file wrongful death damages for criminal acts

When tragedy strikes in the form of a wrongful death, the emotional and financial devastation can ripple through a family for years.


In California, the law provides a pathway for those left behind to seek justice — not through the criminal system, where one might expect, but through civil court. This distinction often raises questions for the bereaved: can you seek wrongful death damages if the death resulted from a criminal act?



Civil vs. Criminal:
Understanding California Wrongful Death Law

California wrongful death claims are pursued in civil court, rather than criminal court. This is an important distinction because it means that the case is not about punishing the wrongdoer with imprisonment or fines paid to the state.


Instead, it’s about compensating the victim’s family for their loss. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof — preponderance of the evidence — compared to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases. This means it is possible for a family to file a wrongful death lawsuit and win it even if a criminal trial fails to convict the person responsible.


So, yes, you can file both a criminal and civil case for wrongful death, but they serve different purposes and have different outcomes. In a criminal case, the focus is on punishment while in a civil case, the focus is on compensation.

What Makes a Death ``Wrongful`` Under California Law?

Under California personal injury law, a death is considered wrongful if it is caused by the “wrongful act or neglect” of another. In short, another’s negligence or recklessness caused the death.


Essentially, if the deceased could have filed a personal injury claim had they survived, their family members can likely take wrongful death action. This encompasses a wide range of scenarios including negligent driving, medical malpractice, or even intentional acts like assault.

Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Involving Criminal Acts

When a death has resulted from a criminal act, the types of damages the deceased’s relatives can claim include

  • Economic damages for financial contributions the deceased would have provided, such as future earnings and benefits.
  • Non-economic damages for loss of companionship, emotional distress, and mental anguish.
  • Punitive damages, in some cases, if the act was particularly egregious, intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar actions in the future.

California wrongful death law provides for different types of damages depending on the circumstances surrounding the death. In cases related to a personal injury claim for crime, there may be additional considerations to take into account in favor of the plaintiff.


One important factor when you file wrongful death damages for criminal acts is whether the defendant in the crime has been convicted or found liable in a civil court. If so, this can greatly impact the outcome of a wrongful death case. For example, if the perpetrator has been found guilty and sentenced in a criminal trial, it can serve as strong evidence in a civil case and increase the chances of surviving family members obtaining compensation.

Examples of Criminal Scenarios Where You May File
a Wrongful Death Claim

criminal scenarios where you may file a wrongful death claim

Drunk Driving

Consider a situation where an individual is fatally injured by a drunk driver. Even if the driver is acquitted in criminal court due to a procedural error, the family of the deceased can file for wrongful death. They can claim economic losses such as lost future income and non-economic losses like loss of love and companionship.

Fatal Assault at a Nightclub

A woman is assaulted at a nightclub, leading to fatal injuries. The perpetrator is charged with murder. Concurrently, the plaintiff’s family sues the defendant for wrongful death, claiming economic damages for her medical care and funeral costs, as well as non-economic damages for the loss of her companionship.

Accidental Shooting

A man dies from a gunshot wound inflicted accidentally by his neighbor who was cleaning a firearm that discharged. The latter faces involuntary manslaughter criminal charges. Meanwhile, the deceased man’s family files a personal injury claim for crime, seeking damages for the unexpected financial burden and their profound personal loss.

Faulty Product

In a case where a defective product causes a fatal accident, the manufacturer can be held accountable through both criminal negligence charges and civil wrongful death claims. The victim’s family might seek compensation for the loss of financial support and the emotional pain of an unexpected loss.

Role of a Personal Injury Lawyer in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In wrongful death cases, particularly those stemming from criminal acts, a personal injury lawyer plays a critical role.


A specialized wrongful death attorney can help the family understand their rights and the legal process to file a personal injury claim for crime. The lawyer can help gather evidence to support the claim, negotiate with defendants and insurance companies, and advocate for the family in court if necessary.


The goal is to ensure that the surviving spouse, domestic partner, or family receives fair compensation to help ease their financial burden and facilitate healing after a tragic loss.


Remember that the statute of limitations or the deadline to file a claim for wrongful death in California is two years from the date of death. It is, thus, critical to contact a lawyer immediately.

Get Expert Help to File a Wrongful Death Claim for Criminal Acts. Call RTM Law Firm Today.
Free Consultation.

If you have lost a loved one due to a crime, you may feel overwhelmed by the thought of going through the process of pursuing legal action. However, a wrongful death lawsuit can provide necessary financial support and a sense of justice being served. Surviving families may file wrongful death damages for criminal acts and get financial compensation. 


Contact the compassionate attorneys at RTM Law Firm to explore your options and ensure your rights are protected. Remember, you are not alone; help is available to guide you through this difficult time




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