examples of wrongful death

When tragedy strikes in the form of a wrongful death, understanding your legal rights is paramount. Under California law, wrongful death occurs when a person’s death is the result of another party’s negligent or wrongful act.


This blog will walk you through the definition of wrongful death, identify liable parties, provide real-world examples of types of wrongful death cases, and explain how a personal injury attorney can assist grieving families.



What Is Wrongful Death in California?

Wrongful death in California happens when an individual’s death is directly caused by someone’s negligence. The state’s laws allow the deceased’s dependents or heirs to file a lawsuit against those at fault. This civil action is distinct from any criminal charges the responsible party might face, focusing instead on compensating the deceased’s family for their losses.

Wrongful Death Claim vs Wrongful Death Lawsuit: What's the Difference?

A wrongful death claim is a legal demand for compensation made by the survivors of someone who died due to another’s negligence or wrongful act. This claim can be resolved through negotiation and settlement without going to court.


A wrongful death lawsuit is filed when a wrongful death claim cannot be settled outside of court, necessitating a formal legal process. The lawsuit involves presenting the case in front of a judge or jury to seek a legal judgment for damages.


Essentially, while all wrongful death lawsuits start as claims, not all claims will result in a lawsuit if they are settled beforehand.

Who May Be Held Liable?

Liability in a wrongful death case can fall on a variety of individuals, companies, or even governmental entities. Typically, those who can be held responsible for situations that lead to a wrongful death include:

  • Drivers in cases of fatal car accidents caused by reckless or intoxicated driving.
  • Medical professionals who commit malpractice, resulting in death.
  • Manufacturers of defective products that cause fatal accidents or health issues.
  • Property owners who fail to maintain safe conditions leading to fatal accidents.
  • Employers who violate safety regulations causing workplace fatalities.

Who are Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In California, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by certain individuals who have been directly affected by the loss of their loved one. These include:

  • Spouses of the deceased.
  • Children of the deceased, including adopted and stepchildren.
  • Parents of unmarried children who were killed.
  • Domestic partners of the deceased, as registered with the state.
  • Financial dependents of the deceased, such as siblings or grandparents.

It is important to note that a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years from the date of death in order for it to be valid. Failure to do so may result in your case being dismissed by the court.

Real-Life Examples of Wrongful Death Cases

real life examples of wrongful death cases

Below are wrongful death examples that enabled beneficiaries from obtaining significant compensation.

Motor Vehicle Accidents / Car Accidents

Vehicle accidents are arguably the most common types of wrongful death. California’s roads see a significant number of fatal accidents each year, many stemming from negligent behaviors like impaired driving, speeding, and distracted driving. For instance, a family could file a wrongful death claim against a drunk driver who caused a fatal accident involving their loved one.

Medical Malpractice

Healthcare providers can be held liable if their negligence leads to death. Examples of wrongful death related to malpractice include a misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, or surgical error that directly results in the patient’s death. Families of the deceased can seek damages for medical malpractice in California by proving that the healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care expected in the medical community.

Workplace Accidents

This is another common cause of wrongful death. Employers are responsible for ensuring a safe work environment. If this duty is neglected, resulting in death, the employer can be held accountable.


For example, if a construction worker dies from a fall due to lack of proper safety gear or because the company cut corners, the employer could be sued for wrongful death. Another example is when an employee is forced to work multiple 12-hour shifts and then becomes ill and later dies from exhaustion or a related health issue.

Product Liability / Defective Products

Manufacturers and distributors can be liable if their defective products cause death. For instance, if an airbag fails to deploy during a car accident and the driver dies, the manufacturer of the product might be sued for wrongful death by the victim’s family.

Premises Liability

Property owners have a duty to ensure their premises are safe. If a visitor dies due to unsafe conditions, such as a fall caused by a slippery floor that should have been cleaned or marked with warning signs, the property owner can be held responsible. This applies to both public and private property.

When More Than One Party is Liable

In some cases, multiple parties may be held liable in a wrongful death.


For instance, if a car accident is caused by both the driver’s negligence and a faulty road design, both the driver and the government agency responsible for maintaining the road could be sued.


Other wrongful death examples that may have multiple liable parties could be a construction accident. If an employee dies due to faulty equipment, both the employer and the manufacturer of the equipment may be held accountable.

In order for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, it must be proven that the liable party breached their duty of care and this breach directly caused the victim’s death.


If you believe that your loved one’s demise was caused by someone’s wrongful act or negligence, consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney immediately.

Kobe Bryant/Vanessa Bryant Wrongful Death Settlement

This case is one of the most high profile examples of wrongful death. In 2021, Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, along with other families affected by the devastating 2020 helicopter crash, reached a confidential settlement in their wrongful death claim against the employer of the pilot.


In a separate 2023 case, Vanessa Bryant was awarded $28,850,000 in a wrongful death settlement following her claim against Los Angeles County, which involved allegations of police sharing graphic photos of the crash scene.

Boeing Wrongful Death Case

In 2021, Boeing settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $2.5 billion with families of the passengers killed in two crashes involving its 737 Max airplanes. These crashes, which happened in 2018 and 2019, claimed the lives of 346 individuals. The events and subsequent fallout were also the subject of a Netflix documentary titled “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.”

What is the One-Action Rule for Wrongful Death
in California?

The One-Action Rule in California in the context of wrongful death claims stipulates that all potential plaintiffs must join together in a single legal action against the defendant. This rule is codified in the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60-377.62, which outlines who may sue for wrongful death and under what conditions the lawsuit must be pursued.


Under this rule, the plaintiffs — who can include the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children, and other dependents — must consolidate their claims into one lawsuit rather than filing separate lawsuits. The purpose of this rule is to prevent multiple lawsuits against the same defendant for the same wrongful death, which can lead to inconsistent verdicts and a multiplication of legal costs.


The rule mandates that if multiple parties have a right to sue, they must come together to file a single claim. If someone entitled to sue is not included, that person can typically join the lawsuit later. However, failing to include all potential plaintiffs can complicate the process and potentially impact the recovery each plaintiff receives.

The Role of a Wrongful Death Attorney

A wrongful death claim can be overwhelming for grieving families. This is where specialized attorneys come into play. These legal professionals specialize in tort law and understand the intricacies of wrongful death claims in California. Their role involves:

  • Case Evaluation: Assessing the details of the case to determine its merit and the potential for compensation.
  • Evidence Collection: Gathering all necessary evidence to support the claim, including medical records, accident reports, and witness statements.
  • Legal Representation: Managing all aspects of the legal process, negotiating settlements, and representing the family in court if necessary.
  • Compassionate Support: Providing emotional and professional support to families during a difficult time, helping them navigate the legal system while they grieve.

Lost a Loved One Due to Another's Negligence? You Can Sue for Wrongful Death. Call Our Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney in California. Free Consultation.

Wrongful death cases are complex and demand a thorough understanding of legal nuances. If you believe your loved one’s death was caused by negligence or a wrongful act, it is crucial to seek experienced legal counsel.


Do not face this challenging time alone. The compassionate attorneys at RTM Law Firm in California are here to help. With years of experience handling wrongful death claims, you can rely on our legal team to  provide you with the professional support and guidance you need.


In addition to financial compensation, filing a wrongful death claim can also bring closure and peace of mind for families. By seeking justice, you may be able to prevent similar tragedies from happening to others in the future.


Call our California personal injury lawyers today for a free consultation.




    We Help Accident Victims File
    a Personal Injury Claim in Santa Ana, CA

    Our Santa Ana personal injury attorneys handle a wide range of personal injury claims in several areas, including:

    ✔ Artesia Pilar
    ✔ Bella Vista
    ✔ Bristol Memory Coalition
    ✔ Bristol-Warner
    ✔ Cabrillo Park
    ✔ Casa Bonita
    ✔ Casa De Santiago
    ✔ Cornerstone Village
    ✔ Delhi
    ✔ Downtown Santa Ana
    ✔ Edna Park
    ✔ Fairhaven
    ✔ Fairview Village
    ✔ Floral Park
    ✔ Flower Park
    ✔ French Court

    ✔ Heninger Park
    ✔ Laurelhurst
    ✔ Logan
    ✔ Lyon Street
    ✔ Mabury Park
    ✔ Madison Park
    ✔ Mar-Les
    ✔ Metro Classic
    ✔ Mid-City
    ✔ Morning Sunwood
    ✔ New Horizons
    ✔ Pacific Park
    ✔ Panorama Heights
    ✔ Park Santiago
    ✔ Pico-Lowell
    ✔ Portola Park

    ✔ Republic Homes
    ✔ Riverview West
    ✔ Saddleback View
    ✔ Sandpointe
    ✔ Santa Anita
    ✔ Shadow Run
    ✔ South Coast Metro
    ✔ Sunwood Central
    ✔ Thornton Park
    ✔ Valley Adams
    ✔ West Floral Park
    ✔ West Grove Valley
    ✔ Willard
    ✔ Wilshire Square
    ✔ Windsor Village
    ✔ Young Square