Modesto Wrongful Death Lawyer


Losing a family member or spouse in a sudden, unexpected accident is a traumatic and overwhelming experience. It is especially unsettling when the decedent was the breadwinner of a household, and now their family is left with tremendous financial uncertainty on how to cover basic living expenses.

That is why it makes sense to speak to a California wrongful death attorney serving Modesto and consider whether it makes sense to seek monetary damages through a civil case. Below are answers to some of the most common questions asked by prospective clients who desire to file a wrongful death claim.

What is a Claim for Wrongful Death?

When someone dies as a proximate result of the fault of another person or company, then there is a basis for pursuing a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.

Wrongful death claims involve an array of fatal accidents, including automobile collisions, commercial trucking accidents, boating accidents, public transit accidents, medical malpractice, defective products and prescription drugs, and so forth. Individuals, companies, and government agencies can be held legally responsible (i.e., liable in legal parlance) for negligent or reckless conduct.

Can Anyone File a Wrongful Death Action in California?

No. Only specific individuals listed in the California Code of Civil Procedure can file a wrongful death legal action in a Modesto civil court. The California Code contains the following as eligible people who may take this type of legal action on behalf of a deceased loved one:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • The decedent’s child, or children
  • If there is no living spouse or child, then the decedent’s parents (if living) may file a claim
  • The executor of the decedent’s estate
What Monetary Damages are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Claim?

There are generally two types of monetary damages that can be recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit. The law has bifurcated economic damages from non-economic damages.

In general, economic damages are those itemizable costs such as medical expenses associated with the accident that took your loved one’s life, funeral costs, burial costs, and the value of financial support you lost and what you could reasonably have expected to receive from the decedent in the future. Noneconomic damages are those harms that do not fit neatly into a spreadsheet or bill. Instead, they are the intangible harms associated with the unexpected loss of someone you loved dearly. These types of damages include:

  • The loss of love and companionship provided by your lost loved one
  • The loss of comfort and care provided by your lost loved one
  • The loss of protection and affection provided by your lost loved one
  • The loss of mentorship and guidance (if the decedent had children)
Who Should Be Sued in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

The answer to this question depends on the specific facts of your potential case. In general, a wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against an array of individuals, companies, and/or government agencies. To be sure, in a bus accident where a driver was texting and driving, a wrongful death claim could include defendants such as:

  • the driver
  • the driver’s employer
  • if the driver was working for a city or state agency, then the agency (depending on the facts of your case)

In some instances, a government agency may be immune from a wrongful death lawsuit. Immunity means that the agency cannot be sued. However, immunity can be removed if there is evidence of reckless or egregious actions by a government employee.

Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?

Yes. Every state legislature has enacted certain time limits for the filing of civil claims. These time limits are known as the "statute of limitations." There are at least three statutes of limitations related to wrongful death claims in California. In most situations, you must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years from the date of your loved one’s death.

If your loved one died due to medical malpractice, you must take legal action against the health care provider within three years from the date of the death or one year from the date of discovery by the plaintiff.

However, in other types of cases, the statute of limitations may be as short as one year from the date of death. Furthermore, special rules apply to the deaths of minors (i.e., minors usually have two years from the date they reach their majority to file a lawsuit) and individuals with a mental disability. Contact an experienced wrongful death attorney in Modesto for more information.

What Must Be Proven in a Wrongful Death Case in California?

Once a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, you must prove specific elements to prove your wrongful death claim. If you do not meet these elements, you will not be able to recover any economic damages. Therefore, you must show the following:

  • A Duty of Care – You must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to your deceased loved one. For example, if your loved one was killed in a car accident, you must prove that the defendant had an obligation to obey certain rules and regulations while operating their vehicle (e.g., the applicable speed limit, yielding when appropriate, not texting and driving, etc.);
  • Breach of a Duty of Care – You must prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to your loved one. For example, if the situation involved a commercial truck accident, you must show that the defendant truck operator failed to obey applicable traffic laws; and
  • Causation – Many people are surprised to learn that it is not enough to prove that the defendant violated the law or rule of the road in some manner or breached a duty of care. You must also show the negligent action directly caused the death of your loved one. For example, even if the defendant failed to yield at a stop sign while driving a car, the defendant is not responsible for the deceased’s death if the death was caused by something else, such as a mechanical failure on the decedent’s vehicle.

As you can see, a wrongful death claim is not easy to litigate. It requires producing sufficient evidence to persuade a judge and jury that you should be awarded damages. This is why you should call our skilled and compassionate wrongful death lawyers as soon as possible. We are here to help you get through this difficult time, and we have the trial experience to get the compensation you deserve.

The video below explains further wrongful death claims.

Contact a Modesto Wrongful Death Attorney Today

The loss of a loved one is a devastating and heartbreaking experience. If you have lost a close relative in an accident due to negligence on someone else's part, our team of compassionate and skilled Modesto wrongful death attorneys is here for your family. We are available anytime to meet with you, listen to your story, and discuss some of your potential options for financial recovery. Contact our law firm today at (209) 227-1931 or (800) 404-5400 to schedule a free consultation at our Modesto office.

1015 12th Street, STE 7
Modesto, CA 95354

Proud members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

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Editor’s Note: updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 4.7.23]

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