families seeking justice on behalf of a loved one.

Key Aspects of Survival Actions:

  • Can include claims for medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury before death, lost wages, and pain and suffering endured by the deceased prior to death.
  • Punitive damages may be sought if the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious.

Survival actions differ from wrongful death claims in that they focus on the rights of the deceased rather than the survivors. A survival action is brought on behalf of the deceased’s estate for claims the deceased could have filed had they lived.

The damages in a survival action are limited to the losses the deceased suffered before death. These may include:

  • Medical Expenses: All medical costs incurred due to the injury that ultimately led to death are claimable. This includes hospital bills, medication costs, and expenses for any medical procedures needed due to the injury.
  • Lost Wages: If the deceased was unable to work from the time of injury until the time of death, the estate could claim compensation for lost income during this period.
  • Pain and Suffering: If it can be demonstrated that the deceased experienced conscious pain and suffering before death, compensation might be awarded. It’s important to note that proving conscious pain and suffering can be complex and typically requires thorough medical documentation and expert testimony.
  • Punitive Damages: In cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or malicious, punitive damages might be pursued. These are not meant to compensate the deceased’s estate for losses but rather to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar actions in the future.

Purpose and Basis of Survival Actions

Unlike wrongful death claims, which are intended to compensate the family members for their losses, survival actions are essentially an extension of the personal injury claims the decedent could have filed if they had survived. This legal approach is designed to recover losses that occurred between the initial injury and the individual’s death.


Who Can File a Survival Action?

Survival actions can only be filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate. If the deceased had a will, the executor named in the will would handle this responsibility. In the absence of a will, a court may appoint an administrator.

Limitations on Survival Actions

Unlike wrongful death claims, survival actions are subject to certain limitations:

  • No Claim for Emotional Distress: The estate cannot claim damages for emotional distress suffered by the deceased or the family members.
  • Impact of the Decedent’s Debts: Any damages awarded in a survival action become part of the decedent’s estate and are therefore subject to the claims of creditors.


Navigating the Legal Process

Navigating the aftermath of a loved one’s fatal accident involves complex legal and emotional challenges. At Harsh Law, our approach is to handle your case with the utmost sensitivity and dedication, allowing you to focus on healing.

  • Providing a thorough investigation of the accident
  • Collaborating with forensic experts to establish liability
  • Negotiating with insurance companies to secure fair settlements
  • Preparing to take your case to trial if a satisfactory settlement cannot be achieved



If your family is navigating the aftermath of a fatal accident, you are not alone. The legal team at Harsh Law is here to help you explore all available legal options and work tirelessly to ensure justice is served. We invite you to reach out to us for a consultation to discuss your specific circumstances and how we can assist you during this difficult time.

Contact Harsh Law at (909) 793-6261 today for your complimentary consultation.