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Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer


Few things in life are as heartbreaking and devastating as the loss of a family member. While nothing may take away the pain of losing a loved one, a wrongful death claim may help provide justice and financial compensation to surviving family members in their time of need. When a close relative is killed in an accident due to someone else's negligence, an attorney can file a civil case on behalf of survivors.

If you have lost a loved one in a tragic accident, our wrongful death attorneys in Sacramento County are available anytime to guide your family through the legal process. For details on how our law firm can help, call (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for compassionate, free, and friendly advice.

The grieving process may be overwhelming, and you may want to delay discussing your case with an attorney. However, the unfortunate reality is that insurance companies will not wait. Claims adjusters are trained to investigate and dispute liability for deadly accidents caused by the negligence of their insured. What is even more tragic is that the same approach may apply to first-party insurance claims. For that reason, it is essential to retain legal counsel to ensure your family is protected in your time of loss.

In this article:

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is a loss of life caused by negligence. It may occur in incidents involving car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and more. When any of these situations occur, surviving family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court for the wrongful death of a loved one.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In California, wrongful death cases are governed by statute. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60, the individuals entitled to compensation through a wrongful death action may include:

  • Spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Children of the decedent
  • Stepchildren of the decedent
  • Putative spouse (someone who may not have been legally married but believed in good faith that they were legally married).
  • Any minor who was at least 50 percent financially dependent on the decedent and lived in the household for at least 180 days before the death.

How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help Your Family


If you have lost a loved one in an accident due to someone else's negligence or carelessness, an experienced Sacramento wrongful death attorney can help. Although a lawyer can never make the pain of losing a family member go away, they can help you work through the issues a family faces after the unnecessary death of a loved one. Besides handling the legal aspects of the claim, your lawyer will be able to help you with local support groups, grief counselors, and books that may bring some comfort.

It is essential to consult with a skilled Sacramento wrongful death lawyer that you feel comfortable with. Make sure they have the experience to handle this serious matter. Even more important, you must feel comfortable communicating with this lawyer because you will be sharing sensitive and heartfelt experiences with them.

What Types of Compensation is Available in a Wrongful Death Case?

Although the loss of your loved one can never be replaced, California law provides “just" compensation to those who are entitled to recover. The heirs of the decedent may be awarded for the following:

  • Costs of a funeral and burial
  • Loss of future financial support
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Loss of companionship, comfort, affection, moral support, loss of consortium
  • Loss of the victim’s care, training, and guidance as a parent
  • Loss of household services
  • Medical expenses incurred before death can also be recovered in a survival action.
  • Punitive damages may be recovered if the victim was killed as a result of felony homicide.

What is the Deadline to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in California?

You have two years from the date of the death to file a lawsuit, as outlined in the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. However, there are exceptions in medical malpractice, government entity, and other cases. 

If the wrongful death claim is against a public agency, a notice of claim must be filed within six months of the fatal incident date. This is by California Government Code Section 911.2.

If a medical professional’s negligence resulted in a loss of life, a wrongful death claim for medical malpractice must be filed either three years from the incident date or one year after the death is discovered, or with reasonable diligence should have been discovered whichever occurs first. Refer to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.5.

It's important to act quickly because insurance companies, hospitals, and government entities are quick to cover up, minimize, or in other ways try to avoid responsibility for the death. Witnesses disappear, marks in the road can be covered over, hospital records can change or disappear. It happens every day.

Helping a Jury to Understand Your Loss


Most cases involving the loss of a loved one are settled out of court through insurance negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. Occasionally, the causation for the death is disputed by the defendant or their insurance company. It is often necessary to take a case to trial in Sacramento County for a jury to decide a fair result.

In every case, it is essential to collect compelling evidence and information from the family. This way, an attorney can show a jury or the defendant's insurance company the depth of the individual who has died and the types of losses surviving family members have faced.

California Wrongful Death FAQ

How can a wrongful death claim help my family?

Family members can seek compensation for the loss of companionship, loss of services, loss of income, and other losses. Damages for wrongful death may be available for the deceased person's spouse, parent, and child. Damages are available for the deceased’s estate as well. The claim can be made against the at-fault party that caused the accident.

Can survivors recover punitive damages from a driver who caused wrongful death?

Most insurance policy contracts exclude liability for punitive damages, so the insurer will not pay for them. The driver might have to pay such damages out of pocket if a case is filed against him and won. That presumes that the driver has enough assets to pay a judgment. We discuss this with our clients in every punitive damages case.

If my loved one died in Sacramento, but they lived in another state, where does a wrongful death attorney file suit?

A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed either where the incident causing the death took place or where the defendant in the case lives. If the fatal incident occurred in Sacramento County, that would be the correct jurisdiction to bring the suit. Alternatively, a suit could be bought against the “at fault” party where they live.

If I live outside of California, and my loved one died in Sacramento, do I need a Sacramento wrongful death attorney, or do I need one from my state?

The attorney handling the case must be licensed in the state where the case is filed. The case would be filed where the incident causing the death took place or where the defendant in the case resides. If the injury occurred in Sacramento or if the defendant lives here, then that is where the suit must be filed.

Can I sue for wrongful death if a loved one is killed by a drunk driver?

Cases where a loved one is killed by a drunk driver are tragic. In almost all such cases, there is a suit for wrongful death and punitive damages.

Have you worked with nursing home fatalities?

Yes, our Sacramento wrongful death law firm can help with cases involving accidental deaths in nursing homes. California wrongful death statutes and survival statutes help the family obtain peace of mind after the death of a loved one.

How long does it take to settle a wrongful death lawsuit?

Whether a lawsuit for wrongful death can be settled quickly depends on many factors. If liability is clear, that makes a faster settlement more likely. However, if negligence is disputed, many depositions may need to be taken and experts retained, which will increase the time the case takes.

Another factor is how much liability insurance the negligent party carried. If there is only a small amount of bodily injury liability coverage, it is more likely that the negligent party's insurer will pay up earlier. However, if there is a large insurance policy or if a company is involved, their insurer will likely delay paying out as long as they can.

A third factor determining how long a case takes to settle is finding out the economic losses to survivors. If the person wrongfully killed had been working, experts need to be retained to calculate how much the decedent would have earned over his lifetime and evaluate the value of benefits and pensions.

My son was killed in a motorcycle accident. Even though he was not at fault, the other insurance company said we can't recover for his death because he had no insurance at the time. Is this true?

California Civil Code Section 3333.4 would preclude recovery by the driver of a car for pain and suffering damages if the driver did not have insurance at the time of the crash. Insurance carriers often argue that the wrongful death claimants of an uninsured driver or owner are also barred from recovery by the statute. This is incorrect even though many adjusters attempt to mislead on this issue.

Do you pay taxes on wrongful death lawsuits?

No, any lawsuit settlement that is awarded for injury or physical illness is non-taxable. The IRS does not tax any money that is intended to compensate victims for their pain and suffering.

Is a wrongful death lawsuit criminal or civil?

Wrongful death actions are civil cases that fall under the category of personal injury. The only way surviving family members can recover compensation on behalf of their loved ones is to file a civil suit in Sacramento County.

Criminal charges may be filed by the district attorney against a person who wrongfully caused another’s death (the defendant). However, even if the defendant is found guilty and convicted in criminal court, the criminal case would not provide money to the decedent’s family.

The decedent’s family would need to file a separate wrongful death lawsuit in civil court to recover monetary damages. The criminal action is intended to punish the defendant, whereas a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the same defendant in civil court would seek monetary damages on behalf of the decedent’s family.

Can heirs sue for punitive damages in a wrongful death claim in California?

Punitive damages are a category of monetary damages available in some personal injury lawsuits. The heirs of a person who died due to another person’s negligence can sue for monetary compensation. The damages in a wrongful death matter include economic damages such as lost earnings and future earnings and non-economic damages like loss of companionship.

How much can I recover for a wrongful death claim?

The average settlement for a wrongful death claim is between $500,000 to $1 million. However, it is difficult to determine your settlement amount since the circumstances of each case are different, and the damages vary greatly.

While some families got $10,000 or less, others have received a six or even seven-figure settlement. A top-rated wrongful death lawyer in Sacramento County can help you navigate the legal process and ensure you receive the fair compensation you deserve for your case.

Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Sacramento Today

Ed Smith

If you believe your loved one has died due to the negligence of another, please contact our experienced Sacramento wrongful death attorneys for free, friendly, and compassionate advice. Our legal team has recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients.

Our firm founder, Edward A. Smith, is a proud member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an organization that recognizes attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.

We are committed and ready to fight for full compensation on your behalf. Learn more about your legal options by calling (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for a free case evaluation.

Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 10.7.21]

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